Source: The Jerusalem Post | September 11, 2000

Israel Now for Journalists of the Future

By Chani Cohen

(September 11) - As editor of The Rice Thresher, the student newspaper of Rice University in Texas, Mariel Tam doesn't often have the opportunity to cover foreign affairs.

So, not surprisingly, she found her trip to Poland, Bulgaria, and Israel - as part of the Anti-Defamation League's seminar for editors-in-chief of American college and university newspapers - an eye-opening experience.

"The trip gave me a whole new worldview," said Tam last week in Jerusalem.

"I visited an impoverished Gypsy camp in Bulgaria, walked through Auschwitz, and chilled with Beduin in the desert. I now see how people view America from the outside, and how Americans are all too often self-centered."

For the past eight years the ADL has sponsored the all-expenses-paid seminar, in the hope that the program will serve to heighten awareness among future journalists of the impact of the Holocaust and the historic events that led to the creation of the State of Israel.

"We want to give the students an increased understanding of the incredible complexities facing Israel today and the hope for peace shared by all," said Jeffrey Ross, director of campus affairs for the ADL, to assist them in becoming "factual journalists with guaranteed integrity."

"They are the gatekeepers of ideas in their universities... trendsetters who, for example, stand on the front lines of Holocaust denial on campus.

"Many will also go on to achieve top positions at leading American newspapers."

Through firsthand exposure, and by discussing the inaccuracies and distortions found in media coverage of Israeli and Jewish affairs, "we want to show the students that many of the simplistic images conveyed by the American media are devoid of essential context.

"Our aim is to dispel the myths that surround the reporting on Israel and increase awareness of antisemitism in the media."

Ross, who helps organize the trip and accompanies the group every year, strives to achieve this goal by exposing the students to various sides of the political spectrum. They meet with a diversified network of decision-makers, government and military officials, peace negotiators, journalists, and locals in all three countries.

"If the students were exposed to only one side the program would not be a success; the diversity of the program is what gives it credibility" he continued. "This is a very sophisticated group of students who can handle exposure to all ranges of thought."

'ENCOUNTERING and actually listening to these different viewpoints will help me as a journalist," said Letitia Stein, editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News. "I will not be as likely to simplify a situation.

"Talking to representatives of different viewpoints, who are so passionate about their cause, has allowed me to see that the situation is more complex. We are dealing with real people and real feelings, not just 'news.' "

The program's itinerary is constructed to convey an ideological message.

The first country visited is Poland, the ground zero of Jewish annihilation during the Holocaust. Then the group moves on to Bulgaria, a country that united to save its Jewish populace. The trip culminates in Israel, the symbol of Jewish resurrection and self-empowerment.

"Visiting Bulgaria right after Poland provides an immediate historical balance to the destruction witnessed in Poland," said Ross. "The students see how Poland and Bulgaria have been ravaged by 50 years of communist rule, while Israel has been built into a dynamic and attractive society during the same time period.

"Through witnessing the situation firsthand they will be able to look at media reports in a different way and be better journalists because of this experience."

The students agreed.

Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman, co-editor of The Phoenix, the student newspaper of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, said the seminar had helped him realize the importance of detail while reporting.

"Too much journalism is done on a hasty basis, where the reporter is desensitized to what is taking place and does not acquire the necessary detailed background to offer an accurate perspective," he said.

"Being here and actually walking where the news and history occurs, has made me realize that it is essential to have all the necessary background and a real understanding of the place and people you are reporting on."

"I will utilize this skill with all reporting," he declared.

Brian Fiske, editor-in-chief of the Cornell Review, credited his experiences here with helping him realize that he had been influenced by media hype.

"Israel and the Middle East are so heavily reported, a lot of it is misconceptions... In truth, we [in America] don't know much at all about what goes on here."

DESPITE THE ADL's sponsorship the program does not target Jewish students, and only about a quarter of the 21 participants were actually Jewish. Some said they came away from the seminar with a renewed sense of Jewish identity.

"Before the program, I backed away from really accepting Israel," said Yale's Stein. "Now, I feel more comfortable with embracing Israel as part of my Jewish identity."

Arthur Harris, city news editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator, experienced a similar epiphany which even has him thinking about a possible move to Israel after he graduates from college.

"I was walking in Jerusalem on Shabbat and met with scores of Jews on their way to synagogue wearing kippot and carrying prayer books," said Harris.

"It was incredible to see. In America this is accompanied by a degree of self-consciousness. I felt a level of comfort that is difficult to explain.

"My feeling of identifying with the Jews in Israel was much stronger than I had expected, and I found that my foremost concern was the survival of Israel."

As a journalist Harris credited the seminar with having "deepened my sense of obligation to give all sides a fair chance. It will compel me to understand all the forces that create a situation.

"There are always factors much deeper than the rhetoric, and this is a challenge I look forward to."