The shocking part of teaching journalism overseas

by Chloe Anello

October 13, 2017

Assistant professor Cheryl Reed brings lessons learned from teaching in Ukraine back to the U.S.

Cheryl Reed started out wanting to be a war correspondent.

"It was just what all the great reporters at the time were doing,” says Reed, Newhouse assistant professor of newspaper and online journalism. Her love for investigative journalism began there and has yet to stop.

In 1989, Reed traveled throughout Eastern Europe as a part of a study abroad program, but she never visited the then Soviet-ruled Ukraine. When she became a Fulbright Scholar in 2016, she had the opportunity to live in the country, which she says has a “rich, unique history,” and she couldn’t say no.

As a part of the prestigious Fulbright program, Reed spent 10 months teaching graduate students investigative and immersive journalism at a university in Kiev. These students are some of the first to experience free press within their country.

Assistant professor Cheryl Reed

“Many things shocked me during my time there,” says Reed. “You have to understand that this is a very young country with a lot of patriotic fervor that seems to dominate every other feeling and ethic.”

Helping her students understand journalistic integrity and ethics posed the greatest challenge for Reed. She encouraged students to be frank, open and comfortable in the classroom—they even called her by her first name. Many students questioned why they, as journalists, should report on topics that put the Ukrainian government in a bad light, considering the danger that often presented. That debate continued throughout Reed’s visit.

Reed reported on her experience for the Columbia Journalism Review. She wrote that since the country became independent in 1991, more than 60 journalists have been killed by poison, beheading, gunshot wounds, explosives and other means. This type of violence challenged Reed to motivate her students to use investigative reporting techniques. Few students were interested in covering the war with Russia in the eastern part of Ukraine.

“They immediately rejected [investigative reporting] because the consequences of doing that kind of reporting, regardless of how important, were far greater than they are [in the U.S.],” says Reed. “They thought it was too risky. I was shocked by that.”

The students also had low motivation in the classroom, a legacy of Soviet rule when Ukrainians rarely saw a reward for a job well-done, making hard work seem worthless, says Reed. “They would ask, ‘What’s the upside? I’m going to graduate whether you give me an A or a C.’”

Toward the end of the semester, Reed saw a change in her students. “I’d say [their minds] changed for two reasons. One, we kept talking about ethics and reporting., And two, they started getting jobs and started to see that what they were doing had an effect.” She hopes to have some of the same discussions with her Newhouse students that she had with her Ukranian students about investigative reporting and ethics.

“I’m going to go to my Syracuse class now and ask, ‘How many of you want to be a war correspondents?’ In my generation, that’s what you wanted to do.”

Chloe Anello is a senior magazine major at the Newhouse School.