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No bull: students excel on journalism Dialogue in Spain

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On a late May evening in Madrid, the city is bursting with emo­tion as fans react to the out­come of an epic soccer match in which Real Madrid defeated rival Atlético Madrid for the UEFA Cham­pi­onship. A group of North­eastern stu­dents are in the thick of the action, but not as spectators—they’re part of a trav­eling press corps reporting on the ground as part of a trans­for­ma­tive Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram in Spain.

It was one of the most remark­able and com­pelling scenes I’ve ever seen and will ever write about,” said Danny Mor­timer, AMD’15, a com­bined major in jour­nalism and cinema studies. He reported the story along with Bryan King, AMD’18, Julia Moss, AMD’16, and Ian Debevoise, AMD’17, as stu­dent pho­tog­ra­pher Maria Amas­anti, SSH’16, cap­tured a series of remark­able images.

The stu­dents spread out across Madrid to cover the action before, during, and after the match. After wrap­ping up reporting at 3 a.m., they then rushed back to an apart­ment where six other North­eastern stu­dents were staying—and as a result was dubbed “The Real World House”—to write throughout the night. Their peers packed into the apart­ment to lend their sup­port, whether it was giving writing advice or ordering food. By 9 a.m., the exhausted team had fin­ished the story—which later was pub­lished by The Boston Globe.

Fans react to react to the outcome of an epic soccer match in which Real Madrid defeated rival Atlético Madrid for the UEFA Championship in May, a scene captured by Northeastern student photographer Maria Amasanti while on a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Spain. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

This is but one of many arti­cles, videos, and photo slideshows the group of 16 students—15 reporters and one photographer—produced in Spain while on the Dia­logue pro­gram, which was led by Car­lene Hempel, a lec­turer in the School of Jour­nalism in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design. The Dia­logue fea­tured a web­site where stu­dents kept indi­vidual blogs reflecting on their experiences.

The stu­dents were tasked with pro­ducing three sto­ries each over the five- week Dia­logue, which included stops in Sala­manca and Madrid. In each loca­tion, Hempel set up what she called an “open class­room,” a space with WiFi access where the stu­dents con­gre­gated, pitched their sto­ries, returned from the field to ask ques­tions and dis­cuss their expe­ri­ences, and wrote.

These stu­dents were go- getters, and they found some great sto­ries,” Hempel said.

Among them was an extra­or­di­nary package on bull­fighting. One story focused on the growing debate sur­rounding Spain’s time- honored tra­di­tion, another article pro­filed a young matador, and a third piece delved into the fas­ci­nating art of crafting mata­dors’ attire. The stu­dents attended live bull­fights (one stu­dent even fainted and awoke moments later with her note­book on her chest, Hempel recalled), vis­ited the farms were bulls were raised, and inter­viewed tai­lors and seam­stresses who spend months crafting the mata­dors’ outfits.

Nailing these sto­ries was no small feat. Hempel said stu­dents over­came a number of challenges—notably the lan­guage bar­rier. None of the stu­dent reporters spoke fluent Spanish and thus were forced to find cre­ative ways to inter­view their sub­jects via trans­la­tors. That per­sis­tence revealed itself in many other ways too. They con­vinced matadors—traditionally known as very pri­vate people—to open up and share their sto­ries, and they found a bright spot—a thriving wine export industry—amid Spain’s eco­nomic struggles.

The jour­nalism Dia­logue pro­gram is now in its fourth year and in past years has taken place in the Middle East. Hempel said this Dia­logue at the heart of Northeastern’s emphasis on expe­ri­en­tial learning. “For jour­nal­ists, there’s nothing like being dropped in another country and exe­cuting in that envi­ron­ment,” she said. “It’s incred­ibly chal­lenging, and they did a mag­nif­i­cent job. They always do.”

Grad­uate stu­dent Kelsey Luing, MA’14, said she selected the Dia­logue pro­gram to push her limits as a reporter. “I def­i­nitely accom­plished that,” she said. “Now I have the mindset that if I can report in Spain, I can report any­where. This expe­ri­ence did a lot for my confidence.”

One of Luing’s arti­cles focused on Spain’s housing crisis, while another piece cov­ered a growing move­ment to make the workday in Spain more effi­cient, which includes recon­sid­ering siestas. “I’ve always seen jour­nalism as a means for social action, and I want to con­tinue doing that reporting,” she said.

She added, “I felt like I was engaging with the country and the people in a way that I wouldn’t have if I were a tourist.”

Story by Greg St. Martin

Photos courtesy of Carlene Hempel