One Day in the Life of a Newsroom

by: Oleksii Kovalenko

“Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid.”

This quote comes from HBO’s The Newsroom, the best TV show about journalism in my opinion. Six years ago, when I started watching the very first episodes of The Newsroom, I had not even embarked on a journalistic path, but I was impressed with the inner world of the journalistic profession as described by writer Aaron Sorkin. This world was about truth, credibility, and respect, three goals that I strive to pursue in my career.

Trying to find a perfect field placement to study ways of resisting Russian disinformation and propaganda, I focused in on international news organization Voice of America (VOA). According to its charter, VOA’s purpose is “presenting a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” For the last 76 years, VOA has produced content in more than 40 languages. Luckily for me, combating disinformation is one of the principles of the VOA’s day-to-day work.

Newsroom research

VOA was founded during World War II to combat Nazi propaganda through unbiased and accurate journalism, and today, with the rising of a new propaganda evil and ongoing information wars, it’s probably the second most important time in the VOA’s history for the organization to live out its mission.

In today’s world, objective, truthful and bias-free information is crucial for sustainable peace and journalism itself can be seen as a form of peacebuilding. Sometimes it feels like “liberal peacebuilding” when journalism is used as a tool against crimes, corruption, disinformation and hybrid wars. At other times journalism can be portrayed as “sustainable peacebuilding,” when the truth is used for the purpose of healing and reconciling.

I have spent some time (ok, too much time) trying to figure out the format of this blogpost. But, as you may observe from its title, I focused in on one day in the life of the VOA’s Ukrainian newsroom. In the best tradition of VOA’s blogs, I’ll try to keep this blogpost short, but thoughtful. So this is a 4-minute read. Let’s get started!

Oleksii in DC

8:30–9:00 a.m.: The bright and totally over-air-conditioned office is filling up with journalists. I have a feeling that coming from Eastern Europe, I can adapt to everything except AC levels in the U.S.

At the entrance of the federal building, employees are welcomed with John F. Kennedy’s quote: “The Voice of America…carries a heavy responsibility. Its burden of truth is not easy to bear.” Meanwhile, the building itself has five stories above the ground floor. The last one is a mess of hundreds of studios and broadcasting rooms where one can get lost.

Newsroom research

9:00–9.30 a.m.: Normally you have two goals for this half hour: you need to find a story (if you haven’t found one yet) and stay caffeinated.

Web journalists are looking for the stories to be published on the website, TV journalists are choosing topics which will go on air after less than 5 hours, so time is ticking.

Summer is a perfect time for most of the interns to fill the gap and show what they can do while staff members are on vacations and VOA might need your help more than any other time. Since the very first day when I finished my paperwork, I’ve been treated as a full journalist, working five days a week from the first cup of coffee in the morning to the time when the work is done. I feel lucky that I have had a chance to participate in every single level of content production. From browsing the servers and watching incoming news feeds, to doing in-depth research about the most important ongoing investigation in the United States, from providing a voice-over for someone’s soundbytes and on to spotlighting disinformation in Ukrainian media.

9:30-10.00 a.m.: It’s a time to pitch your stories.

During the editorial meeting, you have a few minutes to pitch your story, answer tough questions, and prove that the story is worth the team’s time. If the topic is strong enough, after the editorial meeting you will start working on content production, trying to meet the deadline. The deadline is everything. Deadlines differ for different stories, but for web news stories (which is most of what I write), the deadline is always “now.”

10:00–2:30 p.m.: Work like crazy.

These 4.5 hours are really varied for the different teams in our newsroom. TV journalists are working on their stories for the air and content and video editors are trying to make these stories look perfect. Someone is often in the field, shooting new content. Someone is adapting Reuters or Associated Press stories. Someone is making voiceovers. But at 12:00, it usually becomes hot. You must be on time and you must produce meaningful content with broadcast quality sound and picture.

The web team normally has a reasonable time to publish news articles, but it’s breaking news, it’s all about time. You can’t wait, you can’t hesitate, and you can’t be slow. After just a couple of minute,s the story may lose all its value. But even in breaking news situations and even if you are a journalist with 10 years of experience, you cannot press the “publish” button without your editor or another person in the office fact-checking and proofreading your story. This is how you earn your audience’s trust.

Newsroom research

2:45–3:05 p.m.: On air

It’s the most stressful time of the day for editors, journalists, and producers. Everyone feels equally responsible for any problem that arises. When the hosts and the producer are going down to the studios, anything can go wrong: equipment isn’t working, the picture freezes, the network connection is slow. But, at the moment the anchor says, “Good afternoon. This is VOA Ukrainian’s daily show, Chastime,” usually everything flows as it should. None of the viewers can feel the tension on the other side of the blue screen. No one except an intern, who now feels more engaged than just a regular observer.

3:05-5.00 p.m.: A time to breathe

When the most stressful part of the day is over, both for the TV and web teams, you have time to work on your in-depth articles, feature stories, and anything that does not fit under the deadline “now.”

During the first month of my internship, I mostly worked for the website, producing analysis, news pieces, and infographics. I covered the topics of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, Kremlin disinformation and hacking attacks, and the Mueller investigation. And a solid multimedia story written by me about the Ukrainian side of the Russian interference investigation was recently published.

But I guess my 4 minutes are over for now, right?

Colombia at a Crossroads: The State of the Republic

by: Maria Camila Posse Gaez

It was 12:39 a.m. on Thursday, July 19, when a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook the land of central Colombia. The epicenter hit close to a small town in Huila—over 300 kilometers away from Bogotá—but the remezón was strong enough to jolt me awake in the middle of the night.

It had been five years since I last lived on land where earthquakes are a fairly regular occurrence, but the resilience of the capital’s structures protected me from any physical or emotional torment. That is, perhaps, one of the most interesting dimensions of coming back home to Colombia for an internship with the World Bank—the unexpected shelteredness. I grew up further south, in Cali, where the realities of the deep inequality of our country, and the precariousness of our peace and safety, are always just around the corner.

The Colombian Congress building
The Colombian Congress building

Bogotá, however, is much more neatly packaged for the international businessman or diplomat. It sells itself as one of the many capitals of the world and, often, its only “Third World” tells are the various potholes and occasional street vendors that add “charm” to the financial district. In Bogotá, only one house collapsed during the earthquake. It was an old house in the center of town and its inhabitants lived there despite an ancient eviction and demolition notice. The whole affair now stands as a fascinating metaphor for the state of the country—while the media reports mostly on the sleep lost by the capitalinos, not much is said about what happened in the smaller, rural towns closer to the epicenter, or what will happen to the one family who lost their home.

From abroad, watching the news through lagging livestreams or reading outraged updates on Twitter feeds, feeling disdain for the approach discussed above is quite easy. It is easy to blame the elite capitalinos for their blindness and indifference to the plight of Colombians on the peripheries (real or imagined). But being here, living in the bubble, I will admit to walking by the street vendors and pretending they are not there, to going back to bed after the earthquake, being thankful for how nice my apartment is and simply moving on. As I begin my internship with the World Bank and settle back into what once was a home, I recognize these pushes and pulls will become even stronger.

But which pull will be stronger? To give in to the comfort of a desk job in an elegant building in a wealthy neighborhood of a wealthy city? Or to reach out and find the crumbling houses before the next earthquake hits? Or, perhaps, we hide behind excuses of safety and security when forcing ourselves to choose either/or. As an outsider who was once an insider now trying to negotiate those forces, I hope this semester helps me find ways to pull myself and other Colombians out of these conundrums.

The past three months have represented a whirlwind of political events for Colombia, and I am glad I was here to witness and take it all in as an insider-outsider. May and June brought with them a heavily contested, polarized, and difficult presidential election. In a series of peaceful protests around the country, July brought the height of popular condemnation for the political assassinations of social leaders that have been occurring for years. Sadly, however, it seems that for many the most salient tragedy of the past weeks has been Colombia’s untimely elimination from the FIFA World Cup. One could argue that perhaps this avoidance-through-sports is due to the deep sense of uncertainty that plagues the country—unknowingness as to what will happen to the Peace Agreement with FARC under the impending Ivan Duque presidency; doubts as to what the legacy of President Juan Manuel Santos will be; and worries about the present state of the country’s other armed actors. For many of us, tossing and turning about what the referee could have done to spare us elimination at the hands of the English national team provides a stronger sense of certainty and control.

Colombia World Bank
View of Bogota from the World Bank offices

President Elect Duque will receive a country that is both hopeful and weary. Duque ran on a conservative “lets modify the peace agreement and lower taxes” platform that inspired urban elites and their economic interests, while also inflaming anti-Santos sentiments.

Weariness stems largely from the most recent onslaught of paramilitary, ELN, and FARC violence in the rural and semi-rural peripheries of Colombia. Indeed, the Democratic Center party and its members have a history of both being entangled with and denying the existence of paramilitary groups, and, as such, their return to the presidency concerns many observers. Together with ELN and FARC dissidences, paramilitary actors are responsible for the deaths of over 200 human rights defenders, indigenous representatives, and many others since the signing of the peace accords in 2016. This is, devastatingly, evidence that conflict in the country still abounds and that a Duque administration will face challenges not only in implementing the peace agreement (if they do so at all), but also in managing historical threats and new ones that may emerge.

As a Colombian who has been educated abroad for half a decade and who watched Santos’ second term and the unfolding of the peace negotiations through the lens of the media, I choose to share in the sentiment of hopeful weariness. I am worried about the future of the peace agreement—not because its failure would mean a FARC resurgence (I believe that ship has already sailed), but rather because it would represent a failure of the Colombian state and people to do right by the victims of decades of structural and direct violence.

As a peace studies student, I am keenly aware of the oppressive size of the challenges that face communities in Chocó and Antioquia, for example, and it worries me deeply to think these might be compounded by the destruction of spaces for justice where their truths might be told. Moreover, as someone who feels deeply committed to working for peace, development, and justice, I wonder what safe spaces will be left for us when the chips of violence fall according to new political arrangements.

I am also hopeful that the past years of political polarization and debates have awakened a spirit of moral activism in the hearts of many Colombians—we will not sit idly by and watch our prospects of peace be dismantled. Indeed, on July 6, a series of peaceful national demonstrations against the assassinations of social leaders spread throughout the country. Thousands of people in Bogota, Pereira, Cali, Barranquilla, Medellin, and many other cities, hit public parks and squares to clamor for justice and their protection. Using candles to represent the lives lost and the hashtag #NosEstanMatando (#WeAreBeingKilled), the crowds forced politicians, including the President Elect, to at least acknowledge the situation. As such, I have hope that the Colombia of 2018, one that has so many wicked problems and faces a tricky next four years, is also one of renewed political and ethical energy.

Fingers crossed that by the time the 2022 FIFA World Cup comes around, in those same four years plus four months, our getting eliminated truly is the only cause for national mourning.

Becoming Uncomfortable: Peace Studies in the Field

by: Susan St. Ville

Students in the International Peace Studies Concentration of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs program will soon embark on the extended field internship experience that is an integral part of their peace studies training. Students will spend six months on the ground working with a peace-related organization and conducting independent field research that will form the basis of their MA Capstone project. This year members of the peace studies cohort will be located in Nairobi, Bogota, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Seattle, and South Bend. They will join a range of organizations including the World Bank, Catholic Relief Services, Voice of America, the Life and Peace Institute, and Act, Change, Transform (ACT!).

Peace studies in actionThe Kroc Institute established its first field internships in 2004. Six months is a long time to be away from campus and the extended internship experience is unique among master’s level peace studies programs. We are encouraged that alumni of the master’s program and employers alike consistently report that the extended time spent in the field is essential to building the professional identity and self-understanding that is the hallmark of peacebuilders trained at the Kroc Institute over the last 32 years.

In the high stakes and unpredictable world of conflict and peace work, acting professionally requires much more than simply applying skills learned in the classroom to vexing problems in the real world.

As part of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs, the peace studies concentration draws deeply on the pragmatic insights of reflective practice: the understanding that the most effective knowledge in any situation comes through practice. Put simply, we learn best by doing.

Reflective practice requires that we shift the center of gravity on the theory-practice continuum. In his classic book, Experience and Education, John Dewey asserts that learning rooted in experience is key for intellectual and personal growth, helping students to “improve their power of judgment and capacity to act intelligently in new situations.” The peace studies students in the field learn above all to listen to the nuances of the local context and to act in a manner fitting to the particular situation. To be sure, students draw on the theories and skills that they have learned during the first year of coursework. But they understand the importance of holding these theories gently and being ready to adapt, rework or even reject them as the situation demands.

Peace Studies students often remark that the field experience helps them to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Indeed, the experience is intentionally designed to unsettle students. Students are generally placed in a culture that is unfamiliar to them: this year our interns in Nairobi, for example, will hail from the Philippines, China, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Interns become full members of the organizations where they are placed, learning how to navigate an institutional setting very different from the university community that has been their home for the past year.

 

Peace studies in action

Students spend the majority of their time (four days per week) working with their organization, leaving one day each week for their own academic research. In these practical ways, the Peace Studies field experience seeks to embody the key principles of solidarity and subsidiarity that are central to the understanding of integral human development that undergirds the Keough School Master of Global Affairs. Asking students to step outside of their comfort zone and follow the lead of the local partners for six months is difficult, but through this process students learn in very practical ways how to genuinely support their partners and nurture local initiatives that support the common good.

Over the course of six months, students will write monthly journal entries and longer papers that recount the challenges they face in these unfamiliar settings, but also the creative ways they have found to meet these challenges. Later entries from Peace Studies students on this blog will give readers a glimpse of these journeys. Like past interns, this year’s Peace Studies students will produce important products for their organizations, including conflict assessments; policy analyses and recommendations; workshop designs; and program evaluations. But more importantly, they will develop personal qualities that will allow them to succeed as professional peacebuilders, no matter the context in which they find themselves.

Education theorist Randall Bass writes that the most valuable and transformational educational experiences are those that improve students’ ability to “make discerning judgments based on practical reasoning, acting reflectively, taking risks, engaging in civil, if difficult, discourse, and proceeding with confidence in the face of uncertainty.” Over the extended six-month period, Peace Studies students grow in all of these areas, learning to think outside the box and to act confidently (with both generosity and humility).

If the stories and career trajectories of past master’s students are any indication, we know that the field experience will be radically transformative for our students. We are excited for our Peace Studies students to undertake this formation process and even more excited to see who they become over the next six months.

Susan St. Ville

Director, International Peace Studies Concentration