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),
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
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
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
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.