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Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo

Journalism Class Gets Insight on the Middle East

Distance was no obstacle on Friday, October 12th, when information flowed all the way from a café in Beirut to a classroom in Brooklyn.

Students in the school’s journalism program had an opportunity to speak via Skype with Ms. Nancy Youssef, the Middle East Bureau Chief at McClatchy Newspapers, who currently covers stories from Morocco to the Iranian border.

The class was able to video chat with Youssef, while she sat in an internet café in Beirut, Lebanon.

The meeting was set up by the News Literacy Project, which has made more than 400 presentations in classrooms, conferences, and workshops throughout the country since 2009, educating students about being informed news consumers and journalists.

"The News Literacy Project is designed to spark interest in students in news," said Ms. Darragh Worland, the News Literacy Project’s New York program manager. "Even if students don’t have interest in being a journalist, it gets them engaged in current events."

Students were eager to hear Youssef’s story about her many experiences and her current work, and they had the chance to ask plenty of questions.

"I liked the fact that Ms. Youssef treated us like journalists, not just like kids," said senior Eli Friedman. "I felt mutual respect on both ends."

The meeting also seems to show a trend in the use of technology to connect students to the news happening across the world, and to encourage them to care about current events.

"As you become a citizen, you get voting rights, and you start making decisions," Ms. Worland said. "Every day there are decisions you’re making."

A large part of being informed, according to Ms. Worland, is understanding and caring about global news and what’s happening across the world.

"We’re constantly influencing and being influenced by the world," she said. "To not be informed is to not be a global citizen."

Some of what Youssef spoke of were the challenges that journalists face in general, such as the level of danger and the inability to become involved in the situations you cover.

"As a journalist, your job is to observe it. The hardest thing is seeing people suffering around you and not being able to stop it," said Youssef. "Whatever horrible thing you’re experiencing, the people around you have it worse." Ms. Youssef also said that her reporting was at times dangerous.

Ms. Youssef said she has been in a car crash, shot at, and has had a gun to her head twice. She says that a difficult aspect of working as a journalist in the Middle East today is the changing nature of war and of danger itself.  Whereas in the past, there were clear front lines that the danger was concentrated in and limited to in a war, Ms. Youssef said that today there are no clear ways to avoid danger and war.

"The wars are on everyday streets," said Ms. Youssef. "It’s harder to protect yourself."

However, the journalist said she feels that the dangers that she faces are inevitable issues, and understands that they always will be.

"I accept that those risks are part of the job," Ms. Youssef said.