Just as journalism itself reaches far beyond mere walls and crosses global boundaries, the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois offers our students immense potential for learning and immersion outside the classroom. Read on for insight into just two of those opportunities.

International Reporting Project

The International Reporting Class, created by Professor Nancy Benson in 2005, gives journalism students at Illinois first-hand reporting experience in foreign countries – a project that has few, if any, counterparts at other journalism programs in the U.S. Our students have traveled to Peru to report on the plight of the descendants of the Inca; to China to write about rural workers brought to Beijing to build the Olympic village as well as health and environmental risks in that polluted city; to Romania and Italy to explore economic and social issues in Romania and in particular how Roma – known pejoratively as gypsies – suffer discrimination throughout the continent; and to Turkey where they endeavored to increase American understanding of Muslim societies. 

This is not a traditional study-abroad program or a simple class about life in foreign countries; these classes are, in effect, working, mobile newsrooms that take students out of their comfort zones and immerse them in a foreign land, where they function as foreign-correspondents-in-training. 

How are the reports from the International Reporting Project used?

Documentaries produced for the class have been broadcast on public radio and public television and recognized with national awards for their original reporting and professional quality. A two-hour documentary about the China Reporting Project won a national first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which distributes the Emmy Awards, recognized a video documentary from the Turkey Reporting Project with the Crystal Pillar Award for Long Form Nonfiction Journalism, which is the Academy’s highest award for college student television productions. 

Who is Professor Nancy Benson?

Democracy building through journalism development is a cornerstone of Professor Benson’s research activities. She has traveled to at least 17 countries on three continents, delivering lectures on the role and future of journalism, conducting faculty workshops, and teaching journalism skills. She has worked with professional journalists, journalism students, and journalism professors throughout Eastern Europe, the Balkans and parts of Asia to improve radio and television station programming, redesign journalism curricula, and teach reporting skills and professional ethics. Her approach to democracy building is based on the belief that it is important to empower and properly equip journalists in developing nations, while emphasizing the role of journalists as agents of the public and as a voice for marginalized populations. Her commitment to journalism development and her connections to journalists throughout the world led Benson to develop this international reporting course.

CU-Citizen Access Project

In January 2010, journalism professors Rich Martin and Brant Houston launched CU-CitizenAccess.org, a new Web site that focuses on poverty and related issues in Champaign County, Ill. An integral part of the larger CU-Citizen Access project, the site offers a place for citizens, journalists, and university students to share news, raise and discuss issues, find assistance, and suggest solutions. 

Backed with funding from the Marajen Stevick Foundation and the University of Illinois with a matching grant from the John S. Knight and James L. Knight Foundation, the project is intended to bring together all parts of the community to disclose and deal with the issues associated with citizens living in poverty or on low wages. 

The CU-Citizen Access project also is intended to create as many avenues as possible for citizens to address these issues, whether through this Web site, in-person or through email, social networks like Twitter, cell phones, photos and news stories.