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Foreign correspondents for the summer

June 28, 2012

Prior to arriving at their first class in Jordan, which was sched­uled to begin shortly after a jet- lag- inducing flight across the globe, jour­nalism grad­uate stu­dents Matt Kauffman and Melissa Tabeek received an assign­ment from jour­nalism lec­turer Car­lene Hempel.

“She said she wanted some­thing on protests and Syria, so we started reading and absorbing every­thing we could,” Tabeek explained. In short order, the pair of jour­nal­ists had plans to attend street protests and visit uni­ver­si­ties in the cap­ital city of Amman.

Kauffman and Tabeek’s resulting sto­ries were part of a larger col­lec­tion of work by more than a dozen under­grad­uate and graduate- level jour­nalism stu­dents on a five- week Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram to Jordan. Hempel and Denis Sul­livan, a pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center for Peace, Cul­ture and Devel­op­ment, led the Dialogue.

The pro­gram, Hempel said, took on the qual­i­ties of a long- term embedded assign­ment fit for a pro­fes­sional for­eign cor­re­spon­dent. Over more than a month, stu­dents met with top gov­ern­ment offi­cials, built strong ties with com­mu­nity mem­bers and pro­duced sto­ries on topics ranging from the Middle East con­flict to busi­ness and sports.

“I kept saying to them, ‘Your audi­ence is The New York Times readers. That’s who you want to gear this for,” Hempel said. “And the cov­erage did span the whole news­paper, from the front page to the back.”

Within a few days, Kauffman and Tabeek made con­nec­tions with local offi­cials and non­profit orga­ni­za­tions with the help of their trans­lator, a uni­ver­sity stu­dent studying Eng­lish. The goal of the source gath­ering, they said, was to find Syrian fam­i­lies who had become refugees in Jordan after fleeing the harsh, oppres­sive regime and the near- constant threat of violence.

With the help of locals and refugee advo­cates, Kauffman and Tabeek built close rela­tion­ships with refugees, many of whom were ini­tially fearful to speak of their expe­ri­ences even on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

“We were able to look at these issues through the eyes of the fam­i­lies affected, not just through sto­ries that might quote one refugee and cite sta­tis­tics from a gov­ern­ment or the United Nations High Com­mis­sion for Refugees,” Tabeek said. “Because we became someone who could be trusted, they were able to talk to us about their lives.”

Sto­ries by the student- reporters were posted daily to the class­room blog, and The Boston Globe pub­lished a story co- authored by Tabeek and Kauffman, which included a cor­re­sponding video that ran online. The video, filmed in a small neigh­bor­hood with nearly 400 refugee fam­i­lies crammed into their homes, was an espe­cially chal­lenging assign­ment: The jour­nal­ists had to press their sub­jects to tell per­sonal sto­ries while remaining respectful of the trauma they induced.

“I think it was the first time I really felt like I was a jour­nalist, like I was doing some­thing impor­tant,” Kauffman said. “When I left I didn’t feel like I was fin­ished there. I want to go back.”

Kauffman and Tabeek will com­plete their grad­uate pro­gram in jour­nalism this August. To read work from all the stu­dents who reported from Jordan, visit http:// north east er nuni ver si tyjour nal is m2012 .word press .com/.

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