Dreams & Lights We See for Freedom & Journalism in Room 444

A few Cronkite SUSI 2023 scholars chat on Taylor Mall

The morning of July 5, 2023, was different for 18 of us. As we opened our eyelids, we did not find our loved ones around us. We did not even find ourselves at our very own places. We were already hundreds of miles away from our homes – in the Valley of the Sun, in Phoenix.  

As we started our day at Gordon Commons, a student dorm at Arizona State University’s (ASU) downtown campus, we met new faces coming from 18 different countries on five continents, right in front of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. We shook hands, exchanged greetings, and smiled are one another. We are the participants of the 2023 Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) program in Journalism, Technology and Democracy. We are different from each other in many ways, from the color of our skin to physical height to the languages we speak and cultures we belong to. However, as we spent our first three days together, one thing we find in common amongst us is the love, passion, and respect that we hold for journalism education, freedom, and democracy. Two other things that every member of this fun-loving and knowledge-thirsty group inherits are the strength of building friendship and a sense of care for our fellow scholars.       

These qualities, perhaps, became visible when we opened up in the morning session with Dr. Marianne Barrett in room 444 on June 7. As we all shared our thoughts and talked about the work we do, we began to understand how compassionate our Cambodian friend Sokhen is about training journalists back home; how serious Bosnia’s Anida is about training journalists on digital safety and constructive journalism; how interested Carmem from Brazil is about learning the teaching hospital model of journalism education at the Cronkite School; how worried our Ukrainian fellow Mariana is about the spread of falsehoods on digital platforms in her war-struck country; how passionate Lebanon’s Hassan, Kyrgyzstan’s Elira, and Indonesia’s Firly are to know more about the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in journalism and public relations; how interested Eman from Egypt is to work on propaganda surrounding the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war; how eager Taiwan’s Felicity is to work on marketing communication on social media; how impassioned Suriname’s Angela is about making a documentary film exploring the relationship between democracy and journalism; how concerned Turkey’s Tirse is about the rise of populism in the world; how solicitous our journalist-turned-teacher fellow Alejandro from Costa Rica is about his research involving social media and people living in the Caribbean islands; how interested Zambia’s Elastus is in creating a space on digital platforms to engage working journalists in training without uprooting them from their livelihoods. 

A group of scholars listen attentively to a Cronkite professor
SUSI scholars learned about the national Carnegie-Knight News21 journalism fellowship, headquartered at the Cronkite School, from executive editor Pauline Arrillaga

Many of us continued our discussions as we left the classroom to engage in interactions with the undergraduate and graduate students of the Cronkite School and other journalism programs across the nation who work at Cronkite News and the News 21 fellowship program under the teaching hospital model of journalism education. We would be amiss not to admit that some of us were surprised watching the serious journalism work the students do in these projects. I saw flashes for a moment on the faces of some of the SUSI scholars about implementing similar projects in their home countries. I heard our fellow participants praising the methods of offering journalism education in this teaching hospital model and the supervision of faculty involved in training the journalism students. 

SUSI Scholars in the observation area of the Cronkite News studios
SUSI scholars observing a news broadcast production by the students at Cronkite News

Lastly, we did not miss the opportunity to learn about the modern-day public relations and strategic communication work done by the students under supervision of faculty members in Cronkite School’s Public Relations Lab.  

Even on our way back to Gordon Commons, we continued exchanging our thoughts and observations around the topics of journalism, journalism education, politics, and democracy. As Tamanda Chipo Masambuka from Malawi was saying, “Journalism is a very powerful tool when it comes to democracy. It is the only platform for those who are underprivileged. These groups of people access information through journalism to make important decisions in their lives. In relation to my country, I feel that a lot of commodification of news is happening there due to various reasons. I would love to contribute in this sector to make people working in news industry more professional.” 

Anida Sokol, a participant from Bosnia-Herzegovina, thinks that journalism is one of the most beautiful professions even though it is largely degraded across the globe today. As she went on to say: 

“I think we need to offer better journalism education to students in Bosnia. Journalism is changing so fast and we need to go with the global pace to ensure better journalistic practices in the world.” 

Anida Sokol, Bosnia-Herzegovina

In this ever-changing world, Lebanon’s scholar Hassan Fatih is passionate about finding new always to communicate. “I think practising ethics in journalistic practices has become an issue these days. In every case, the media should be objective… being objective as a journalist is the most crucial thing to leave an impact in society.” 

Coming from five different continents, this group of people shares almost the same values in regards to independent journalism, freedom of speech, and democracy – which is probably the most beautiful thing to admire in this particular moment.