A group of JMSC undergraduates have just enjoyed an experience normally reserved for professional journalists: covering an international event, planning and producing their own stories, and seeing their work published by major international news organizations.
The seven Bachelor of Journalism students traveled to Japan in the company of JMSC Teaching Consultant Masato Kajimoto to cover the first anniversary of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The students worked for four days alongside journalists for international news agencies Agence France Presse (AFP), the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters.
They also put together stories for the South China Morning Post, CNN.com and Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
The team consisted of James Chan Kin Sing, Isak Ladegård, Saga McFarland, Haruka Nuga, Manon Pierre, Su Xin Qi and Sarah Spaeth.
McFarland and Spaeth co-wrote a piece for CNN.com about attitudes towards food safety, following the release of radiation from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear powerplant.
In Toyko Food Radiation Safety: It’s Personal, the student-journos explored food consumption choices by Japanese people and how they made their decisions.
Their article ran as part of CNN’s day-long coverage of the anniversary of the disaster on March 11.
“I wanted to find out myself if the media was magnifying the issue to scare the public and whether caution was necessary, or if the government had perhaps been negligent,” said Spaeth.
“I learned more than I could have asked for,” she continued. “I got to attend press conferences, observe and photograph protests and participate in a TV production package. Whether it was maneuvering a video camera six-feet above ground, interviewing and shooting a protest, or getting through a mob while videoing protestors, I learned some very useful hands-on journalism skills.”
Some students spent a day embedded with Reuters and AP; others spent their time working on their own projects.
Chan put together reports for RTHK. He produced one written story and two radio pieces while in Japan, and filed a five minute feature about the anniversary after his return to Hong Kong.
“I produced reports for RTHK, contributed an article to CNN and assisted the production of a video package for AFP,” said Chan.
“I found this trip extremely rewarding as it gave me the first-hand experience of working as a journalist overseas for prominent local and international media companies. I really appreciate the JMSC for giving us this invaluable opportunity and I hope that in future I get more opportunities to join other experimental learning projects – learning to be a journalist out of classroom.”
The only first-year student on the trip, Nuga, wrote a story for the South China Morning Post‘s Young Post.
In First Steps on Road to Recovery, Nuga recounted her trip to Ishinomaki in the Tohoku region – one of the cities damaged by the tsunami.
Nuga looked round a destroyed elementary school from which many students were washed away.
She wove her personal connection to the event – she is of Japanese origin – into her story.
“As I mentioned in my reflective piece, it was a moving experience to be back in my home country, to see what I saw in person and to interact with volunteer workers as well as the other JMSC students and professors,” Nuga said.
“I gained so much out of this trip,” she continued. “I got to with work with Reuters for a day and experienced journalism out of the classroom in a real setting. It really stirred my passion to pursue journalism as a career.”
The students compiled a Facebook site, Assignment Japan, and a JMSC site, also called Assignment Japan, which showcase their work.
The JMSC’s Kajimoto, who organized the trip, said it was educational on many levels.
“Shadowing AP and Reuters reporters was a great opportunity and a rare occasion for the students to see how journalists really work in the field covering internationally big stories like the earthquake anniversary,” he said.
“But I think the real opportunity this trip gave the students was the chance to go through the entire process of international news reporting on their own,” he continued.
“First, they needed to find their own stories, pitch them to the news organisations and plan logistics for their coverage (photo shooting, interviews, etc) while in Hong Kong. After we arrived in Japan, the students needed to learn quickly how to go negotiate a city where they didn’t speak the language, while finding sources, interviewing and reporting.”
“At night they needed to transcribe interviews, process photos and videos and write stories. The students worked hard every night until between 2 and 3 a.m.”
In other words, the students learned what journalists go through to gather facts and pictures, make sense of them all, and put them together for public consumption while working against a deadline. “It was tough,” Kajimoto said, “but I believe it was well worth it.”