International reporting class getting hands-on training in Shanghai

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Seventeen Penn State students are spending spring break in an exotic location on the other side of the world, but it’s all about work -- not a vacation -- for the aspiring journalists.

The students, members of COMM 402 International Reporting, have spent the first part of the spring semester preparing for their trip, an intensive weeklong effort to capture stories in Shanghai, China.

Details of their trip and snippets of their work are being shared on social media during the trip. That includes the class blog, Facebook and @PSUIntReporting on Twitter.

Their completed broadcast pieces, multimedia projects, photo essays and stories will be featured on several platforms and special editions when they return. In addition, through partnerships with the Centre Daily Times and McClatchy Newspapers, the students’ work will be distributed nationally later this spring and summer.

During the trip each student will work on one main story. The students will set up their own appointments, interview various sources and conduct research according to their topic of choice. The students are also required to do a secondary story, which may be published as a blog post.

This is the second time the international reporting class has made a trip to Shanghai. For Tony Barbieri, the Foster Professor of Writing and Editing who teaches the course, one primary challenge remains the same for any journalist or student in the class.

“There is no story without a person. They must take the subject they have, and find the people through whom to tell it,” said Barbieri. “Any good story is strong because of a personal connection.”

Based on previous trips, Barbieri expects students to focus on topics like censorship, economic development, fashion, higher education, music, politics and sports. During a brainstorming session earlier this semester, students suggested a wide range of ideas, including Chinese body image, environmental issues, Islamic culture in Shanghai and plastic surgery.

One student, Julia Kern, plans to spend her time focusing on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, and how government involvement affects its operations. Kern might have difficulty with her story, though, because access to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and even access to Sina Weibo, is controlled by the government in China.

“I’m hoping to be able to learn first-hand about the nuances of social media use in China -- what people think of the existing restrictions, how people in China use social media, and to what degree it might be affecting or changing their way of communicating,” said Kern.

Three other College of Communications faculty members will accompany Barbieri on the trip. Members of that group are Marie Hardin, professor and associate dean for undergraduate and graduate education; John Beale, a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism; and Bu Zhong, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism.

Students have prepared for the trip by studying about China in general and Shanghai in particular, focusing on culture, history, economics, politics and religion. In addition, numerous experts -- a mix of Penn State faculty members, foreign journalists who have worked in China and Chinese journalists based in Washington, D.C. -- have helped students better understand the country and formulate story ideas. Barbieri consistently stresses cultural awareness and understanding, so students can provide important context to their stories.

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Last Updated May 23, 2014