Class photo after first lecture.

Cox Center Director Gives Lectures To Samoan Journalism Students

Journalism practice differs around the world, but one constant concern of journalists is good writing, Dr. Lee B. Becker, a journalism professor at the University of Georgia, told students in the journalism program at Samoa Polytechnic in late February.

"Everywhere that journalism is practiced, journalists want people to read what they write and view and listen to what they produce," Dr. Becker said. Artists may write simply for the love of writing, but "Journalists write so that others read or listen to or view what they produce."

As a consequence, good writing skills are crucial for journalism, Dr. Becker told the Polytechnic students as part of a three-hour lecture and discussion on February 27 at the campus in the Samoan capital of Apia. The presentation was the first of two Becker gave to the 22 students enrolled in the nascent journalism program at the Polytechnic. The second day's presentation focused on definitions of news.

Dr. Becker was in Samoa to meet with the leader of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and to visit the Polytechnic. He also held a media forum with members of the Journalists Association of Western Samoa (JAWS). Samoa was formerly called Western Samoa.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The Cox Center has collaborated with PINA on a large number of training programs since the Center was founded in 1985. Since 1997, the Cox Center and PINA held two journalistic workshops in Fiji and one in Papua New Guinea.

While in Samoa Dr. Becker and Apulu Lance Polu, president of PINA and publisher/editor of Le Samoa Newspaper, outlined plans for a workshop at the 2005 PINA conference, planned for Tonga. The topic will be selected by PINA, which will participate in its administration.

In the Media Forum organized by JAWS and attended by 15 of its members, Dr. Becker fielded questions ranging from the coverage by the U.S. media of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to the openness of the media to outside criticism. Dr. Becker said that examples of critical coverage of US policy toward the Iraqi invasion existed from the start, but he said coverage has become even more critical since the US has failed to find weapons of mass destruction, the existence of which was used to justify the invasion. The Media Forum was held in the morning of February 27 at Hotel Kitano Tusitala in Apia.

Dr. Becker said it has been his experience that journalists, when subjected to scrutiny from outside, often "start to act very much like government officials when they are being investigated. I think it is hypocrisy, and I think it is unacceptable." He added that if the journalists really believe in the value of transparency and openness, "you should go even further than those you are criticizing in opening up what you do to other people. You explain processes. You should acknowledge errors."

In the presentation on writing at the Polytechnic, Dr. Becker reviewed the basics of news writing structure and explained why journalists have developed specialized writing techniques to tell news stories. Nora Tumua, senior lecturer in the journalism program at the Polytechnic, had asked Dr. Becker to provide a broad overview for her students on journalistic writing.

The journalism program is in its third year of operation. Students spend an intensive year with the basics of journalism, after which they earn a certificate. The students enter the program after completing their secondary educational studies.

In the presentation on news definitions, Dr. Becker said that journalists make basic decisions about the types of news they will cover through the way they structure their news coverage. Newspapers in the US use a "beat" system, he explained, in which journalists are assigned to cover certain topics because the editors want stories on the topics in the newspaper.

Dr. Becker asked the students to break into three groups and make decisions about the kinds of news they wanted covered in a daily newspaper for Samoa. They also were asked to make decisions about the amount of Samoan, regional and international news they wanted covered in the paper and then justify these decisions to the full class.

In a meeting earlier in the week, Perive Tanuvasa Lene, chief executive officer at the Polytechnic, and Dr. Ema Kruse Vaai, academic director and depute chief executive officer, and Dr. Becker explored ways in which the Cox Center and the Grady College at Georgia could collaborate. Dr. Becker promised to work to assist the Polytechnic in development if its journalism program.