From Columbia to Colombia: Missouri School of Journalism students complete ‘bootcamp’ on international journalism in Washington, D.C.

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Journalism Bootcamp

L-R: MaKayla Hart, Lillian Metzmeier, Emma Murphy, Kristina Abovyan, Briana Heaney, Hailey Peck, Amelia Hurley, Samantha Dietel, Eli Hoff, Abigail Lee, Michelle Renee Quinn

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 25, 2023) — In May, 11 Missouri School of Journalism students traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Journalism Bootcamp. The week-long project saw students mentored by journalists and foreign policy experts while developing a story package about the country of Colombia’s political landscape. The story has now been published on the CSIS website, where the organization posts in-depth stories about international issues.

“It was great to see the lively conversations between veterans of journalism and the students who want to follow in their footsteps,” said Kathy Kiely, the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies who accompanied the students to Washington. “I’m proud that the students pushed their reporting in directions that I think CSIS did not expect — they went out and found Colombians who could speak to lived experiences.”

The bootcamp consisted of a series of workshops designed to deepen the students’ understanding of global issues and how to report on them. Alongside these learning experiences, mentorship was provided by CSIS’ Dracopoulos iDeas Lab, which works to make the organization’s often-complex stories more digestible to a general audience through multimedia presentation and creative design.

“Our goals with the Journalism Bootcamp program are to give students experience working with policy experts to report on global issues, and to share the latest techniques in online multimedia production, said Mark Donaldson, a senior multimedia producer at the iDeas Lab. “The group from Mizzou made the most of both of these elements. They engaged deeply with our experts and put together a unique and nuanced report, and they dove deeply into all of the multimedia tools at their disposal.”

Ultimately, the students created a story — “Shadows and Bright Spots: Columbia’s Developing Democracy” — complete with an article, a video, infographics and other multimedia elements that come together to tell the story of Colombia’s encouraging but imperfect experience with democratic freedoms. The topic was chosen by the students from the broader subject of the global trend of democratic backsliding, with Colombia standing out as a bright spot amongst nearby countries that have a worsening record when it comes to freedoms like assembly, speech and journalistic independence.

“Working as a team to produce multimedia content is something students are already doing at the J-School, but being able to do that in a contained period of time on a single topic through this program can help them build on those skills,” said Professor Mark Horvit, who organized the students’ participation. “The feedback from students has been really strong; they said they learned a lot and they got to hear from experts they would not have had access to otherwise.”

Kristina Abovyan (left) and MaKayla Hart
Kristina Abovyan (left) and MaKayla Hart

Horvit added that the timing of the program coincided neatly with the School’s Washington Program, allowing some students in the program to use the bootcamp as a bookend that either followed their spring semester in the nation’s capital or kicked off their summer semester early.

Others, like graduate student Kristina Abovyan, took the opportunity to head to Washington for the first time. Abovyan, the editor-in-chief of Vox Magazine, worked on the team that handled the video element of the story package. As a print reporter, she relished the opportunity to build a more rounded skill set by learning more about video editing.

“I’m way more confident in my video editing skills right now, and I’m definitely putting that on my resume,” Abovyan said, also noting that sessions about networking in the industry and creating podcasts were highlights.

As an international student from Armenia, the experience was all the more impactful for the chance to feed her passion for global affairs — and made all the sweeter by her receipt of a scholarship from CSIS, which supported her financially while on the trip.

“I would have never thought that nine months after coming to Mizzou, I would be in Washington D.C. on a fully-covered trip, talking to policy experts and making videos,” she said. “I’m always interested in what’s happening outside of where I am, and this was a great opportunity to look into international affairs and learn how to find and interview sources for these bigger topics.”

The bootcamp is not the School’s only “study away” program that helps students produce sophisticated work and gain valuable experience in a compressed timeframe. In January, the New York Program took strategic communication students to global ad agency VMLY&R, where they created and pitched marketing campaigns to a real client over a two-week period.

With programs in 18 countries, nearly half of all students at the School of Journalism choose to study away.

Updated: July 25, 2023

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