13 Murrow Fellows Visit Minneapolis-St. Paul

Last fall, SJMC hosted the journalists for five days

By Alex Smith

In just five short days, 13 African journalists with the U.S. Department of State’s Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists got a taste of Minneapolis, St. Paul and the Twin Cities as a whole.

The 11th annual program began in late October when more than 75 journalists flew into Washington D.C. for a three-week exchange to gain insights about free press in a democracy and get an American perspective on local and global issues.

On Nov. 3, the Murrow Fellows traveled to Minnesota to work with the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, a partner school of the program. They kicked off their visit to the Twin Cities on Nov. 4 by taking a tour of the Mill City Museum to gain an understanding of Minneapolis’ history.

Fellow Ivan Mugisha was fascinated by how well Minneapolis’ history is preserved. “I see this everywhere [in the city],” he said. “There’s a rich culture of preserving what happened in past centuries.”

Mugisha is a reporter at The East African in Rwanda, where he says the country’s history isn’t documented well. “We don’t have enough policies in place to preserve the culture and history of Rwanda or museums to show this is what happened,” he said.

After a morning of history, the group went to the University of Minnesota for a conversation about sustainable plant health, GMOs, fertilization and insects with Dr. Jim Bradeen and Star Tribune agriculture reporter Tom Meersman. They also attended a session where Dr. Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center and a professor in the College of Biological Sciences, talked about his research on lions and how to preserve the animals globally.

“People were very interested in what he had to say and plan on amplifying the message in their various press outlets,” said Frank Kasell, U.S. Department of State International Visitor Liaison.

In their next meeting, a handful of representatives from media outlets and science-based organizations talked about how the environment is covered in Minnesota press outlets. Topics like water, how to get people to care about environmental reporting, global warming, and the future of the environment under a Trump administration, were discussed.

“Everyone enjoyed the rich discussion and were pleased to see that the environment was covered so robustly in Minnesota,” Kasell said.

The night concluded with an event to release the Tow Report about chat apps at Public Radio International. According to Kasell, the visitors were interested in issues of encryption, as well as some of the practical uses of these chat apps in their reporting.

Fellow Mugisha said he uses Facebook messenger to communicate with sources currently, but plans to use other chat apps like WhatsApp in the future. “It is powerful and will be useful in the future,” Mugisha said.

On Saturday, the sights and scenes of Minneapolis-St. Paul entertained the group. The tour made stops at the Guthrie Theater, Minnehaha Falls, the State Capitol, the Minnesota Gopher football game, and concluded with a shopping trip to the Mall of America.

The Murrow Fellows used Sunday as a free day to go shopping, see movies, and even attend the Trump rally at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. In the evening, the journalists had home-cooked meals with locals.

Media law and ethics was the theme of Monday morning. Fellows started the day with a discussion about American media ethics with Jane Kirtley and then sat in on Nora Paul’s Intro to Mass Communication class. Later in the afternoon, the journalists split up between Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press to learn more about the organizations.

The bunch also experienced Election Day firsthand and visited Brian Coyle Center, a community center and polling place in the heart of one of the Somali communities in the area. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon greeted the group and explained state elections. In the afternoon, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a grassroots organization fighting for racial justice in the area, held a meeting. Later in the night, the groups visited both the Republican and Democratic watch parties, which concluded their time in the Twin Cities.

“Several [Murrow Fellows] asked if they could stay longer,” Kasell said.  

Sonny Serite, investigative reporter for the Gazette newspaper in Botswana said that his trip to Minneapolis was wonderful. “It’s a beautiful city,” he said. “I could live here any day.” Serite especially thought the light rail was interesting, because it requires people to be honest and responsible because there is typically no one checking tickets. “You can’t find that anywhere else,” he said.

Michaella Seblin, a journalist from Mauritius, particularly enjoyed the Gopher football game and exploring Minneapolis. “It’s big and beautiful and nice,” Seblin said. “It’s like a movie.”

After their visit to Minnesota, the group traveled to Tampa, Florida, and New York City.

Murrow fellows