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Students and faculty from ieiMedia’s Urbino Program were saddened to hear that PBS newscaster Gwen Ifill died on Monday. She was 61.
Ifill, who broke gender and racial barriers, succumbed to endometrial cancer. Among her many honors was the Urbino Press Award, an Italian prize that is annually awarded to an American reporter or columnist. Ifill visited Urbino in June 2015 to receive that year’s Urbino Press Award at the 500-year-old Ducal Palace. Urbino Program students attended the ceremony and later got to meet her when she spoke to them about the state of journalism and careers in the field.
“Gwen was a real role model for our students,” said Steve Anderson, Urbino Program director. “She addressed controversial issues in the field but left students with an enthusiastic and positive message about their potential future roles as journalists.”
Urbino Program 2015 student Michele Goad, from James Madison University, did a story on the Urbino Press Award called The Italian Pulitzer? “Although Gwen was there to receive a prestigious award, she never made us feel inferior to her,” said Goad, who majors in media arts and design. “This day was all about honoring her, and she found a way to make it more about us (the students). She sat with us in our classroom, told her story and gave advice about working in the media industry. While we should have been star struck, it felt more like talking to a friend. She’s someone I listened to and thought … ‘Wow, what I do really is important and needed in the world.'”
Urbino instructors were also impressed by Ifill’s demeanor and message. “She was so generous, gracious, and open with our students and was such an example of the kind of curious and probing mind good journalists have,” said Susan West, director of the magazine program. “When one student asked what she liked about journalism, she said, ‘I go home every night knowing something I didn’t know before.’”
Ifill had previously worked at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC News. In 1999, she became moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week in Review.” In 2013, she became co-anchor of the “NewsHour.” Ifill and co-anchor Judy Woodruff were the first women to jointly lead a national nightly news broadcast. Ifill also moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates as well as a 2016 Democratic primary debate.
Besides Ifill, past recipients of the Urbino Press Award include Maria Bartiromo, Wolf Blitzer, Sebastian Rotella, Helene Cooper, David Ignatius, Thomas Friedman, Martha Raddatz, Michael Weisskopf and Diane Rehm. The official announcement of the prize is made by the ambassador of Italy to the United States at the Embassy of Italy in Washington. Following the announcement in Washington, the prize is awarded during a ceremony held in the summer at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.
The award ceremony usually takes place while ieiMedia students are in Urbino. In recent years, our students have also had one-on-one time with Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Sebastian Rotella of The New York Times.
Gwen Ifill, center standing, meets with students and faculty of ieiMedia. (Photo by Dennis Chamberlin)
Three ieiMedia faculty will participate next week in an #EdShift chat
, “Learning Digital Skills on Study-Abroad Programs,” sponsored by MediaShift.
The hourlong chat will start at 1 p.m. Eastern time/noon Central/11 a.m. Mountain/10 a.m. Pacific on Oct. 18. You can find it by searching for the #EdShift Twitter hashtag
Rachele Kanigel, co-director of ieiMedia’s new Kyoto program, Steve Listopad, director of the Oslo program and Spring Semester in Urbino, and Amara Aguilar, who teaches in ieiMedia’s Valencia program, will participate. Other guests include Vivian Martin of Central Connecticut State University, Andrea Frantz of Buena Vista University, Meggie Morris of Northwestern University, Kim Fox of American University in Cairo, and John Schrader of California State University-Long Beach. Stacy Forster of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will moderate the chat.
Kanigel, an associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, has led ieiMedia programs in Perpignan, France; Urbino, Italy; and Jerusalem and taught in the Cagli program. Aguilar, an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at the University of Southern California, taught in ieiMedia’s Valencia program in 2015 and 2016.
Former ieiMedia students and those considering our 2017 programs are encouraged to attend the Twitter chat and share experiences and questions about studying digital journalism abroad.
UPDATE: A Storify recap of the conversation was posted on MediaShift after the chat. Read it here.
ieiMedia is hitting the road this month, and our faculty will be available to meet with students and college media advisers interested in learning more about our study-abroad programs.
ieiMedia will have booths at the Associated Collegiate Press convention in Washington Oct. 20-22 and at the College Media Association convention in Atlanta Oct. 26-28. ieiMedia faculty are scheduled to speak at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ Northern and Southern California conferences this month.
Steve Listopad, director of ieiMedia’s Oslo, Norway, and Urbino, Italy, spring semester programs, will attend the ACP convention next week and staff a booth in the exhibit hall there on Oct. 21 and 22 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington. He and former ieiMedia Oslo students will also give a presentation on “International Reporting” on Oct. 23 at 10 a.m.
Staffing ieiMedia’s CMA convention booth at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta will be Rachele Kanigel (co-director of the Kyoto, Japan, program), Jeff Brody (director of the Valencia, Spain, program), along with Listopad and James Carviou of the Oslo program. The exhibit hall will be open 4-8 p.m. on Oct. 26, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Oct. 27; and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Oct. 28. The faculty will also lead a presentation “Over There: Be a Student Journalist Abroad Next Summer” on Oct. 27 from 12:30 -1:20 p.m.
Kanigel will also speak at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges’ Northern California conference on Oct. 15 at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, California. She will staff the San Francisco State University table there.
Amara Aguilar of ieiMedia’s Valencia, Spain, program will speak at the JACC Southern California conference on Oct. 29 at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California.
Faculty members can offer details about ieiMedia’s approach to hands-on, experiential learning, as well as details about housing, cultural activities, academic credit and other program features. Feel free to make an appointment with any of our faculty, or just stop by the booth or after a presentation to chat.
Can’t come to one of these events but have questions? Please contact the program director of any of our programs. Each program page has a contact link:
Cuba in January
- Jerusalem, Israel: international reporting
- Oslo, Norway: rock journalism, life stories
- Urbino, Italy: multimedia, magazine journalism
- Valencia, Spain: narrative journalism
- Zagreb and Split, Croatia: travel journalism
- Kyoto, Japan: international reporting
- Bologna, Italy: train as a foreign correspondent
- Australia and New Zealand: travel and sports writing
- Armagh, No. Ireland: creative writing, multimedia journalism
Note: This article is by Nancy Lohman. Nancy, a freelancer from Ormand Beach, Florida, was a student in his online graduate travel-writing course at Gonzaga University.
By Nancy Lohman
To be an effective travel writer, one must bring to the work a keen sensitivity to the needs of the audience, along the lines of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of human needs.”
It begins with the most basic motivational need, the human desire to explore. Travel writing lets readers go to far-away destinations that they might never see. Renowned travel writer Pico Iyer shared advice he was once given by his editor: “The reader wants to travel beside you.” Travel writing on a very basic level takes the reader with you. It can also serve to prepare the reader. It can inform and educate the reader about how to travel, when to travel and where to travel.
As in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once the most basic level is fulfilled, we continue to reach for the next level up his pyramid. Travel writing inspires the reader. It uses insightful observations to lure readers to escape their own world and lose themselves in the intriguing unknown.
Travel writing’s next level of purpose enlightens the reader about different cultures and helps the reader gain an appreciation for the differences in customs around the world. It broadens awareness and introduces the reader to the diversity in people. It can transform the reader into a more empathetic and more compassionate human being. It can help remove biases, prejudices and stereotypes developed through the narrow lenses of limited experiences. It can improve the reader’s awareness, tolerance and acceptance.
Travel writing can make a reader less fearful by enabling him or her to become more engaged with the world. It can make the reader wiser. You may not read travel stories with the intent to understand others better, but you will. Travel stories broaden a reader’s perspective. Travel writing brings the reader and the world together. “The flip side of fear is understanding,” travel adviser Rick Steves writes. “Your worldviews change when you meet others who feel their worldview is different than yours. Travel changes your ethnocentrisms.”
And most important, travel writing is an adventure in self-discovery, for appreciating nature and the beauty of the world. Travel writing can also help the reader evaluate priorities in life. Finally, travel writing can create a connection to each other. Readers can vicariously feel connected to a person, a place and an experience that enriches and expands them. Ultimately, at the top of the hierarchy of human needs, travel writing creates an influence and effect on the reader, who can become a better human being for having read a travel story.
Want to study abroad but think you can’t afford it? Think again, says Rachele Kanigel, who wrote this blog post as the co-director of ieiMedia’s new program in Kyoto, Japan.
One of the best ways to raise money for a study abroad program is to apply for a scholarship from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. This federally funded program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad.
Several students have won Gilman scholarships to study abroad with ieiMedia. This year, Amy Venn, a student at Valley City State University in North Dakota, won a Gilman scholarship to study in our Oslo, Norway, program, and you can see several of her blogposts here. In 2013 Taylor Gilman a journalism student at Metropolitan State University, won a $4,000 Gilman scholarship to study with ieiMedia in Istanbul. Kat Russell, a student at California State University, Northridge, won a $5,000 Gilman scholarship to study in Istanbul in 2011. You can read about her experience in this piece she wrote for MediaShift.
The Gilman program is designed to “broaden the student population that studies and interns abroad by supporting undergraduates who might not otherwise participate due to financial constraints,” according to the program’s website. It aims to “support students who have been traditionally under-represented in education abroad, including but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in underrepresented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities.”
This year the Gilman program will award more than 2,800 scholarships of up to $5,000. Award amounts will vary depending on the length of study and student need; the average grant is $3,000. About 27 percent of students who apply win Gilman scholarships.
The program is open to students from public and private institutions from all 50 states; Washington, DC; and Puerto Rico.
To be eligible for a Gilman Scholarship, an applicant must:
- Be a citizen of the United States;
- Be an undergraduate student in good standing at an accredited institution of higher education in the United States (including both two-year and four-year institutions);
- Be receiving a Federal Pell Grant or provide proof that he/she will be receiving a Pell Grant during the term of his/her study abroad program or internship;
- Be in the process of applying to, or accepted for, a study abroad or internship program of at least two weeks for community college students and four weeks for students from four-year institutions, in a single country and eligible for credit from the student’s home institution. Proof of program acceptance is required prior to award disbursement;
- Plan to study in a country not currently under a travel warning issued by the United States Department of State. (ieiMedia never holds a study abroad course in these countries when they are on the travel warning list.)
Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray study- or intern-abroad costs. These costs include program tuition, room and board, books, local transportation, insurance and international airfare.
The Gilman Program offers two summer application cycles for summer programs. The deadlines are Oct. 4 and March 7. People who apply in October will find out in late February; those who apply in March find out in May.
All applications are due by 11:59 p.m. Central Daylight Time on the date they are due. The online application system will close at this time and no more applications will be accepted. This deadline also includes uploading official transcripts from your current college or university and any transfer institution listed in your application.
Here are some tips for applying to the Gilman program:
- Before you begin the application, contact the appropriate offices at your school to determine the correct study abroad and financial aid adviser(s) who must certify your application. Some institutions designate a specific financial aid or study abroad adviser to certify all Gilman Scholarship applications.
- Submit your application at least a few days before the due date to ensure that you do not miss the deadline as a result of technical difficulties or because of heavy traffic on the Gilman website. Make sure your application is complete!
- Some institutions require a written release of information form before your advisers can certify your application. Failure to submit a written release of information form to your adviser, if required by your university, will delay the processing of your application.
- The Gilman application requires two essays: the Statement of Purpose Essay and the Follow-on Service Project Proposal. When writing your Statement of Purpose essay, stress what you hope to gain from the program and how it will help you fulfill professional and personal goals. For more information about the essays, visit the Gilman program website. (http://www.iie.org/Programs/Gilman-Scholarship-Program/Application-Process/Essays)
- Eligible programs must be a minimum of four weeks (28 days)— or two weeks (14 days) for current community college students — in one country and can be as long as one academic year. Students who are interested in ieiMedia’s Kyoto program should also plan to participate in the optional three-day Japan English Model United Nations Conference immediately before the international reporting program, so that study-abroad experience will meet the 28-day requirement.
If you do not qualify for a Gilman scholarship, contact your financial aid office and study-abroad office to inquire about other funding opportunities.
Mike Dorsher was a senior in college before he stepped onto a plane – and then flew from Minneapolis to London to study abroad. That course taught him the meaning of independence, culture – and bangers and mash.
New ieiMedia Executive Director Mike Dorsher, Ph.D., at this month’s AEJMC convention in Minneapolis. Photo by ieiMedia Oslo Program Director Steve Listopad
Today, Dorsher, a professor emeritus and former Fulbright Scholar and Washington Post editor, takes the helm of an organization that leads an average of 100 students a year through 10 study abroad courses on five continents.
Dorsher becomes just the second executive director in the 12-year history of the Institute for Education in International Media.
ieiMedia President and Founder Andy Ciofalo chose Dorsher to direct the institute because they both are committed to delivering study abroad courses that inspire in-depth communication among students and people around the world.
Ciofalo, professor emeritus at Loyola University and online professor at Gonzaga University, has been running programs abroad for communications students since 2001. ieiMedia is unique in its dedication to communication programs in partnership with other universities, Ciofalo said, noting it has ongoing relationships with the University of Jamestown, James Madison, Rutgers, Colorado State, the University of Baltimore, Winston-Salem State, Cal State-Fullerton, San Francisco State, Hebrew University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“Dr. Dorsher has the energy and experience to direct safe and affordable study abroad programs that prepare students to be world citizens and communication professionals,” Ciofalo said. “A strong writer with excellent digital skill sets, Mike will be leading us in some new directions that will expand our mission, develop our social media outreach and create a more compelling digital presence.”
At a time when the world is in turmoil over terrorism and North Americans are seeking new leadership, ieiMedia is uniquely positioned to help students make sense of it all, Dorsher said. “We don’t do tourism. We use journalism and other forms of communication as the vehicle for our study abroad students to have meaningful conversations with people where they live and work. Then we communicate what we’ve heard to audiences back home, using whichever media fit the story best.
“Our motto is ‘telling the world’s stories,’” Dorsher added. “For us, journalism is a window on the world and a doorway to democracy.”
This summer and for the past two years, Dorsher directed ieiMedia’s program based in Nice, France. All of his students returned to North America safely before last month’s deadly truck attack in Nice, but ieiMedia has now suspended its operations in France – and Turkey – due to foreseeable terrorism possibilities there, even though the threat to small groups of students is minimal.
Instead, ieiMedia is opening new multimedia journalism programs for the summer of 2017 in southeast Australia; Kyoto, Japan; and Bologna, Italy. The institute is also announcing its first program to be held in January, during most campuses’ winter break, and its first in North America – in Cuba.
“We chose these sites because they ranked high with our partner campuses in North America and in a survey we conducted among our student alumni, professors and social media friends and followers,” Dorsher said. “We are committed to providing the broadest range of safe and accessible communications study abroad programs.”
ieiMedia is also continuing its playwriting and journalism program in Armagh, Northern Ireland, along with successful multimedia journalism programs based in Urbino, Italy; Valencia, Spain; Oslo, Norway; Jerusalem, Israel; and Split and Zagreb, Croatia.
“The strength of ieiMedia is its program directors,” Dorsher said. “We have a student to staff ratio of just 5 to 1, and among our program directors and faculty we have hundreds of years of collective teaching experience and hundreds of years of professional journalism experience, including two Pulitzer Prize winners.”
As executive director, Dorsher will work with ieiMedia’s program directors on recruitment of students and faculty, along with coordination of admissions, budgets, curriculum and assessments. He also will be the editor of a new website that serially features the journalism of ieiMedia students throughout the year and offers their stories for free syndication.
Dorsher served as ieiMedia’s admissions director this year after taking a budget-cut buyout this January from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he was a full professor of journalism and communication. He taught new media journalism and media ethics courses at UW-Eau Claire for 16 years, co-authoring a leading media ethics text along with many articles and presentations that premiered at AEJMC conferences.
He never lost the wanderlust instilled as an undergraduate during that first flight to London, he said. “I always remembered how great it felt to meet people and go places that had just been names on a map on my bedroom wall.”
Dorsher returned to the Twin Cities, completed a B.A. in journalism from the University of St. Thomas and launched an award-winning 20-year career in news, capped by four years as a founding editor of washingtonpost.com. In between, he returned to graduate school twice, to earn a master’s in public administration from the University of North Dakota and a doctorate in mass communication from the University of Maryland.
He made his travel daydreams come true for dozens of others after becoming a journalism professor and earning grants to take students to England, Peru and France. Dorsher also earned a Fulbright Fellowship that let him spend the 2008-09 academic year crisscrossing Canada to research its media. Now he is capping his career as ieiMedia’s executive director, combining his passions for travel, cultures, languages, journalism and education.
“Not all ieiMedia students will have the opportunity to become foreign correspondents or even working journalists back home, but they all will have the opportunity to become better world citizens – in a safe, fun and affordable way,” Dorsher said. “My job is to make sure of that.”
Students in the 2016 Urbino, Italy program worked on some great interactive elements this year, including a before and after photo slider, a set of Google Map placemarks to highlight art installations, an audio clip from an orchestra rehearsal, and some amazing video pieces.
Here are some of the elements students worked on:
Danica Feuz (James Madison University): An interactive slider showing Urbania, Italy immediately after the WWII bombing contrasted with today. See her story, When Terror Fell from a Friendly Sky, at: http://2016.inurbino.net/wwii-tragedy-in-urbania.
Gabriella Flamini (Rider University): An interactive map containing placemarks of art installations in the countryside around Urbino. See her story, Thought is Faster Than Action, at: http://2016.inurbino.net/sculptor-gianni-calcagini.
Bridgette Windell (Colorado State University): Embedded audio of an amateur orchestra. See her story, The Violin Maker of Pesaro, at: http://2016.inurbino.net/violin-maker.
Lea Peck (University of Illinois): Besides winning honors for the best overall multimedia package (text, photos, video), Lea Peck (along with Danica Feuz) created one of the best video stories of the summer about a farmer who went to extreme measures to protect his sheep from wolves. See the story, Fighting Not Dancing with Wolves, at: http://2016.inurbino.net/wolves-vs-sheep. You can watch her video directly below.
Fighting – Not Dancing – with Wolves – Lea Peck from ieiMedia on Vimeo.
Matt Boselli (Colorado State University): Video story about those unique and beloved Ape (Ah-pay) vehicles you see all over Italy. See his story, Ahhhhhhhh-pay!, at: http://2016.inurbino.net/ape-vehicles or watch his video directly below.
BOSELLI_Urbino2016 from ieiMedia on Vimeo.
“Hip Hop Meets the Renaissance” magazine was produced by students in ieiMedia’s study abroad program in Florence, Italy in the summer of 2015. The program included students from Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina Central University, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, and the University of Maryland, College Park.
The magazine features articles and pictures about Hip Hop’s expression in Florence, including an original theatrical production written and produced by students.
Students in the project included Jonathan Able, Taylor A. Bishop, Shannon Clash, Courtney Herring, Jaquel Horne, Diyana Celeste Howell, Veniscia Jones, Devin M. Laws, Dysheada Reid, Katrina Q. Robinson, Sabrina P. Robinson, Sheldon Mba, Ashton Jefferson, Destini Mewborn, Daja Middleton, Lewis Amir Miller, Charleston Parham, Saundrina Smith, Chelsey Wiggins, and Brandi McMcIver.
Download the PDF here.
Traveling to a foreign country on your own is scary, but in a good way. We always learn more when we’re pushed away from our comfort zone, and a study or career opportunity in Europe will shape your future for the better. Although you probably can’t help but feel intimidated by the lengthy solo travel to a city that you know almost nothing about, here we’ve outlined a few tips in the hopes of dispelling any fears of your summer Euro travels.
Stay on top of your health insurance
Before making the big trip over there, Travel Zoo reminds you to update your vaccinations as well as any prescriptions you may have. In addition to that, you’ll also need to review coverage policies on overseas emergencies. Consider supplemental insurance if your provider doesn’t cover international medical expenses.
Consider your banking options
Most people who are on an exchange or internship program this summer will probably set up local bank accounts to avoid charges on foreign exchange and withdrawals. But Go Overseas suggests that you call your bank prior to your travels to check for partnerships with European financial institutions that allow you to withdraw from their ATMs free of charge.
Embrace public transportation
While you may be used to taking cabs back home when you go to and from the airport, doing so abroad will quickly cause you a lot of unwanted expenses. Most airports have numerous alternatives to overpriced airport taxis that are ready to bump up their rates for tourists. Flying into a major international hub like Heathrow, airport parking aggregator Parking4Less assures visitors that they have plenty of transport options to get into the city, with express trains available as well as the Tube connecting them to central London. Additionally, if visitors are getting picked up by friends or relatives, short stay parking options provided by the airport will give them the ideal option for a quick exit, and a more cost-effective method of parking while waiting for your plane to arrive.
Do as the locals do
The point of studying or working in Europe is to expand your horizons and experience more than what the typical tourist would. Living like a local will help you get acclimated with your temporary home much faster, and by “do as the locals do,” expect to shop and eat at family run businesses, ditch the normal collegiate wear for something a little more stylish, learn the language, and only reserve the backpack during travel times. As the Independent Traveler says, a backpack of any size may mark you as a tourist.
Good luck and happy traveling!
On assignment in 2005, Frank Viviano (center, rear) interviews young Iraqi men following a suicide bombing. At left, in a white shirt, is his fixer Yerevan Adham, an Iraqi Kurd. Photo courtesy of Ed Kashi.
Frank Viviano has reported from one corner of the world or another since 1977. Working first from Central America and Asia for Pacific News Service, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Mother Jones, the San Jose Mercury News, the Register and Tribune wire services, and the San Francisco Chronicle, he later served as the Chronicle’s chief European and Middle East correspondent.
Among many other world events, he covered the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, the collapse of the Soviet Union, organized crime in Sicily, and immigration crises and conflicts the world over. He’s the author of seven books, including a memoir about his Sicilian heritage, Blood Washes Blood (Simon and Schuster, 2001), and, among many honors, is a two-time recipient of the World Affairs Council’s Thomas More Storke Award for Achievements in International Reporting.
Now a resident of Italy, Viviano has most recently been covering archaeology in the Caucasus, Southeast Asia, and Italy for National Geographic. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his long career as a foreign correspondent.
IeiMedia: Why did you decide to become a foreign correspondent? How did you prepare to take on your first post?
Frank Viviano: I decided that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent—to travel abroad and write about what I saw and experienced—when I was 10 years old. That’s when I began reading National Geographic magazine, where I wound up four decades later after serving overseas for many other publications.
My first serious assignment abroad was Central America in the 1970s, the civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, for Pacific News Service, a small independent wire operation. I read everything about the region and its people that I could get my hands on prior to departure, which in those days meant combing the shelves and periodical files of libraries. I also interviewed refugees (there were thousands in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I then lived), NGO aid workers, and Latin American academics at University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford.
But to be truthful, nothing could have adequately prepared me for my first encounter with the work of government death squads set loose on a rural village. I’d say much the same thing today, more than 20 wars and insurrections later: Nothing can immunize you against the emotional trauma of witnessing carnage.
IM: How do you prepare yourself for a story?
FV: Reading, above all. It’s the best way to harvest background facts and begin a personal education in the history, geography, political structure, culture, customs, and traditions of the place and people who are to be your subject.
The rest of your education comes after arrival, of course, in constant engagement with those people. They are the teachers who most count. As you acquire professional relationships, it is also valuable to share information, contacts, and impressions with other journalists, especially local journalists.
IM: What was your most difficult assignment?
FV: All foreign assignments are difficult, as they all entail finding a way inside of a world that is often very different from your own. What varies is context, the surrounding circumstances.
In that respect, Iraq at the height of the war between 2003 and 2005 was extraordinarily demanding. Among other things, the violence was so pervasive and arbitrary that you came to expect it every waking minute of the day.
Another factor was the specific targeting of journalists. National Geographic photographer Ed Kashi and I were identified by name in anonymous phone calls warning officials not to agree to interviews, because various sectarian groups planned to liquidate us. Anyone nearby would pay the price for “collaboration” with the Western media.
Next most difficult, perhaps, was China in and around the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989. I was on the run from the state security police for several weeks, due to unhappiness with my reporting, and in a 2,000-mile journey before my eventual capture and expulsion, I never knew who among those who offered to help me might be government informers. In the end, clearly, somebody did betray me.
IM: What was your most rewarding assignment?
FV: An impossible question to answer.
You learn something on almost every assignment, some profound lesson in human nature, its strengths and its weaknesses. The most rewarding lessons for me have to do with those strengths.
Above all, I count myself very lucky to have met people who maintain their decency, their generosity—their breathtaking courage and commitment to others—at enormous risk.
In 1994, a few miles outside the ruined Bosnian city of Mostar, I stumbled by sheer accident onto an underground refuge, hidden amid the shattered remains of a bombed apartment building. It was full of small children, hundreds of them, overseen and cared for by half a dozen aging nuns. No one knew what had happened to the parents. The children were found wandering alone in what was left of Mostar, and brought to the refuge in the middle of night by a clandestine network of supporters, along with supplies of food and medicine, to avoid detection by the lethal militias that haunted Bosnia in the ‘90s. I asked one of the nuns if the kids were Catholic. It was, after all, a highly sectarian war. She smiled and said, “Who knows?” God told us that children are innocent, she continued. “He never said anything about their religion, and we never ask.”
IM: What would you say are the three to five most important attributes of a successful international reporter?
FV: Number one: empathy. A willingness to try to imagine the world through the eyes, and experience, of the people who animate your articles.
After that, in no precise order, I’d list the following: unlimited curiosity about life in all of its enormous diversity; a love of words and writing; Ernest Hemingway’s famous “shock-proof s**t-detector”; and, alas, subjecting other vital considerations—personal relationships, for instance—to the demands of a profession that is emotionally and intellectually all-consuming.
IM: You and I once talked about the importance of having a “fixer.” Can you discuss who fixers are and why they are so vital to foreign correspondents? And how do you find a good one?
FV: Put simply, you can’t work abroad without fixers. They are local hands, often indigenous journalists, who speak the language of the land in every sense: they know its nuances, its makers and shakers, its mentality, its secrets. They can save you from your own follies, and in several instances in my own career, a fixer has almost certainly saved my life. In assembling a file of contacts prior to leaving for an assignment, no item has more importance than pinpointing and lining up the best possible fixer.
How? Two ways, overwhelmingly: tips from reliable colleagues (other foreign reporters) and recommendations from trusted NGO staffers, who also depend heavily on fixers.
IM: Are there particular tools that a foreign reporter should be sure to take along on assignment?
FV: A portable clothesline and mini-clothespins. I’m not kidding. A hidden supply of cash, in US dollars or (less satisfactory) euros. Imodium.
Far more important is what not to take. Always, always, travel lightly. I haven’t checked a bag on an airplane flight in 40 years. The rule of thumb is that you need the same amount of clothing in your luggage for five months or five days. No matter how much you cram into a suitcase, that’s usually the most you can go without need of laundering something. So why burden yourself with more than a five-day wardrobe?