Inside Iowa State
August 27, 1999
Prof helps foreign journalist get the storyby Steve Sullivan
He doesn't commiserate much with CNN's globe-trotting Christiane Amanpour. He gets no air time and few, if any, bylines. Yet, it wouldnt be a stretch to apply the title "foreign correspondent" to Steve Coon.
For years, the bilingual, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication associate professor has spent his summers conducting workshops on reporting in adverse situations for broadcast journalists all over the world, particularly in Africa and South America.
"I don't go in there like I'm the great savior from the United States," Coon said. "I facilitate discussion. I want the workshop participants to talk to me about what is happening in their countries and the challenges they face in covering the events."
A glimpse at Coon's itinerary of international activities over just the past few years shows why his passport is oft-stamped.
Coon has lectured and conducted workshops in a variety of other countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Brazil.
- Peru Radio Election Workshop in July for more than 100 radio reporters, with emphasis on covering the general elections scheduled for Peru in the year 2000.
- Mongolia Radio Skills Workshop in June for 20 Mongolian broadcast journalists, with a focus on such topics as news sources, story treatment, ethics and reporting.
- Croatia Radio Skills Workshop in April for 10 Croatian radio journalists, to help reporters cover the parliamentary general elections scheduled for fall.
- Bolivia Regional Radio News Workshop in March 1998 for senior-level radio reporters, editors and managers from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
- Guatemala Investigative Reporting Workshop in October 1997 for four radio stations in Guatemala City.
Coon said he believes these workshops have an impact. In countries he has visited more than once, he has noticed that some journalists "are a little bit more aggressive in the kinds of stories they are doing. There's a harder edge in much of their reporting and they are more willing to question government policy." The challenges journalists face in other countries, particularly those that are emerging democracies, can be extreme. How many American television reporters have to consider potential terrorist threats or iron-fisted governments when covering issues? How many broadcast journalists in America are working with equipment last seen during the days of Huntley and Brinkley?
What keeps foreign broadcast journalists on the job in less than ideal conditions? In some cases, it is passion for journalism and getting the truth out there. In most cases, though, it is survival. You have to have a job to put food on the table.
"In Croatia, if you aren't employed, your child can't go to school or receive medical benefits," Coon said. "I had one participant in an April workshop who had just been paid for everything he'd done up to the previous November. He was happy."
Among the lessons Coon tries to convey to his workshop participants are:
When Coon joined the ISU faculty in 1981, he brought with him several years of international journalism experience. From 1973 to 1976, he was a foreign service officer with the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington, D.C., and a reporter for the Voice of Americas Latin American desk. Most of his international broadcast workshops are sponsored by the USIA.
- Yes, there is better, more modern, equipment out there. But if what you have still works, do the best you can with it.
- There is strength in numbers. Create organizations and coalitions within your profession that can help take a stand against government inter-ference in news coverage.
"I try to encourage them to think in terms of solidarity, of building a support system of other journalists who can help," Coon said.
- Safety is the priority. The benefits of the story must be weighed against the potential threats to your life and health. "If some issue is just too dangerous to touch, then wait," Coon said.
It is the experiences from his early career and insights he gains from international workshops that he brings to the students in his world communications systems course. He hopes to return to some countries he has visited, and lately his attention has turned to a place he's never been.
"I'd love to go to Cuba, to get an idea of how Castro has affected broadcast journalism," he said.
Diana Pounds, University Relations, email@example.com
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