An Unfettered Press

The Center for Foreign Journalists

By Daniel B. Moskowitz


In October 1991, Zimbabwean Regina Chigwedere and seven other African woman journalists spent three weeks in the United States learning about publishing, from the philosophical issues of ethics and the role of the press in an emerging nation, to the nuts-and-bolts of how to use computers to improve page design and how to write a livelier lead to a story.

Chigwedere had been a reporter on the Herald newspaper in Harare for six years, writing most of the women's page. But she felt that many issues that truly mattered to the women of Zimbabwe were given short shrift, and that they needed a publication devoted to their concerns. Nine months after the U.S. visit, Chigwedere published the first issue of Living On, a 30-page monthly magazine designed to fill that need -- a compendium of articles about health, domestic life, sex discrimination, economic betterment, and, yes, being attractive to men.

The venture has been extremely successful for a start-up -- the magazine sold 200 copies its first day on the newsstand and has attracted significant advertising. The U.S. visit, Chigwedere told a caller in Harare not long after launching the publication, "laid the foundation for most of what I am doing in my magazine today. If I had not gone, my magazine might still not be out."

The U.S. visit was organized by the Center for Foreign Journalists (CFJ), a unique private operation that is devoted to helping writers, editors, and publishers in developing countries tap into the techniques of American journalism and assess which are appropriate -- and which are not -- in their own countries. CFJ is located in its own wing of a sleek, modern building nestled among trees in Reston, Virginia, a short distance outside Washington. The workshops, seminars, classes, and training experiences offered by the center give practicing journalists a breather from meeting deadlines and paying the bills, "a chance to sit down and think about what you do and why you do it," explains Bryna Brennan, CFJ's director of training.

The center was founded almost a decade ago by three American journalists who felt that the United States' highly developed media industry had an obligation to share its know-how with colleagues in countries where news gathering and information dissemination often are only beginning to enjoy independence and professionalism. They saw the work of many Asian, Latin American, and African journalists as continuing the tradition of the fledgling American press, which in the 18th century ignited and spread the freedom movement that led what were then British colonies to win their freedom. Says former Boston Globe editor Thomas Winship: "I have yet to meet a serious journalist anywhere who does not lust for more freedom to report. It is part of our makeup."

Winship is one of the trio of founders of the center and now serves as chairman of its board. The other two are James D. Ewing, a former publisher of small-town daily and weekly newspapers and vice-chairman of the group, and George A. Krimsky, a former foreign correspondent and editor for the Associated Press worldwide news service, currently president of CFJ. To help them carry out the mission of the center, they have tapped an advisory board of top-notch journalists from around the world, including George Mbugguss, former group managing editor of the Nation Newspapers in Kenya; Cheong Yip Seng, editor-in-chief of Singapore's Straits Times; Harold Hoyte, editor-in-chief of The Nation in Barbados; and Katharine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company in the United States.

To make their dream of a training and skill-trading operation a reality, Winship, Ewing, and Krimsky convinced a variety of U.S. publishers and broadcasters to provide seed money. The center's first program, in August 1985, brought together 16 journalists from 25 countries.

Since then, CFJ has run some 260 programs, serving more than 4,000 participants from 170 countries. For French- and Spanish-speakers, courses are given in their first language; otherwise, the programs are conducted in English.

The center's own operations -- the headquarters itself, staff salaries, research, and publications -- are paid for by contract fees, program grants, and a continuing infusion of donations from publishers, individuals, and other private sources. The programs themselves are funded by governmental entities -- the U.S. Information Service, the United Nations -- or by private foundations, often those with a particular interest in a subject or a specific region of the world. The World Wide Fund for Nature, for instance, supported the training of 13 reporters from five South American countries in environmental reporting, and the Asia Foundation paid for a session run for Taiwanese journalists.

In its initial years, the center offered almost any kind of course related to its mission for which it could get funding. But now it is so well established, Krimsky says, that it can focus on where the greatest needs are and be fairly sure that the money will be there. The program for African women publishers that Chigwedere attended, for instance, was conceived by the center's staff to serve a segment of the profession that is of growing importance in Africa.

A follow-up component was conducted in 1992. This entailed sending a two-person team of experts, one in periodical management and the other in desktop publishing and graphic design, to visit each of the program participants in order to provide on-site technical assistance in media management, publication design, business management, writing, and promotion.

Using the African women publishers program as a model, the center conducted a program for Chinese women journalists in 1993.

The instruction program is balanced between specific skills instruction and learning to think in new ways about the profession of journalism. "I got wonderful hands-on experience," says Janet Karim, editor of Woman Now in Malawi and a participant in the CFJ African women publishers' program. "But equally important, I was able to open up to suggestions on improvements that before used to offend me. I used to be easily offended by criticism."

The trick is to find what about U.S. journalism can be transferred to developing countries given the differences in resources and, often, in political values. As a CFJ publication notes: "While U.S. reporters are using third-generation computers to write their stories and retrieve background information, many of their counterparts...are lucky if they share a working manual typewriter."

To begin, the center outlines the picture of U.S. journalism, emphasizing that while the industry -- 1,500 daily newspapers, 7,400 weekly newspapers, 11,000 magazines, 20,000 newsletters, 12,800 broadcast stations -- views itself as a public trust, it is a business, and, on the whole, a highly profitable one. Unlike the press in much of the rest of the world, which sees itself established to present a particular point of view, the U.S. news media, center staffers emphasize, are, for the most part, audience oriented, intent on providing the information that editors believe their readers, listeners, and viewers want and need.

Sessions at CFJ almost always include a segment about journalism ethics, conducted with a fine-honed understanding of cultural differences. In the United States, for instance, it is highly unusual for a reporter to take money from a source to write -- or suppress -- a story, but in some countries such side payments are an essential part of a journalist's livelihood. The center's approach is not to urge adoption of U.S. standards: "We explain how we do it here and why we do it," says Bryna Brennan, in order to spur discussion of what the appropriate rules might be in the attendees' own nations. "You are not giving them just answers, but you are raising questions."

Perhaps most significantly, U.S. journalists -- as the heirs of those scriveners who fostered the American Revolution more than 200 years ago -- operate under a national constitution that guarantees them freedom of the press. In contrast, the constitutions of many other countries often put restraints on the ability of the press to question national priorities. In May 1993, Nigerian reporter Sunny Ofill commented in an article in an Alabama newspaper, where he was serving as a guest staffer for three weeks as a follow-up to his classes at the center's headquarters: "After staying two weeks in Washington and seeing how the American press works, I am more invigorated in my struggle for freedom of the press back home."

In setting up a center for training journalists from other countries, George Krimsky remembers, "one of the first problems we encountered was the age-old problem of whether is it better to send trainers to them or bring the participants to us. We decided to do both." The center uses the classrooms at its suburban Washington headquarters for lectures and workshops, and it arranges for its participants to work side-by-side with American journalists at publications and broadcast stations throughout the United States. The programs can be brief introductions to American journalism for visitors brought in by USIS or other hosts, or they can be weeks-long, intensive advanced work in particular disciplines, such as health and science reporting or broadcast journalism.

But CFJ also sends American experts to other countries to run sessions that are less in depth but can reach considerably more persons. In addition, it has helped design an indigenous journalism training center in Ethiopia, and, using money from various U.S. foundations, is providing administrative and training support for the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, an affiliate of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

But the ideal programs are those that combine both home country and American experiences. For instance, in November 1992, 10 media managers from francophone Africa selected by USIS came to CFJ for a series of classes and practical work experiences interviewing U.S. government officials and covering events in the national capital. Then, in March of the following year, two experienced journalists, one based in Paris and one in California, and both fluent in French, went to Africa to conduct a series of workshops for a larger group of journalists, including those who had been in the United States and were able to share their impressions with their colleagues.

The reverse approach is used in a series of USIS-funded programs for journalists in Nigeria, the country from which, Krimsky says, there is both the largest number of inquiries about training and the strongest continuing contact with those who have been through CFJ programs. Each year, three workshops are held in the country, enrolling about 20 reporters each. Then, from those attending, the 10 who seem keenest about continuing are brought to the United States for workshops, lectures, and stints on local newspapers.

CFJ is different from most other teaching and training institutions in that it "organizes programs around people, instead of fitting people into set programs," says Krimsky. Most of its participants are selected by USIS or by one of the other sponsoring organizations, but in some cases, the center itself seeks out participants who fit a particular definition. And on occasion, a journalist writing the center can be slotted into a planned program or introduced to the outside agency making the selections.

Importantly, however, the training is not the end of the center's involvement with overseas reporters, editors, and publishers. It also runs consultancies, sending U.S. experts to follow up the workshops and internships with face-to-face meetings with the participants, gauging how well they have been able to apply their improved skills and offering advice on how to achieve their journalistic goals.

On one such consultancy, Kristin Helmore, who formerly wrote for the Christian Science Monitor and edited the magazine African Farmer, sat down in Harare with Regina Chigwedere in September 1992 and talked about Chigwedere's Living On magazine. The publication has been so popular that it has expectations of hitting a circulation of 10,000 in its third year of operation, but it is so thinly capitalized that it leads a hand-to-mouth existence financially. Helmore suggested adding regular editorial matter -- how-to articles about applying for a bank loan, writing resumés, drawing up a budget -- that would emphasize to potential advertisers that the publication is an effective environment for their promotion. She and Chigwedere pinpointed local businesses that would be likely advertisers, and then Helmore organized role-playing sessions in which Chigwedere pretended to be the owner of a business and the magazine's sales representatives went through a sales pitch -- an exercise that helped all of the representatives better understand how to present their case.

It is that kind of help that typifies what the center is doing. It zeros in on the specific problem -- be it presentation, editorial quality, or financial -- and then draws on the expertise of professionals to suggest solutions. But the training always emphasizes the need to adapt the solutions to local conditions. "It's working within their reality," Brennan says.


Daniel B. Moskowitz is a free-lance writer in Washington.


The American Press

Constitutional Protection

The Right To Know

Editing the Washington Post

The Small-Town Newspaper

The Business Side of a Newspaper

Rights and Responsibilities

Libel Law in the United States

Minorities in Journalism

Targeting an Audience

The Electronic Media

The Sweet Sound of Conflict

The Business of Radio Broadcasting

On the Air in Springville

The High-Tech Trib

Electronic Newspapers

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