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Journalism students studying international media return from eye-opening study abroad trip to Germany

Seven journalism students in Associate Professor of Instruction Nerissa Young’s International Mass Media course recently returned from an eight-day trip to Germany that changed their perspectives on media in the United States and around the world.

“Having family in Germany, I loved the idea of getting to better understand their history, especially in how it shaped German media today,” said Erin Brogan, a sophomore strategic communication major. “I have always been very intrigued by the propaganda and media aspect of the Holocaust, as I have always felt like it is a huge aspect often overlooked.”

The eight-week international media course explores the development and operations of world mass communication channels and agencies. It began with the study abroad trip to Berlin and Leipzig, Germany, and now students will spend the rest of the course doing a comparative analysis of media, media practices and flow of news throughout the world. Students are learning about media systems and how they are influenced by historical, cultural and political forces and are exploring the development of current German news media organizations beginning with the Weimar Republic through Nazi Germany, the German Democratic Republic, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

“This is a wonderful experience for our students to have,” said Young. “The gist of the course is looking at media systems within the context of the region’s history, culture and politics and experiencing that in person is important to understanding it completely.”

For some students, the trip further underscored the First Amendment rights in the U.S.

“While our country has its issues, one thing I think many people take for granted is the rights to expression we have in the United States,” said Nicholas Wood, a journalism graduate student. “Journalists in other parts of the world aren’t always given that privilege, and international students in the same program as me have had experiences facing persecution or jail time for doing their job where they live. Until just over 30 years ago, half of Germany couldn’t freely publish information opposing their government. Sharing these stories is crucial. They remind us of how powerful the media truly is, how necessary it is to honor that power and how quickly that power can be taken away.”

Brogan also found perspective in thinking about the purpose of journalism in the United States.

“Seeing the way current German news outlets prioritize unbiased and factual information made me take a step back and analyze journalism in our own country,” said Brogan. “I think so often we get caught up in politics and our opinions that we forget what the news is meant to do. The news should not revolve around our own opinions or be targeted to slander another person or part, but rather, inform our audience with accurate, relevant information.”

During the trip, students had the opportunity to tour many German historic sites, which included the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, as well as visit MDR Studios, which serves central Germany with news and entertainment media, and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.

“While we were in Leipzig we got to hear from Hazal Ocak, an investigative journalist from Turkey and a journalist in residence with the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. She is temporarily staying in the city to write a book recounting her experience being sued by the Turkish president’s director of communications after publishing an article exposing some of his illegal activity,” said Brogan. “I think this experience during our trip was what had the greatest impact on my perspective of journalism.”

Wood echoed the value of the experience.

“I think the biggest thing I took away from this trip was how different a relationship we in the U.S. have with our country’s history compared to Germany,” said Wood. “There just seemed to be a general sense of humility in their approach to discussing the dark parts of their past, and I admired that. In the U.S., I think there’s a tendency to try and put a positive spin on things to not sully people’s perceptions of our country or maintain some sense of national pride. Recognizing this difference led me to reexamine a lot of what I’d been taught.”

June 11, 2024
Cheri Russo