Journalism students investigate religion and popular culture in Turkey

January 17, 2011

Students from Northwestern University in Qatar continued to hone their reporting skills during a recent trip to Turkey, where they investigated the religion and popular culture of the country.

Ten students in the University’s broadcast journalism class spent a week last December reporting from Istanbul on the popularity of Turkish television shows in the Middle East and Turkish religious traditions, such as Alevism and Sufism. The trip was another opportunity for students to take skills they learn in the classroom and in reporting projects in Doha and apply them in a new and challenging setting.

“Journalism is best learned by doing it, not by talking about it,” said Richard Roth, senior associate dean of journalism. “We know that journalists need to experience the world beyond their own – to experience the cultures, customs and curiosities of others – so they can make sense of things for their readers and viewers, and so they are not limited in their references to clichés and stereotypes.”

With the help of a translator, the students interviewed dozens of sources – from script writers and leading television actors, to Irfan Sahin, CEO of Dogan Media Group, the leading media organization in Turkey. Mr. Sahin produced the television series “Noor”, which is televised across the Middle East and has attracted more than 85 million Arab viewers over the age of 15, according to a report issued by Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

Northwestern’s dedication to providing opportunities for students to report in the real world – both in Doha and abroad – is unique to journalism education in the region.

“I sometimes think it would have been impossible for me to report these stories if I wasn’t a part of Northwestern,” said Shereena Qazi, a junior who reported on religious tradition in Turkey. (See Qazi’s video report bottom of this page.)

In addition to being a unique part of the curriculum, field reporting is a critical part of the journalism program at Northwestern, and is aimed at enriching the academic experience and nurturing leadership qualities in students. It is an extension of the University’s “learn by doing” approach to teaching, which ensures that students receive a significant level of practical experience to complement classroom learning.

For some students, the reporting trip to Istanbul was just the latest in a string of opportunities to report overseas.

Junior Zainab Sultan has reported previously from New Orleans and is set to leave for a 10-week residency at Al Jazeera’s Washington D.C. bureau in February.

“Every time (I take a reporting trip) I am convinced that the education I receive at Northwestern prepares me to go report anywhere in the world,” Sultan said.

Thouria Mahmoud echoed that sentiment, stating simply, “Taking the field reporting class in Turkey made me a better journalist.”