Training a new crop of environmental journalists

BOWLING GREEN, O.—As environmental concerns spread throughout the world, Bowling Green State University's School of Communication Studies is stepping up to help train the next generation of journalists in Algeria and Tunisia.

The “Partners for a Sustainable Future: Aiding Future Practitioners of Algerian and Tunisian Environmental Journalism and Communication” project will unite BGSU faculty and students from a number of disciplines with their peers in North Africa.

The endeavor is funded by a three-year, $388,800 grant from the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, under the authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961. BGSU has committed an additional $177,733 in funds and other resources for the project.

“The target audience is youth leaders, future media practitioners, environmental educators and university teachers in journalism, communication and environmental studies,” said project director Dr. Catherine Cassara-Jemai, an associate professor of journalism.

“The participants will build knowledge and skills working together with peers with similar concerns, all within the context of a full cultural exchange,” said co-director Dr. Lara Martin Lengel, an associate professor and temporary chair of interpersonal communication (IPC).

Though Tunisia and Algeria have different political and social situations, they face some of the same environmental problems, Cassara-Jemai said. “While they have many concerns, their biggest challenges are water and desertification.” Areas of environmental concern shared among the two North African nations and the United States include development of bio-fuels.

“The challenge in education and in journalism today is to engage much more proactively with the great crises of our time,” according to Dr. Oliver Boyd-Barrett, director of the School of Communication Studies. “Climate change, resource depletion and the conflicts that are already occurring related to those developments have not been adequately addressed by journalists. This grant puts us in just the right part of the world, which is a significant player in the crisis of vanishing resources.”

The interdisciplinary project will involve faculty from various BGSU departments who have expertise in journalism, environmental science, communication and intercultural studies.

BGSU will work with the Institut de Presse and des Sciences de l'Information (IPSI, or Institute of Press and Information Sciences) at the Université de Manouba in Tunis, the Centre International des Technologies de l'Environment de Tunis (International Center of Environmental Technologies), the Département des Média et Communications of the Université d'Algér in Algiers, and l'Association pour la Recherche sur le Climat et l‘Environment (Association for Climate and Environmental Research) in Oran, Algeria.

The project will draw especially upon the expertise of IPSI faculty, who have already developed a cutting-edge master's degree program in environmental communication.

A number of visits in each direction have been planned. A small group from Bowling Green will first travel to Tunis and Algiers in March to connect with diplomats, government officials and colleagues from universities in both countries. Short workshops during the visit will bring upper-level and graduate students and faculty together with environmental activists and professional journalists to explore the challenges facing environmental communication and journalism in the region.

Intensive three-week workshops are planned for the summers of 2008 and 2009, while videoconferencing and collaborative Web sites will enable further communication between trips.

“This grant gives our students another opportunity to see the advantages of specialization in journalism” while broadening the institutions' scope for providing training in environmental issues, Boyd-Barrett said.

The School of Communication Studies has considerable experience both in North Africa and in conducting joint projects with other universities. In September 2006, Cassara-Jemai and Lengel completed a two-year partnership with IPSI through the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative that enhanced journalism education in Tunisia.

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(Posted November 26, 2007)