Marketing and Communications

Partners for a Sustainable Future

BOWLING GREEN, O.—After numerous exchange trips, workshops at home and overseas, and resolving bureaucratic barriers, the Bowling Green State University School of Media and Communication successfully achieved its program goals in environmental sustainability training for the next generation of journalists in Algeria and Tunisia.

The “Partners for a Sustainable Future: Aiding Future Practitioners in Algerian and Tunisian Environmental Journalism and Communication” project was funded by a $388,800 grant in September 2007 from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State under the Fulbright-Hays Act, with an additional $177,733 from BGSU.

Although it was cut short in 2011 by the unrest in Algeria and revolution in Tunisia, the project nevertheless achieved much more and had an impact far beyond what its organizers had expected, said program director Dr. Catherine Cassara, journalism.

The friendships and professional connections made have endured, as evidenced by the frequent contact through social media and email.

“We are still in touch with our colleagues in both Tunisia and Algeria,” Cassara said. “We are working on efforts to get grant funding to continue work together and are part of a current application that would include other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.” The next project would focus on another aspect of communication studies, she said.

The institutions participating in Partners for a Sustainable Future were the Department of Information Science and Communication within the Faculty of Political Sciences and Information at the University of Algiers 3; the Institute of Press and Information Sciences (IPSI) at the University of Manouba, Tunisia; and the School of Media and Communication at BGSU.

Though the nations involved had different political and social situations, they face similar environmental challenges, Cassara said.
“The target audience is the youth leaders, future media practitioners, environmental educators and university teachers in journalism, communication and environmental studies,” Cassara said.  

Between March 2008 and October 2010, the program held seven workshops — three in Tunisia, one in Algiers and three at BGSU. One of the BGSU workshops, “Journalism and the Environment: Global Issues,” was a three-week, 2008 summer session that included BGSU undergraduate and graduate students, students from several other countries including Palestine and China, two program directors from the University of Algiers 3, and two experts from the Tunisian Ministry of the Environment. Along with educators and environmental experts from the Great Lakes Region, Algeria and Tunisia, they discussed how media in different countries cover major international environmental issues and shared information on environmental crises in their respective countries.

The workshop series ended at BGSU in October 2010 with a five-day session on “Teaching for a Sustainable Future,” which featured a round-table discussion about the pedagogy of environmental journalism and trips to meet with local environmental representatives.  

The groups studied common problems such as wastewater treatment and plastic bag pollution along with the specific challenges posed by desertification in Tunisia and invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Alumna Lin Chafetz participated in the 2009 workshop at BGSU and then went to Tunisia for the Sahara workshop in 2010.  She now works in Tunisia teaching English to Tunisian journalists. “Before the workshop I was unfamiliar with Tunisia entirely. I had no plans to come to North Africa at all. But after meeting the Tunisians and Algerians at BG I couldn't wait to visit North Africa. And my trip to North Africa is actually why I wanted to come back now,” she wrote in an email.

“The biggest thing I learned from both workshops is just how much of an impact journalism can have. Even though we dealt with the environment, it has to deal with everything. There may be so many various environmental problems, but if nobody knows about them, they'll never get fixed. This has helped me with my career recently, actually. I've recently gotten an internship at Tunisia Live, an English speaking news website in Tunisia. And they've brought me on to do social media and photography, followed by reporting in the summer. Right now it's about how to make an impact by having the most number of people read your stories and how to get them into the right hands.

“The international and multicultural aspect of the workshop has been sincerely the best detail about the latest workshop,” another participant in the last BGSU workshop commented. “Besides, it has been rich and enriching. It has opened wide horizons and enabled us to establish useful links at an international level.”

Establishing these useful links helped move BGSU toward one of its Strategic Plan goals, internationalizing the campus.

In addition to the student and faculty interactions over the course of the project, participants met with people at every level on both continents, from diplomats, government officials and university leaders to grade school children.  

“I have a broad outlook on life in general,” a U.S. participant in the 2010 Environmental Journalism and Communication workshop in Tunisia said. “There were many cultural differences between myself and the other students, the most obvious being the type of government they live under. It made me think about such issues more deeply and personally, and allowed me to appreciate the country I am in and its abundance of freedoms.”

Although BGSU had to work through program curveballs, such as the revolution in Tunisia and cultural and bureaucratic differences, the successes of the program heavily outweighed the challenges, its organizers agree.