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BU, Kenyan Universities to Develop Global Student Newsroom

Gates Foundation funds project for health reporting

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With mainstream media budgets collapsing, especially for overseas reporting, you probably don’t know where maternal deaths worldwide have plunged the most in the last decade. (It’s Afghanistan.) Might an international student newsroom based at BU help fill the void in developing-world health reporting?

That idea—pitched by the College of Communication and the Center for Global Health & Development—recently won $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The BU brains behind the nascent newsroom plan “a University-wide campaign during spring semester to find the 10 best student storytellers at Boston University to take part in this project,” says Anne Donohue (COM’88), a COM associate professor of journalism.

That search, open to students from any University school, will result in the 10 winners enrolling next summer in a Skype course with an equal number of peers from two Kenyan universities. The class will offer public health and communication instruction while also brainstorming foreign aid projects in Africa that would make worthy stories. The African students will gather audio and images of the projects in the field, which will be developed and expanded with new material by the American students at BU’s production facilities. The students producing the best projects will spend a month in late summer in Africa to complete their projects, which would be disseminated through social and mainstream media, and potentially through corporate partners.

One goal “is to tell an American audience where aid dollars go and how they impact those communities that receive them,” says Donohue. “Aid is often criticized—rightfully so—for not being effective or appropriate for the community that receives it. But there are also many examples of successful projects where aid brings a significant positive change to a community, and we think those stories should be told as well.”

They’re often not told, because like the proverbial airplane that lands safely, success stories tend to go unseen, and “public health is invisible when it is working,” says Jennifer Beard (SPH’06), a School of Public Health assistant professor of international health and a CGHD faculty member. “The same invisibility can be applied to aid. When it is working, health systems function, fewer women bleed to death in childbirth, babies of HIV-positive moms are not infected with the virus, sex workers insist on using condoms with clients, and injection drug users have clean needles.”

The BU organizers are seeking other donors to continue funding the project when its first phase concludes next summer.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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