Todd Pitock is a seasoned travel writer whose stories have taken him from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from South Africa to Morocco.
In those far-flung destinations, he reports about science, sports, politics, and culture for national publications including Salon, The Atlantic, Discover, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. I had the great pleasure of meeting Pitock when I was the launch editor of a travel magazine named Afar; he wrote the cover story, about the Berber culture of Morocco, for Afar’s premiere issue.
Based in Philadelphia, Pitock has won awards from the American Society of Journalists & Authors and the American Society of Travel Writers, as well as the Simon Rockower Award for investigative reporting. His work is regularly included in anthologies and collections such as Best American Science and Nature Writing and Best American Travel Writing. Last month, Pitock was named the 2015 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year by the American Society of Travel Writers.
Because several ieiMedia programs—like those in Urbino, Italy; Croatia; Spain; and France—cover travel writing, we thought it would be helpful to hear from a pro what it’s really like to report from the road.
IeiMedia: At the University of Pennsylvania, you studied English and concentrated on novel writing. What led you to journalism and how did you prepare yourself for that field?
Todd Pitock: I didn’t think about journalism as such, and I knew very little about it. I just wanted to write, and like most people I intended to write fiction, and I was pretty naive and high-falutin’. I was, though, blessed in having limited skills and no other talents at all, so even while I was getting beaten down with a lot of rejections I just had to keep at it.
My first job was an editorial assistant at New York book publisher. But I was miserable sitting in a cubicle, where my main task was to type out rejection letters to other aspiring writers, and I really wanted to see the world. It was not, though, a vague or passive desire. It was more like a gnawing, existential need.
From the time I was very young I’d look at maps and wonder what different places might be like. I was also blessed with a horrible landlord in Brooklyn, and after a judge wrested a small monetary judgment from him, I had a wad of cash to go overseas. My plan was to be away for a year. That year became five, the first two in Israel and the last three in South Africa. The latter was during the transition from apartheid and there was a lot of interest in the place, and I started writing for publications there and in the U.S. So, in short, I kind of fell into it.
I also want to point out that that’s a biography of my first 25 years in roughly 200 words.
IM: What led you to travel writing?
TP: I had two completely contradictory views of what it meant to be a writer. One was working in isolation; the other, I don’t know why, was roaming or roving all over the place. The writers I read complained about sitting still but always seemed to be doing it in a new place.
As a child, I had this picture of myself writing in northern India. I don’t know why northern India, just that it was the other side of the world I guess, and I often had the feeling that I wanted to be half a world away from wherever I was. Then, a few years ago I was in northern India, writing in my hotel room, and I was like, “Oh, wow, I’m here!” And I would have felt really content that I’d arrived except that I was in a miserable hotel with a horrible rancid smell that made it hard to concentrate.
Anyway, I got to “travel writing” because I was traveling and wanted to travel more, and writing became a kind of a magic carpet. Moreover, in its best moments it was fulfilling in a way that nothing else is, enough to endure its frustrations.
For me, an experience only really matters if I’ve written it down and made some sense of it. To write is to notice, and I was never a traveler who just wanted to tick off places I’ve been. I wanted to really know them, and writing—meaning the process of gathering the information, the interviews, the experience of a place in order to write it down—was a way to do that, to really get inside a place. In fact, that’s how I often feel as a traveler, as if I’m moving inside of a story, ready to find out what happens next.
Along the way, I read some books that helped me see the possibilities of “travel writing.” Paul Fussell’s book Abroad, about British travel writers between the World Wars, gave me a long reading list to get through, and some of those models—Graham Greene, Robert Byron, Sybil Bedford, Evelyn Waugh, V.S. Naipaul; many whose names and work I can’t even recall right now—gave me a new framework to think about what it is I envisioned myself doing.
This summer in Tel Aviv, Cathy Shafran, director of ieiMedia’s Jerusalem Program, ran into Léa Bouchoucha, a 2014 alum of the Istanbul Program. Shafran learned that, in part because of her Istanbul internship, Bouchoucha is now working for an international TV station. This is Shafran’s report.
JAFFA, ISRAEL—French-born Léa Bouchoucha was an inquisitive child. As long as she can remember, she wanted to be a private detective or an investigator.
By the time she was college age, the desire to be an investigator turned into a passion for journalism. But not just any journalism—international journalism.
It took more than ten years, ten internships, and hands-on experience with an international reporting program to realize that dream. But within months of Bouchoucha’s study-abroad experience at age 32, she finally landed an overseas TV position. Bouchoucha says it was her resume, her “clip reel,” and international experience from a 2014 month-long study-abroad program with ieiMedia in Istanbul that finally helped her dream come to reality.
“The program in Turkey allowed me enough time to immerse myself in the country,” said Bouchoucha. “But I came to Turkey very serious about the program. I was already pitching my story ideas before the program started. I scheduled my interviews in advance.”
Bouchoucha describes herself as the student in the program who came knowing what she wanted before she arrived. She had already spent the past decade studying at the Sorbonne University in Paris and working diligently at internships at Euro News Channel, Le Figaro magazine, and CNN-Paris hoping to get a leg up on her career. While none of that landed her a job, she says it made her more passionate about international reporting as her future.
“The only thing I knew was that I wanted to be a journalist,” she said. “I realized I wanted to be a journalist, but I didn’t have any skill. So I applied to grad school, and was accepted at NYU’s school of journalism.”
It was at New York University that she learned of the month-long study-abroad option through ieiMedia. She struggled with whether to attend ieiMedia’s program in Istanbul or in Jerusalem. She knew she wanted the opportunity to work as a hard news journalist. She chose the Istanbul program because of a personal connection with an old Turkish boyfriend.
It turned out to be the experience she had been seeking for more than a decade.
“It was all organized to prepare me to be a good journalist,” said Bouchoucha. “IeiMedia gave me the space to grow my skills. At NYU there was no time for long-form journalism. IeiMedia gave me the opportunity to write about what I really cared about.”
Bouchoucha says the program was structured to meet both the needs of a student with mild interest in the topic and those, like herself, who came with a commitment to the field.
“In Turkey I was assigned to one professional. She edited my story and gave me advice. I learned about the challenges of working in a foreign country with a foreign language. I learned that the best way to make contact where language is an issue.” With a great deal of self motivation and the assistance of her mentors in the month-long program, Bouchoucha completed two video pieces about Syrian refugees escaping into Turkey.
“When I finished the program, it told me, ‘Yes! This is what I want to do,’” said Bouchoucha. “I was very happy. I knew this was the kind of work I wanted.”
Three months later, after completing her work at NYU, Bouchoucha began a job search with her “reel” from the ieiMedia program in hand.
A friend told her about an opportunity at the i24 News channel in Tel Aviv, and that week she was on a plane to Israel for an interview.
“They told me they were impressed with my resume. They were looking for someone with internship experience. They said it showed I had the ability to adapt in a foreign environment.”
Executives at i24 News called her later that week and offered her a position as a News Editor. She eagerly took the job, and now coordinates daily live newscasts on the international 24-hour news and current affairs television channel based in the Jaffa port of Tel Aviv, Israel. Bouchoucha works the French desk at the news channel that broadcasts in English, French, and Arabic.
“Finally, after 10 years!” Bouchoucha exclaimed with a broad smile. “My first real job in an international newsroom.”
While busy on the desk, Bouchoucha still dreams of being in the field reporting. She says a mentor in the ieiMedia program gave her a leg up in that direction as well.
“Mary D’Ambrosio, the director in Turkey, really helped me,” Bouchoucha said. “What was most helpful was that she told me about Women’s E-News, a smaller publication reporting on women’s issues around the world. Before that, I wanted to work in big media. I realized with small media you have much more opportunity to do longer meaningful pieces.”
And so Bouchoucha’s time in Tel Aviv is busy, working the i24News desk during the day and freelance writing for Women’s E-News at night.
She reflected on her accomplishments since the 2014 ieiMedia program as she walked past the clattering sound of reporters and anchors filing their stories in the i24News newsroom. She looked up with a knowing grin.
“After a lot of work, this is finally my beginning,” said Bouchoucha.
Each summer in Armagh, Northern Ireland, students come together to work on refining their writing skills and creating work to add to their portfolios. They leave as not as students, but Writers–ready to engage the world through the stories they tell. In the video below, participants in Armagh Project 2015 share their experiences.
Urbino Program Alum Autumn Morowitz (2013) has just landed a plum position: Production Assistant for NBC Sports, covering the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Says Autumn:”I’m falling more in love with the job each and every day.”
If you’ve met Autumn, it’s easy to understand how she wound up at NBC, her first “real” job since graduating in May from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Autumn majored in Media Arts and Design at JMU with an emphasis in Corporate Communication and a minor in Human Resources and Development—a practical curriculum that would have given her many options in the job market. But she also loves sports, and through a summer internship at Hersam Acorn Newspapers in Connecticut; more than two years at MadiZone, JMU’s online sports outlet; and an internship at a Harrisonburg TV station, she found she had a knack for sports news and a passion for broadcast.
In Urbino, Italy, she showed a determination, focus, and resourcefulness that quickly overcame the cultural, language, and logistical barriers that can often stymie students in the program. Armed only with the information that the best peaches in the region reputedly come from an area near the town of Montelabbate, she made her way to the town by local bus without the help of a translator and talked to anyone who would listen until she found a family of fifth-generation peach farmers. Then she returned, again and again, to flesh out their story and bring it to life.
Her multimedia story package about the Marchionni family won a 2013 Raffie Award for best text and was nominated for two other categories. The Urbino faculty knew that Autumn was destined for great things. Now, though her contract prevents her from discussing the specifics of her new job, we thought she might have some advice for others who would like to follow a similar path.
IeiMedia: What do you think are the most important skills or experience for media students to acquire?
Autumn Morowitz: The most important skill for media students to acquire is storytelling. Whether you are a cameraperson, director, producer, editor or broadcaster, your main goal is to tell a story. The audience needs to be engaged, needs to feel something, needs to care about what is being said all through your actions and your decisions. If there is no story, there is no reason for anyone to watch. Take those English courses seriously. Take journalism courses when you can even if that’s not your major because sharpening those skills will matter all throughout your life.
IM: Have any of the skills you worked on or acquired in Urbino come in handy?
AM: The skills I was able to work on in Urbino would come in handy for any position. You work hard in Urbino and pour your heart and time into the pieces you create so that you are very proud of your final product. Being in a different country provides obstacles that you have to overcome and in turn makes you a stronger worker. It is such a great experience!
IM: Anything else you want to share with aspiring ieiMedia students?
AM: Challenge yourself and take that obstacle head on. Even though a task may seem daunting, you’re going to come out on the other side as a better worker. Every little challenge is a step, and every little step gets you closer to your goal. You don’t just wake up one morning at the top of the ladder, you have to take each little step to get there so make those steps count and enjoy them at the same time.
See what other ieiMedia alums are up to.
Each year, the Urbino Project’s faculty acknowledges the best student work of the summer with the Raffie Awards. Named in honor of Urbino’s most famous former citizen (the Renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino or simply Raphael), the Raffies are awarded during a ceremony at the end of the program. The 2015 Raffie winners are:
- Best Text Story: Manuel Orbegozo for “The Other Urbino”
- Best Photo Story: Sarah Eames for “From Farm to City Hall”
- Best Video Story: Caroline Davis & Michele Goad for “Craftsmanship and Woodworking in Urbino”
- Best Multimedia Student: Michele Goad for “The Italian Pulitzer?” and “Craftsmanship and Woodworking in Urbino”
- Best Text Story: Tessa Yannone for “Not Olive Oil…But Olive Liquor”
- Best Photo Story: (tie) Deanna Brigandi for “Man’s Best Friend, in Training” and Devon Jefferson for “Urbino’s Fashion Night Out”
- Best Story Package: Rachel Mendelson for “Carved in Stone”
- Best Magazine Cover Photography: Kendall Gilman for “Porta Santa Lucia Arch”
PROMOTIONAL VIDEO PROJECT
The Institute for Education in International Media (ieiMedia) invites communications faculty at accredited American colleges and universities to apply for Research Fellowships at its 2016 summer media programs in Croatia, France, Israel, Italy, Northern Ireland, Norway, and Spain.
Accepted Research Fellows will receive a $3,000 grant toward the $4,995 cost of a program and will have access to all the amenities of the program site. Non-participating spouses are welcome at a cost of $1,200 for four weeks; children, unfortunately, are not allowed. Fellows will pay their own airfare and insurance.
Research Fellows will have regular informal access to the program faculty for pedagogical and theoretical exchanges. In addition, they will participate in one or more of the program’s teaching modules and will serve as a resource to faculty and students where appropriate. We have created these opportunities in response to many queries from comm faculty interested in investigating the techniques and effectiveness of experiential learning, boot-camp teaching, short-term programs, and intercultural reporting.
In 2014, our first Research Fellow, Barry Janes, professor of communication at Rider University, participated in the Urbino Program, where he assisted in the video module and advised students on their projects. He returned in 2015 as a full faculty member.
This summer, the Urbino Program hosted two Faculty Fellows, Sonya DiPalma, assistant professor of public relations at University of North Carolina, and Suzanne Popovich Chandler, assistant professor in creative media and broadcast electronic media at University of Oklahoma. In addition, Jack Zibluk, professor of mass media at Southeast Missouri State University, joined the team of the Istanbul Program as a Fellow.
Istanbul Program Director Mary D’Ambrosio, assistant professor of practice at Rutgers University, agrees: “A faculty fellowship is a great way to learn about teaching abroad, and to have an opportunity to contribute one’s own expertise to an international program.”
“As a Fellow, while observing the vast experience assembled in Urbino,” she says, “I knew students would learn photography, writing, video, and magazine production. What I did not anticipate was the extent they would grow not only as truly gifted multimedia journalists producing amazing work, but also as adult citizens of a global economy, as individuals with curiosity who embrace and appreciate the similarities as well as diversities among us.”DiPalma interviewed Urbino students for a research paper tentatively titled “Experiential Learning in a Foreign Culture,” which she will submit to the 2016 AEJMC Southeast Colloquium. “IeiMedia provides the ultimate faculty development experience for learning how to teach the three components of a multimedia package–text, photo story and video story,” she says. “Take advantage of the opportunity to revitalize your application courses through in-depth conversations with professionals from both academia and the media.”
To apply: Email me at email@example.com to explain your interest in this opportunity and how it might have an impact on your teaching or administrative role. If there is a particular research question you plan to address, please describe that. Include with the email your vita, a letter of recommendation from your unit head, and a sample of or link to your writing, other work or research. We expect a written reflection at the end that you may also share with your department.
Michael Dorsher, Ph.D., a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and former Fulbright Scholar, has accepted appointment as admissions director of the Institute for Education in International Media, ieiMedia Founder and President Andrew Ciofalo said today.
As admissions director, Dorsher will be responsible for vetting applicants to all eight of ieiMedia’s 2016 summer study abroad programs, answering inquiries, collecting references and coordinating communication among applicants and program directors. Dorsher also will continue as program director of ieiMedia’s multimedia journalism program based in Nice, France, a position he has held the past two years.
“I’m happy to be taking on increased responsibilities with ieiMedia,” Dorsher said, “because I’ve found it to be the absolute best study abroad program for journalism and communication students – and faculty. There’s no better preparation for success in today’s global society than an intensive cross-cultural, multimedia study abroad program such as ieiMedia’s.”
In addition to leading ieiMedia’s Nice-based program, Dorsher led study abroad students to Peru in 2012 and England in 2008. Conversant in French and Spanish, he studied abroad himself as a post-doctorate Fulbright Scholar at Montreal’s McGill University in 2008-09 and as an undergraduate at England’s Oxford University. He earned a doctorate in mass communication from the University of Maryland in 1999 and joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2000.
Dorsher is the co-author of a leading media ethics textbook and an active researcher and freelance journalist. Before entering academia, he was an award-winning reporter and editor for 20 years, capped by four years as one of the founding homepage editors of washingtonpost.com.
The same organizational skills and attention to detail that made Dorsher a top-level editor and successful program director will make him an excellent admissions director, Ciofalo said. “He makes my job easier, and he’s passionate about study abroad. What more could I ask?”
Urbino instructor Bob Marshall was the reporter for a groundbreaking piece of journalism that won the “Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism” by The Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) organization.
The award was for “Losing Ground,” an interactive journalism project showing how much of coastal Louisiana has disappeared over the last 80 years. The story was reported by Bob Marshall of The Lens, along with application developers Al Shaw and Brian Jacobs of ProPublica. The piece utilized historical maps, aerial photos, and satellite images to show the devastation of the Louisiana coast over time.
The annual IRE Awards recognize outstanding investigative work and help identify the techniques and resources used to complete each story. “Not only did ‘Losing Ground’ apply innovative techniques coupled with extensive shoe leather reporting, it furthered The Lens’s ability to be a watchdog for its community,” the judges wrote.
Marshall, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was an environmental reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) for more than 30 years. In 2013, he moved over to “The Lens,” a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest newsroom in New Orleans where he produces in-depth stories on wetlands restoration, flood protection, and coastal erosion.
Marshall taught reporting in Cagli, Italy in 2008 and in Urbino, Italy in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. He will return to Urbino in 2015.
Two talented young photographers are the first recipients of ieiMedia’s James Foley Memorial Scholarship in International Photojournalism, established in honor of the photojournalist who was tragically executed last August while covering the war in Syria.Manuel J. Orbegozo, a senior at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, received a $5,000 scholarship to attend the Urbino program. In 2012, Orbegozo worked as a photographer and writer at “Siete,” a weekly magazine based in Lima, Peru. There, he founded Azotea, a citizen journalism site that covered the capital’s political and cultural life. He is currently editor-in-chief of El Leñador, focused on the Latino community in Humboldt County. In his scholarship application, Orbegozo wrote, “As a college journalist, I realized that my degree could be achieved in a classroom, while my overall skills could only be refined through an experience abroad.”
Emily Teague, a freshman at California State University in Chico, received a $2,000 grant to attend the Jerusalem program. While still in high school, Teague was hired as a photojournalist for Chico State’s award-winning newspaper, The Orion. She was named “Best Photographer” on The Orion’s staff, and won fifth place in a national photojournalism competition at the Associated Collegiate Press. In September 2014 she photographed at the front lines of the “Flood Wall Street” direct action and at environmental protests in New York, Pittsburgh, and throughout California. She’s spending this semester traveling and photographing in Europe.
“We were impressed with the high level of work in many of the submissions,” says Dennis Chamberlin, photography instructor in the Urbino Program and a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist. Chamberlin and photo instructors Susan Biddle and Robert Reeder reviewed the applicants. “It was difficult for the jury to choose only one winner because there were several portfolios that were quite strong.”
In Urbino, Orbegozo will study with Chamberlin and Susan Biddle, former Washington Post staff photographer and White House photographer. In Jerusalem, Teague will work with Linda Gradstein, formerly of National Public Radio; Ilene Prusher of The Jerusalem Post; and Cathy Shafran, who has worked in the Jerusalem bureaus of ABC, CNN, Associated Press Television News, Britain’s ITN, and Canada’s CTV.
“This has been a successful inaugural program for this scholarship,” says ieiMedia president and founder Andrew Ciofalo. “We will continue to offer it next year as part of our commitment to emphasizing the importance of photojournalism in our program. The excellence of our applicants this year resulted in our establishing the Foley Grant in the amount of $2,000 for distinguished runners up. We plan to continue this grant as well.”
For summer 2015, ieiMedia welcomes four Research Fellows who will investigate the techniques and effectiveness of experiential learning, boot-camp teaching, short-term programs, and intercultural reporting in our programs in Urbino, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Valencia, Spain; and Nice, France.
The 2015 ieiMedia Research Fellows are:
In Urbino: Frank Garland, Journalism Communications Program director at Gannon University, Erie, Pennsylvania
In Istanbul: Jack Zibluk, Professor of Mass Media at Southeast Missouri State, Cape Girardeau, Missouri
In Valencia: Kanina Holmes, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario
In Nice: Sonya DiPalma, Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, University of North Carolina, Asheville
Research Fellows receive a $3,000 grant toward the $4,995 cost of our programs and will have regular informal access to the program faculty for pedagogical and theoretical exchanges. In addition, they will participate in one or more of the program’s practice modules and become a resource to faculty and students where appropriate. IeiMedia launched the Research Fellows program in 2014, when Barry Janes, professor of communication at Rider University, joined the team of the Urbino Program, where he participated in the video module and advised students in their projects.
“Our four awards this year mark a high point for this program,” says ieiMedia president and founder Andrew Ciofalo. “Our objective is to approve one for each or our seven programs. We will continue this because there is a need for exposing faculty to the value and methods of experiential teaching, especially in foreign settings where it is most effective.”
To apply: Write to Prof. Andrew Ciofalo, 4195 Tamiami Trail South #102, Venice FL 34293-5112. Explain your interest in this opportunity and how it might have an impact on your teaching or administrative role. If there is a particular research question you plan to address, please let us know. Include with the letter your vita, a letter of recommendation from your unit head, and a sample of or link to your writing, other work or research. We expect a written reflection at the end that you may also share with your department.
ieiMedia Blog: Browse Topics
Latest Blog Posts
- Magic Carpet: Q&A With Travel Writing Pro Todd Pitock
- IeiMedia Alumna Nabs International TV Job
- The Armagh Project: A Haven for Writers
- Urbino Alum Gets a Dream Job
- Urbino Project Announces 2015 Raffie Award Winners
- IeiMedia Invites Applicants for Faculty Research Fellowships, Summer 2016
- ieiMedia Names Admissions Director
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- Urbino Project – 2015
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- Armagh Project – 2014
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- Valencia Project – 2014
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- Istanbul Stories – 2011
- Faces of Istanbul (Book) – 2011
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- Perpignan Project – 2010
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by Laura Weeks, James Madison University, Urbino Project 2012