"When you look at the way digital and social media have actually transformed journalism, we have shrunk in terms of time and distance, in terms of audiences' ability to get news from other parts of the world and journalists' abilities to report to people around the world. But there's one distance that hasn't really shrunk, and that would be the distance in our heads, the way we engage with stories, the way we experience stories."
Priya Rajasekar is a lecturer in multi-platform journalism at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, and her second year journalism students are taking part in a project called GENII, short from Global E-News Immersion Initiative, where they're tasked with producing a story sourced from a different country with the help of a journalism student from a local university.
Coventry University works alongside Fresno State in the United States, The Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, the Rafik Hariri University in Lebanon, the University of Stuttgart, and Marquette University for the project.
Students are paired up in a way that ensures two people from different universities work together, with each producing a story based in the other's location, using social media, Skype, Google Hangout or similar technologies to connect with sources on the ground.
The local will then act as a digital fixer for the other student, helping them find sources and set up interviews while not interfering with the editorial direction of the story.
"If you're looking at the way we used social media," Rajasekar explained in a recent Journalism.co.uk podcast, "we have so many different platforms, but deep down we are probably engaging with the same people on 100 different platforms and not really expanding the scope of our network to the point where we are bridging cultural differences, getting more aware of other cultures and societies, or breaking stereotypes.
"GENII hopes to bridge those gaps using the amazing power of students from around the world."
A pilot version of the programme ran over the summer with a small number of students, but the current project is bringing together 130 students with various levels of experience in journalism, from those studying other subjects and taking part in the project as an elective, to postgraduate students with some experience in journalism.
The theme for the current edition of GENII is lifestyle and culture, which enables the students to choose from a wide variety of topics.
Some stories currently being explored as part of the project are 3D printing in art, the music scene in Lebanon, the impact of the caste system on women's careers, and the differences between the American and Indian film industry.
"We really enjoyed working with each other," said Faith Sidlow, assistant professor, Fresno State, who took part in the Global News Relay before GENII. "I liked the outcome and that the students had an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones and also to step outside of their tiny little Fresno State or California circles and see what was happening in the rest of the world."
Sidlow's students are involved with the project as part of a new radio reporting and production class, and their final stories will be aired on the university's radio station, KFSR.
They will also produce a multimedia story around the radio package, but their main challenge is to source quality audio from a different country. As could be expected, collaborating with students half-way across the world has sometimes been a challenge, as not all students are equally engaged in the project.
"Just leaving the students on their own to fend for themselves, I don't think has been effective, especially because we have such a large number of students," explained Sidlow.
"It's been a learning experience for all of us, not only for the students but also for the instructors. "It's teaching me how to come up with different methods for engaging students that I haven't had to do in the past."
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