Students from the UBC School of Journalism are joining forces with students in India, China and Colombia to report on the future of cities.
The project is a partnership between the School’s International Reporting Program and the Jain University in India, Nanjing University in China and Universidad de los Andes in Colombia.
“I think that the UBC School of Journalism can open a lot of doors in Canada,” said international student Jaione Belza Guede, “but IRP can open the doors of the entire world.”
The 10 UBC students will be working with 10 students from the partner universities to produce stories on urban resilience in multiple languages, for both local and international audiences.
By 2050, two thirds of the world is expected to live in cities, putting pressure on urban areas when it comes to sanitation, housing, sewage, public health, transportation, education and political governance.
Since the launch of the International Reporting Program in 2008, UBC Journalism students have producing major projects on under-reported global issues in collaboration with media organisations across the world, garnering major journalism awards.
A challenging but awarding experience
Student Belza Guede has been working with students from the Jain University in India to report on water sustainability in the city.
“This is a unique opportunity to learn and get hands on experience on international reporting,” said Belza Guede, who highlighted the importance of the program when choosing to study at UBC. “I was also really interested in exploring a completely different subject, which urban resilience is for me.”
The new partnerships look to move away from the news industry’s model of “parachute journalism” by working in collaboration with universities outside of Canada.
“China has a completely different media environment than Canada,” said IRP fellow Peggy Lam who is working with students from Nanjing University in China. “So I am learning to tread carefully when approaching stories.”
While Lam is aware of the limitations there are in her not speaking Mandarin, she’s been able to work with partner students on the ground to develop the story before she leaves for China in December. “I hope it will allow me to understand the issue and country I’m reporting on at a greater level,” she said.
For Stefan Labbe the program has provided the opportunity to revisit South America by reporting in Colombia, a country he is familiar with, and challenge his reporting skills. “I think the biggest thing (I’ve learned) has been to explore stories where you feel capable, but not comfortable,” said Labbe.
Global rather than International
The International Reporting Program is led by Peter Klein, associate professor at the School of Journalism.
“It’s a different way of doing journalism that allows for challenging our assumptions as outsiders and also challenging their assumptions as insiders,” said Klein.
“Global is global; it encompasses the entire world, including us. International doesn’t include us, because it almost means everything other than us. It’s just a word change but I think it’s a valuable one that indicates a different approach to both teaching and practicing journalism.”
UBC Journalism professors Taylor Owen and Kathryn Gretsinger are co-teaching in the course, alongside faculty from Jain University, Nanjing University and Universidad de los Andes.
Students are also taking a course on urban resilience with Murali Chandrashekaran, Senior Associate Dean of the UBC Sauder School of Business, to provide a scholarly foundation to the topic.
Previous IRP projects have tackled complex issues including access to medical morphine, concerns about shrimp farming in Thailand, the emerging environmental movement in China and migration and HIV crisis in Chile.
Having received a $1 million donation from the Mindset Social Innovation Foundation in 2008, the program has been able to produce major reporting works every year and cover travel costs for its fellows. These projects have appeared in the New York Times, Al Jazeera, CBS News, PBS FRONTLINE, CBC, VICE News, The Globe & Mail and Toronto Star, and have received numerous awards, including the Emmy for Best Investigative Magazine.
Out of the Shadows, a New York Times collaboration highlighting stories on mental health around the world, received the Online Journalism Award earlier this year in the Pro-Am category following its success at the Digital Publishing Award and Edward R. Murrow Awards.