10 foreign reporters to visit, study November election

by Beacon Staff • October 15, 2008

In conjunction with the US State Department, Emerson's School of Communication will host 10 professional Indonesian journalists to teach them about election coverage and campaign journalism, said Dr. Gregory Payne, the project's coordinator.

The 2008 Election Coverage Workshop Project will run from Oct. 24 - 28, scheduled during the last stage of America's heated presidential race. It is designed to instruct the journalists in political communication and campaign coverage as they set out to report on their own country's crucial election in the next year.

"Emerson is known worldwide as being a place where you go to not only understand the theory of communication but also the practical application," Payne said. "I think they're going to learn a great deal about our culture-the way we cover the world."

The first phase of the project is a five-day workshop at Emerson, in which the journalists will attend training sessions with titles like "Political Advertising-The Selling of the Candidate" and "Spectacle and Spin in Election Coverage," taught by academic and working media professionals.

Faculty will include guests from print, online, broadcast, radio and public affairs backgrounds. Alumna Cynthia Roy, Massachussets Governor Deval Patrick's deputy press secretary, and Shellie Karabell, a respected broadcaster who has worked for PBS, ABC and CNBC, will help educate the fledgling group.

Payne said as many as 12 Emerson faculty members, drawing most heavily from the Journalism and Political Communication departments, including Interim Journalism Chair Janet Kolodzy and Janis Anderson, dean of the School of Communication, will comprise the instructional team.

"We want to provide them with a perspective on elections, on election coverage, and on the democratic process, and we want to do it from a communications perspective," said Anderson, who is helping to oversee the project.

After the Emerson training session, members of the Indonesian group split either individually or in groups of two to four as they journey to several of America's political battleground states, including Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Missouri and Tennessee, to be embedded with American journalists reporting on the election. This phase will last from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5.

"It's one thing to go to a media training and say 'Here's how you do things in theory,''' said Tristram Perry, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, in a telephone interview. "[It's another thing to say] 'Here's how you do things in theory, now go and do it in one of the most historic elections in our lifetime,'"

Perry took graduate-level classes with Payne in the late-1990s, has worked in the embassy since 2002 as a mid-level officer.

According to Perry, the participating journalists are fluent English-speakers from newspaper, radio, online, and broadcast backgrounds between the ages of twenty and seventy and were selected from a competitive pool of at least fifty applicants.

"We wanted a diverse group and we wanted a bunch of people who were really interested," he said.

One participant, Rizki "Kiki" Sirgar, is a 26-year-old print and broadcast journalist at Trans TV, one of Indonesia's eleven national television stations. She and her field producer, Maryam Jazayeri, as well as Vanny Vanessa of Indonesia's Global TV station will, after the five-day Emerson experience, work one day in Boston, two days in Chicago, and four in Washington D.C.

"The American election is the biggest and most well known election in the whole world," she wrote in an e-mail message. "Of course because the US is one of the biggest nations and its impact to other countries is enormous. So, by covering it I will learn how a big country such as the U.S. runs an election; what technologies are used, how the campaign rallies are. I assume this is very different from what we use in Indonesia since our election system just recently changed and we have a lot of learning to do in this case."

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, and the world's third-largest democracy after India and the United States. Although of respectable size, Indonesian democracy is just ten years old. The first election in which the people selected their president and vice president was in 2004. The nation's second-ever election will be held in April 2009.

"We're riding the wave of the popularity of our elections and using it as a way to get Indonesians to talk critically about issues, about elections, about the way you cover elections and behave as responsible journalists," Perry said.

In addition to participating in the "training modules," while in Boston, the journalists will tour the city, observe classes at Emerson and Harvard University's Kennedy School, and attend a Communications, Politics, and Law Association luncheon.

Micahel McManus, who graduated from Emerson in May 2008 with a degree in Political Communication, will be flown in from Los Angeles to document the journalists' travels, as well as their academic experiences, in a short film. McManus met Payne through the Emerson's Campus Movie Fest, and later participated in last year's "Rediscover Rosarito" project.

"Greg Payne is a good ally to have because he never says no to doing anything and he knows everyone," said McManus. "He is very willing to do things that no one else will do."

The journalists will return to Indonesia with the film, Payne said.

"Our hope is that we have this documentary that they'll take home which is a nice historic touchstone of what they did," said Payne.

The Election Coverage Workshop is one of many grass-roots projects Payne has spearheaded, including the Saudi Global Exchange and the Global Marketing Competition. These, and the Election Workshop Project, according to Payne, all represent an effort to find similarities, and respect differences between cultures.

"All of what we're doing is about dialogue," he said. "It's about understanding what we share in common."