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International Media Series Promotes Cross-Culture Communication

SOC IM Google Hangout

Professor Rick Rockwell uses Google Hangouts to deliver seminars with journalists in Kabul and students in the International Media program in Washington, D.C.

Is it possible to enrich the programming of a radio network in a developing country from half a world away? An experiment in the International Media program at American University is posing that question this fall—and students in the program are volunteering to watch the results.

Over the course of 14 weeks, students gather at AU every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. ET to take part in a lecture series linking them to the Salam Watandar radio network in Afghanistan, eight and a half hours ahead. Students in the International Media program began attending these sessions several weeks before the formal opening of classes in August.

During a recent guest lecture, Chuck Lewis, founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop and SOC professor, lead a seminar on investigative reporting while allowing students the opportunity to interact with the radio reporters in Kabul.
“It’s been a tried and true method since the Watergate era, but you’ve got to follow the money,” Lewis urged in his lecture. One of the revelations he brought to the session: Afghan reporters could use the reports of the inspector general, for Afghanistan reconstruction, to get at the issue of corruption. Other sensitive topics have also surfaced in the lecture series, such as the treatment of women in Afghan society, reporting on the black market, and the opium trade.

Developing a cross-culture curriculum

Rick Rockwell, the School of Communication’s Director of International Media, established the lecture series and leads the majority of sessions using a newly created curriculum on development communication for radio networks.

“I think we are having a real impact on an important media source,” Rockwell said. “I’m encouraged because these are voluntary lectures and we not only see steady student participation in Washington, but also robust attendance in Kabul.”

The seminar series is conducted using Google Hangouts, allowing the journalists in Kabul to see the PowerPoint slides in addition to interacting with students and the seminar leaders at AU. Rockwell established the lecture series with Nasir Maimanagy, director of Afghanistan’s non-profit radio network, this past summer. Searching for ways to provide training for his young staff—the free seminar series was the result.

“Interest in the sessions is unanimously positive,” Maimanagy wrote recently in assessing the lecture series. “Some of the senior staff have approached me to extend their appreciation and informed me that some of the topics discussed will better their work. It makes me happy because they are getting better and as a result the listeners will be better served.”

“The journalists in Kabul are passionate about what they do, and it shows,” said Megan Ekhaml, one of the International Media students who regularly attends the lectures. “As an audience member, I get to see the development process. Knowing how it works, I could use it in my own future.”

The lecture series will conclude in mid-November—with Rockwell confident all have benefited from this Internet exchange. “There’s no better example of cross-cultural communication in action,” he added.