By Mary Stucky, co-founder of and lead journalist at Round Earth Media. Mary is co-director of SIT’s Morocco: Field Studies in Journalism and New Media program, being run in partnership between SIT and Round Earth Media. Mary’s story captures the extraordinary experiences and successes students are having on this groundbreaking journalism program.
At Round Earth Media, we teach students to produce great journalism about important global issues. But that’s not all. When a student story is exceptionally good, we help students publish and broadcast their stories and photographs in top-tier media – like The New York Times.
A new pioneering program in Morocco, run in partnership between Round Earth Media and SIT Study Abroad, has resulted in student stories placed in major media outlets in the United States. Proof positive that undergraduate students can produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards, while receiving a powerful experience in cross-cultural learning. (Read the story our students placed in The New York Times.)
“I think I’ll take back, not only the notion that we can accomplish these things but also that you don’t have to be a certain age to achieve what you’ve been dreaming or working for. It gives us a legitimacy that I never thought I’d obtain for ten more years,” said Kirsten Kortebein, a student on the Morocco journalism program. In addition to The New York Times, Kortebein’s photos, produced on the Morocco program, appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World. That’s an incredible accomplishment for an undergraduate!
Kortebein, a student at the University of Michigan, worked in partnership with another student on the Morocco program, reporter Jacqueline Kantor, a journalism major at the University of North Carolina. Their first big challenge was to find a good story, and these intrepid young journalists went looking with a vengeance. What they found is the Marathon des Sables, often called the toughest footrace on earth, running 153 miles through the Sahara Desert where temperatures can reach 122 degrees. The race draws nearly a thousand athletes from all over the world but no one had ever done a story about the desert runners who dominate this grueling marathon.
“It was cool to be able to tell their story,” said Kantor. “It’s pretty well known within the country and within people who are interested in desert races but it wasn’t out there [in the press]. So now I like the fact that if you Google ‘desert Moroccan runners,’ or ‘Sahara runners,’ people will know who they are.”
Both Kantor and Kortebein say they plan to pursue journalism careers after graduation. The Morocco program has attracted budding student journalists interested in print, broadcast, film and photography. Many students are not journalism majors – classics, anthropology and international relations majors are among those represented on the program. Kantor remembers a time when the students were hanging out in a cafe in Morocco and one turned to her, in awe of their opportunity.
“[She] was like ‘We’re in Morocco right now, in a foreign country, and we’re all leaving on assignments tomorrow. How cool is that? Are we going to be doing the same thing in 20 years? Meeting in some other country?’ I feel like we’ll all stay in contact after this but also on a professional level.”
“I think we clicked really well,” said Kortebein, adding that she and Kantor supported each other in the field, which was especially challenging given the extreme desert weather.
Partnerships are essential to the Round Earth model. Too often, American journalists parachute into a country for just a few weeks of reporting, failing to grasp the nuances and complexities of what is, for them, a foreign country. But Round Earth Media journalists avoid those pitfalls by collaborating with the most promising early-career journalists in the countries where Round Earth is reporting. Together, these journalist teams produce stories for top-tier media in the U.S. and abroad.
The SIT / Round Earth Media journalism program in Morocco is the first time that this model has been applied to student journalists. For more than two months, seven student pairs — an American partnered with a Moroccan — worked to produce what one of the Moroccan students calls “a mosaic bowl of articles” from the topic of racism in Morocco to the Soulaliyate women’s land rights movement and a documentary film about fishermen on Morocco’s western coast.
Vital to the program’s success is the support and enthusiasm from Professor Khadija Zizi and her colleagues at ISIC (L’Institut Supérieure de l’Information et de la Communication), the journalism school in Rabat, Morocco.
Professor Zizi called the student partnership “a great opportunity for the [Moroccan] students to work under the supervision of a professional journalist and international leader.”
The Moroccan journalism students receive a “Certificate in International Journalism from Round Earth Media and SIT Study Abroad.”
“We were always together to discuss every detail,” said Moroccan journalism student Youssra El Hassani when asked about her experience working with her American student counterpart. “The idea of pairs is very important.”
The American students agree. “Not only have we been able to pick up valuable journalistic skills from each other, we have been able to exchange our cultures and become great friends,” said Antinnea Skipwith. “I think working in partnership is the best way to work.”
While the timing of the Sahara marathon did not allow for a Moroccan journalism student to partner on their story, Kantor and Kortebein agree that the best journalism is produced in partnership. This chance to work together (writers and photographers, Americans and Moroccans), is just one of many rare opportunities offered by this groundbreaking journalism program.
“I have always loved [journalism] and this has made me appreciate it even more than I did already,” said Kantor. “It’s an excuse to talk to people, an excuse to do things you’ve never done, an excuse to spend ten days in the desert wandering around one of the biggest races in the world.”