SPJ Reading Room
International Media Seminar: First-person perspective
By Lee Anne Peck
International Media Seminar! In Paris! In May!
Although my original motives to go to France might have been a bit selfish, as I pondered the possibilities such a seminar might present for University of Northern Colorado journalism and communication students, my intentions became much more academic.
UNC's Center for International Education could offer students no help with expenses for such adventures, but I decided to announce the seminar in journalism and communication classes and see what interest students from the mountains, the plains and the Denver suburbs might have in experiencing a world outside of Greeley, Colo. — at their own expense.
The media seminar is offered annually by the nonprofit Center for the Study of International Communications, an independent organization based in Paris. The center's chairman is Lee W. Huebner, a professor of communication studies and journalism at Northwestern University and a former publisher of the International Herald Tribune. Huebner also acted as interim president of the American University of Paris in the mid-1990s.
Huebner and his wife, Berna, began organizing the seminars 10 years ago. The seminar is open to U.S. university students and professors who want exposure to the global media landscape, Paris-style. It's intensive and in-depth and is a good solution for students who might not be able to commit to a semester- or yearlong study abroad program.
I had about 10 serious contenders in January who wanted to attend the seminar with me. But by March, that number had dwindled to three, and one of those three was my niece, a business major from Colorado State University.
Nonetheless, the four of us women sallied forth, made our intentions known to seminar organizers and bought our plane tickets. Because I had lived in Europe in the past and had visited Paris on previous occasions, I thought it essential to prepare my students to be good world citizens, so to speak. We met before leaving for the seminar to discuss appropriate behavior and dress and Parisian culture and to also discuss the importance of learning the basics of the French language, which I call "Instant French."
We arrived in Paris on May 17 — all on different flights. It was easier for students to reserve their own air travel because they planned to travel to other European destinations after the Paris seminar.
Our hotel reservations had been arranged by the organizers; we found ourselves living for the next 10 days in the Seventh Arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower and, nearby, the different classroom locations of the AUP, where many of the lectures were held.
Students and professors from three other universities were in attendance, too, which made for a group of about 25. Students in attendance from Missouri Southern State University were attending for course credit — something worth contemplating for future trips.
But what a time to be in Paris!
The city was getting ready for France's vote on the EU constitution May 29 and readying for the French Open tennis tournament set to begin May 23. Our seminar started the very day of our arrival, with dinner at the apartment of Nancy and Richard Asthalter — complete with a view of the Musee D'Orsay. Nancy is a professor of American history at the University of Paris, and Richard is an American lawyer practicing in Paris. Guest speaker for the evening: Richard Reeves, political columnist and authors of books about the U.S. presidency. And so our Parisian media journey began.
The next few days were full of lectures and discussions with guest speakers who were U.S. journalists based in Paris, French journalists and other media types.
We traveled via the Metro to such places as the newsroom of the International Herald Tribune and the studios and conference rooms of France Television. We also enjoyed a meal and discussion at the Huebner's Paris apartment.
Lee Huebner asked students at the beginning of the seminar, "Globalization, the 'G' word," what do we mean by that?
"We live in a world," he said, "where MTV in Singapore employs a DJ who is British, who gets a Toni Braxton request from a Nigerian student studying in Palestine." Phew! My students were not in Colorado anymore.
Students, in general, were totally engrossed by the information that was being shared with them.
They met Marc Porter, the director of the new World Radio Paris. They met Ann Morrison, now a contributor for Time magazine, but formerly a co-editor of Time Europe and a former editor of Asiaweek magazine.
Author and journalist Harriet Welty Rochefort, who has lived in Paris for 30 years, explained cultural differences to the students using her two books, French Toast and French Fried, as the foundation for her discussion.
Investigative journalists Tom Sancton, former Time Paris bureau chief, and Barry Lando, former European producer of the CBS program 60 Minutes, discussed the coverage of Princess Diana's death and Saddam Hussein. Lynne Platte, the chief media and information officer at the U.S. embassy in Paris, discussed the operations of her office.
Peter Barnet, now an AUP adjunct professor but formerly with global advertising agencies, explained branding in Europe. Jeffrey Schaeffer, senior producer of the Paris bureau of Associated Press Television News, showed his recent images from Iraq while his wife, Vivienne Walt, international correspondent for several publications, discussed her latest reporting trip to Iraq.
On the lighter side, People correspondent Cathy Nolan had the crowd laughing about her adventures covering celebrities. And Nicola Keegan, an editor for Fodor's travel guides shared her adventures in covering Paris.
We met CNN correspondent Jim Bittermann and France Television's Christian Malar, a U.S. correspondent and senior foreign analyst.
The plusses, no minuses
Ah, the free time! With so many days in Paris, the students learned to use the Metro, and they chose the museums and attractions they wanted to visit during off hours. My three students became friends with the three students from South Dakota State University, and the group would take off for the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, the palace of Versailles and, of course, the shopping.
I was on my own during most of the free time. The students reveled on their own. My preparation at home paid off. The students were polite and well-dressed and tried speaking their basic knowledge of French whenever they could. I was a proud professor.
In more academic terms, the networking the students did with the journalists whom they met was invaluable.
"Luck, persistence and the willingness to take chances" is how Morrison told students she got her positions overseas. The speakers gladly shared business cards and encouraged students to explore international career options.
More importantly, however, the presenters shared knowledge of their worlds outside of the United States, and for 10 days, we lived and learned somewhere else.
Would I bring students again? No hesitation: Yes, yes, yes.
If you're interested
Next year's seminar dates are March 19-25 and May 23-31. The registration fee for the seminar varies by the number of students attending from each school (and by the value of the Euro); some lunches and dinners are included in this cost. Reasonable hotel reservations can be arranged through the Huebners. Speakers vary according to schedules. For more information, contact Lee Huebner at the following:
1815 Chicago Ave., Room 106
Evanston, Ill. 60208-1340
Phone: (847) 491-5837
Lee Anne Peck, Ph.D., is a member of the SPJ International and Ethics committees and is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of Northern Colorado. She recently taught international communications at Franklin College Switzerland.