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Journalism students Rwanda-bound: Carleton professor behind newspaper internship program
By Shannon Proudfoot

This story first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, April 17, 2006, Section D (City Section), Page 6.

OTTAWA — In an effort to improve media standards in Rwanda, a dozen journalism students from Carleton University will travel to the central African nation this summer to complete internships at the country's major English-language newspaper.

The internships are part of an ongoing partnership — dubbed the Rwanda Initiative — between Carleton and the National University of Rwanda. The project was spearheaded by Allan Thompson, a Carleton journalism professor and former Toronto Star reporter who travelled to Rwanda several times after the 1994 genocide.

Beginning last winter, several Canadian journalists were sent to teach at the National University of Rwanda and conduct weekly workshops with the New Times in Kigali.

The teaching component of the project is ongoing, and the idea to send young Canadian journalists to work at the chronically short-staffed newspaper arose out of those workshops.

Mr. Thompson says that, more than a decade after the genocide that saw an estimated 800,000 people killed in 100 days, Rwanda remains "a fragile media environment."

Reporters are not generally in physical danger, he said, but low-level harassment leads many to self-censor and tread lightly on controversial issues.

"The country is full of stories, but the media culture leans toward more institutional stories about government bodies. Journalists don't do as much feature writing on the kind of people stories that we do," he said.

Mr. Thompson expects 12 to 15 students to take part in the program, and they will be in Rwanda for shifts of one to two months, throughout the summer and into September. In order to prepare, they attended a one-day orientation program run by Foreign Affairs through the Centre for Intercultural Learning, and Mr. Thompson also conducted a workshop on the pragmatic concerns of travel, health and accommodation.

Because this is the pilot year for the program, students paid for their own trips with some assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency, and the newspaper is providing housing. Mr. Thompson hopes that in future years the program will be fully financed.

"I think it says something about their interest in the project that they're willing to pay their own way to go there," he said.

Laura Payton, a first-year student in the master's journalism program, was drawn to the program because of her interest in Rwanda's troubled history and its efforts to overcome the past. She leaves for a one-month stint in Kigali on April 26, and although she and her fellow interns don't know exactly what to expect when they land, they view it as a great opportunity to experience another culture.

"I'd love to do international reporting one day, so I thought I should get some travel under my belt first," she said.

Ms. Payton, 25, said she expects to start out copy editing, because English is a second language for most of the writers at the New Times.

Rwanda's official languages are English, French and Kinyarwanda, and while many of the Carleton students speak French, they will need local "fixers" or Rwandan journalists to translate for them in many situations.




    © 2006 Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication DESIGN: SMDESIGN