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JMSC Students Get Taste of War and Diplomacy

The meeting of regional bureau chiefs was, as usual, a lively event. Thirty-three correspondents, based in countries from Yemen to China, each argued for their top stories and justified their editorial choices.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a story conference at The New York Times, rather than an innovative course offered at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre by Associate Professor of Practice Kevin Sites, a veteran war correspondent and author of two books on the subject.

Spanish journalist Rosa Meneses on Skype

Spanish war correspondent Rosa Meneses on Skype

Simply called “International News,” the undergraduate course teaches students what it takes to be an effective foreign correspondent. According to Sites, it requires extensive research and planning, determination and stamina, and a keen awareness of personal safety. And that’s before you can even start thinking about reporting and writing in dangerous environments.

“It’s also important to immerse yourself in your country’s culture to understand local prejudices,” he advises his students. “And you need to learn to get original sources, even if you’re not in the country. Try to get beyond the wire stories.”

In addition to teaching students to act like bureau chiefs, a unique feature of the class is the weekly talks with guest journalists via Skype. A recent visitor was Rosa Meneses, a Spanish reporter for El Mundo, who has covered numerous conflicts in the Middle East. She shared her experience being shot in the back while reporting in Libya. Meneses was saved, she said, by a borrowed flak jacket given to her at the last moment as she was setting off with a team of Libyan soldiers.

“The combination of the professor’s personal experience in war and the guest journalists really make this course unique,” said Sarah Rutherford, an exchange student from the US. “This course is what I was looking for because I came here for a world perspective and to learn how better to tell stories.”

The students’ stories can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.