Monday, September 23, 2013

Journalism Professor Nancy Benson Discusses Student Reporting in Turkey on Illinois International

by Lauren Hoerr

On September 4th, Nancy Benson, Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Illinois, was interviewed by Nicole Tami, Director of International Student Integration, as part of the Illinois International video interview series. In 2012, nine University of Illinois journalism students studied Turkey and then visited the country in order to get a greater understanding of Islam and the diversity of Muslim societies. Professor Benson’s students were in Turkey during a critical time leading up to recent demonstrations. A few of the students went to the Syrian border and others interviewed Syrians both in refugee camps and Antakya, Turkey.  One of the students did a piece on the development of the protests in Istanbul, reporting on the different views of the events that were transpiring.

Professor Benson’s students must spend a semester prior to their time abroad immersing themselves in the culture of the country they are about to enter. Throughout the semester, Prof. Benson brings in several guest speakers who are experts in certain areas that are pertinent to what the students will be studying. For example, prior to the recent trip to Turkey, students experienced lectures from experts on issues such as Turkey’s place in both the region and the global sphere, and what it means to be a Muslim in Turkey today. Students need to gain context and a global picture of the country that they will be entering and reporting from.

Oftentimes, American journalists and journalism students have more freedoms than the journalists in other countries, and therefore can have more access to information and be bolder in asking certain questions –although Professor Benson notes that this is not a universal rule and that there are some questions and topics that can cause problems and trouble for journalists. Students must be respectful of the boundaries of a certain culture and this is done through listening and learning. The goal was not to push boundaries, but rather to understand how one needs to look at a culture and understand how that effects the reporting. The main goal is to understand the culture instead of overlaying a viewpoint that is distinctly influenced by American culture onto the stories.

The end result of both the semester immersed in Turkish culture and the few weeks spent reporting in Turkey varied depending on the career interests of the particular students. However, each student had to produce a story in whatever format they chose to be included in an overall story that was turned into a half-hour program. This program was shown locally on WILL as well as WTTW in Chicago. It also won a student Emmy for the production value and content.

For more information on Professor Benson and her students and the works they produced as a result of their time in Turkey, please visit their blog:

The video has been embedded below or can be viewed on the Illinois International webpage

Lauren Hoerr is a first-year student at the University of Illinois' Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the webmaster Graduate Assistant for UIUC's European Union Center of Excellence.


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