East Meets West: Journalism Across Cultures

By Herbert Lowe

Russian journalists visit a journalism class at Marquette.Three guests entered Room 309 in Johnston Hall slowly, as if as unsure what to expect as were the 15 students gathered for my News Media Writing class recently. Upon learning the day before that three Russian journalists would visiting, and with only brief bios to go on, at least one student said later she had trepidation about meeting with likely old, burly and intimidating men.

But in walked Oxana Labykina, 29, Aygul Mustakaeva, 27, and Elena Karpova, 31—three lovely young women who looked much like typical Marquette graduate students. The same could be said for Maria Krokhina, 27, who came along as their interpreter and escort.

Still, both the guests, who were seated in the front, and the students sitting behind their iMacs in the computer lab, remained quiet, not sure how to communicate given the language barrier.

“How’s your English?” I asked the group. Only Krokhina spoke the language.

“How’s your Russian?” I asked the class. Everyone laughed.

The students later said the exchange helped them to see the language barrier would not keep either side from achieving their goals: For the guests, for example, to learn more about how U.S. journalism students are preparing for their craft and how what types of journalism the students hope to pursue; and for the class, for example, about how it is practiced in Russia, what led the journalists into the profession and why the four women were in Milwaukee. The students took plenty of notes. Each had to write a 500-word article about the encounter for their next class assignment.

Labykina, of Omsk, Mustakaeva, of Krasnodar, and Karpova, of Yakutsk, came to Milwaukee as award winners in an annual regional newspaper competition sponsored by the New Eurasia Foundation of Moscow. The foundation receives logistical assistance from the International Center for Journalists in Washington. The center organized for them a week-long study tour based at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Krokhina is a media-programs assistant with the foundation and coordinates the contest.

Many thanks to Journal Sentinel reporter David Umhoefer, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and a Diederich College adjunct professor, and Diederich College Professor James Scotton for helping to arrange the Russians’ visit to our class. After they left to meet with Dean Lori Bergen and leaders of the campus student media, my students agreed that the visiting journalists took their craft seriously and were no doubt very fine journalists. The students were also reminded how fortunate they are to have a free press—or at least much freer than in many other countries.

Herbert Lowe is a Professional in Residence in the Journalism program at the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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