Journalism students from Russia and UW Tacoma got an up-close look at American-style journalism in action as election-night guests of the Tacoma-based News Tribune newspaper last night.
“The newsroom on election night — you can’t ask for anything better,” said Chris Demaske, UWT assistant professor of communication and the U.S. organizer of an ongoing exchange program between UW Tacoma and Moscow State University.
Students will post their observations of the election process, drawn from different cultures, on a news Web site they are creating.
In March, Demaske traveled to Moscow, Russia, with three UW Tacoma students. They met with Russian students under the guidance of Maria Lukina, associate professor of journalism and deputy dean of the Lomonosov Moscow State University School of Journalism. This week, five of the Russian students came here. Both groups spend about a week learning about each other’s cultures and working together on a journalism project.
In previous exchanges, the group created newspaper inserts or magazines. In spring the group produced a 20-page, black-and-white news magazine, called Journalist. This fall, for the first time, the students will collaboratively produce a Web site.
Both visits this year provided opportunities for students to see and report on national elections in each country. Articles in the spring issue of Journalist by Russian students describe their country’s recent election of a new president (and the student-writer’s dissatisfaction with the process), while articles by U.S. students describe how the primaries shaped our choices. Other articles cover the environment, global journalism, fashion, arts and entertainment, and other topics.
Even students who aren’t able to travel get to participate in the joint, international reporting project. Taking part from their home universities, students in the two countries have been in email contact for several months. They had already made many editorial decisions and completed many of the articles before the Russian students arrived here. They are writing “spot” election coverage stories this week.
UW Tacoma student Daniel Nash, the U.S. editor, is learning a Web site design software program especially for this project and hopes to launch the site for public viewing by the end of the week.
Nash, a senior at UW Tacoma, heard about the project in Demaske’s class on Russian media. He was one of the students who traveled to Moscow in spring.
“I loved the experience,” he said, noting that copyediting articles written by Russian students was good experience for him. Comparing U.S.-style journalism to that of Russia, he said the latter tells more of a story and draws more conclusions. Nash hopes one day to work at the Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper in Moscow.
Artyom Galustyan, the Russian student editor of Journalist, has worked on the project four times previously. He said the practice helps him develop his English and noted that it is easier to write in the language than to speak it. Galustyan, who is in his final undergraduate year of college, said he hopes to continue his studies as a graduate student, perhaps in the United States. He’s also interested in how newspapers are translated into Web sites and in broadcast journalism.
The collaborative effort began in fall 2002, when Bill Richardson, then chair of the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences department at UW Tacoma, suggested to Demaske that they work on a proposal to take students to Moscow for a journalism project.
Richardson, a scholar of Russian culture, had contacts in Moscow, including Lukina, who agreed to join them in organizing the project. She thought it was a great idea. “It is one of the most beautiful projects in my experience,” she said in an on-campus interview.
“Every year this project gets better,” said Demaske. “Every year the students get excited and pass that along to their colleagues, so we’re building a bigger and bigger pool of interested students.”
Creating a Web site has several advantages: It is less expensive than print format, has the possibility of greater access, can take advantage of the use of video as well as still photos, and doesn’t involve printer deadlines. Both Demaske and Lukina said creating a Web site has been a learning experience for them, as well.
“One of the things that’s been really cool about this particular project is seeing the students taking the lead of it and ownership of it,” Demaske said. “They all want to put out something better [each time], take it up to the next level.”
Up until this year, American students, who compete for the few spots on the trip, were supported with grants and scholarships. This year, they received some support from a scholarship fund in Bill Richardson’s name, but they largely paid their own way. The students receive university internship credits for the project.
The Russian students have always paid their own way. Lukina said that air tickets for this fall’s trip were about $1,300 each.
In Russia, U.S. students stay in hotels, which expedites the visa process. In the United States, visiting students are housed with volunteers found among UW Tacoma faculty, staff and students, as well as Tacoma residents.
Demaske teaches a course in Russian media at UW Tacoma, in which students become pen pals with Russian students.
She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship that enabled her to spend two months teaching a course in U.S. news writing and media law at MSU in 2005.
About a dozen U.S. students are involved on the U.S. side of the project, ranging from those earning credit for producing a certain amount of work to those volunteering to show the visiting students around the area.
The 15 or so Russian students chosen to participate in Moscow in the spring, as well as the five who are visiting the United States now, speak and write in English, so no interpreters are needed.
Demaske and Lukina attest that the biggest education comes from the cultural lessons students teach each other. “Stereotypes are ruined,” Lukina said. “This is the most important part. When the students come to this country and live with families and talk with people, and make a production together, they [discover] they are just like the other students.”
“When they first meet, no matter how much we talk about it ahead of time, they still have stereotypes of each other,” Demaske added. “By the end of the week, the students will tell me they had no idea these other students were going to be just like them. They often tell me that they learned more about their own culture because it’s the first time they’ve been asked to acknowledge their culture and their understanding of the world.”
The Web version of Journalist covers election politics in both countries, as well as economics, the Iraq War, the conflict between Russian and Georgia, and immigration. Articles also include general-interest stories, covering topics such as fashion, music and the different cultures, as well as features about a glass factory in a small town near Moscow and another about Tacoma’s Museum of Glass.
In both countries, students visit professional news media outlets. Besides the Tacoma hometown News Tribune, the young Russian journalists will be touring the offices of The New York Times and the Bloomberg news agency in New York.
“The journalism program at Moscow State is the best-respected in the country,” Demaske said. “So because of that, we get into some of the largest media outlets in the country.” In Russia the students have visited Izvestia, Kommersant, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Radio Echo of Moscow and Russia Today.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com