On a balmy mid-March evening, 11 Russian journalists clustered around a table in one of Austin’s time-honored barbeque joints, a platter piled high with brisket and a trough of mashed potatoes between them.
The group had gathered for a traditional southern meal on the final evening of a ten-day press tour sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the State Department’s Foreign Press Center. Such tours are designed to showcase all aspects of media as an industry and profession in the United States and the ways in which technology is transforming journalism, its practice, and consumption. The participants agreed they were simultaneously exhausted and energized at the conclusion of a packed itinerary that included stops in Washington D.C.; New York City; and Austin, Texas where they met with a wide range of policymakers, academics, media professionals, and had the unique opportunity to participate in the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive media festival.
Reflecting on the experience, one technology reporter from an online Russian daily said that briefings with digital media companies and online publications such as Vox, Slate Magazine, and Buzzfeed, facilitated networking with media industry peers and created linkages that she intends to maintain into the future. She added that the chance to meet leading innovators in technology and media from around the world at the SXSW festival was “definitely once in a lifetime.”
Another participant, an arts and entertainment reporter from St. Petersburg, said that meetings with academics were among the most illuminating of the program. The group spent a full afternoon with professors at American University’s School for Communications in Washington, D.C. and then Columbia University’s School of Journalism during the New York leg of their trip. The visits featured wide-ranging discussions of journalistic integrity, the rise of citizen journalism, best practices in digital journalism, and the future of mass media. Several participants also recalled a spirited discussion of media freedom at the Committee to Protect Journalists as a highlight of the tour.
As the group scraped their plates clean and considered dessert, a cultural reporter from the far east of Russia offered her view, using the assistance of an interpreter.
“This was my very first time to the United States and I honestly had some apprehensions based on things I’d heard in news and saw on television,” she said. “For me, this was a very rich professional exchange and I learned a lot as a member of the media, but I also learned a lot about the American people. Some things surprised me and some things didn’t, but I know now that this is a very diverse place where everyone has their own unique view and way of life.”
She paused to order the apple cobbler, then added, “Most of all, I loved listening to everyday Americans tell their stories. We are journalists – telling stories is at the heart of what we do.”
About the Author: Shana Kieran serves as a Media Relations Officer at the New York Foreign Press Center for the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.
For more information:
- Learn more about the U.S. State Department Foreign Press Centers.