I consider myself an avid consumer of news, but the reality of what foreign correspondence and international reporting entails never truly occurred to me until my recent study abroad experience in Prague, especially my visit to RFE/RL. [For more on scheduling a visit to RFE, check out our "Visit Us" page]
In November of 2010, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague with my journalism class. I was impressed and deeply moved by the stories of journalists and reporters working to share with listeners the often unheard voices of people from all over Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
Hearing the news is one thing; but covering it -- gathering facts, conducting interviews, and putting it all together -- is another. If we are not journalists or reporters ourselves, we, as listeners, really cannot know just how intense the process of telling a story through journalism can actually be. On top of that, sacrificing one’s life to report from countries where a life could be threatened is something we cannot fathom, unless we experience it ourselves.
This is what I began to understand when I met some of the RFE/RL journalists. They shared their experiences about doing their job in areas where reporting can require an extreme amount of bravery
Thank you, RFE/RL, for making me appreciate learning about the reality and importance of this kind of journalism
and courage. Stories were told of journalists having their lives threatened, whether they were reporting about human rights issues or about oppressive governments.
This made me think about the true purpose of journalism, which is more than telling people what is happening every day. Visiting RFE/RL made me realize that its journalists are devoting their lives to depicting what is truly going on in parts of the world where many voices may not be heard. They write about the reality of living in environments that we, reading from the outside, can never know and even come close to empathizing with until we read the words of the brave journalists writing about it.
In the end, it was a great privilege and a moving experience to hear the stories of the journalists reporting on and from countries like Turkmenistan, Iran, and Iraq. How careful must journalists be when it comes to asking the right people the right questions? How can one judge the credibility of a fact when it is already difficult to even find the right contacts to base it upon?
How persistent must a journalist be to even ask a question to someone from somewhere such as Turkmenistan, a country where simply talking to an RFE/RL correspondent can land one in the police station? Who can journalists go to and how do they maintain secrecy in their identities, if necessary, so that their lives are not threatened?
The care these reporters must take in using the right language -- the right words at the most opportune time -- is unfathomable to me, and I can only commend those working for RFE/RL. Thank you, RFE/RL, for making me appreciate learning about the reality and importance of this kind of journalism. And a special thanks to Larisa Balanovskaya, RFE/RL’s Outreach Coordinator, who gave us a tour and introduction to RFE/RL's history.
It was a tremendous opportunity that inspired me to strive to be a diligent journalist as well as a more attentive listener and reader of news in the future.
- Michelle Lee
The author is a junior at New York University, studying English & American Literature, Producing and Journalism. Her class visited RFE as part of the "A Day With RFE" program.