Graduate students examine food and water security in Qatar

A group of eight graduate students and two faculty members from Northwestern’s Evanston campus recently spent a week visiting Northwestern’s Qatar campus (NU-Q) to produce multimedia stories about food and water security for Qatar’s rapidly growing population. Their stories were collected for the production of an e-book, where each “chapter” focused on a different facet of the problem.

The students from Evanston, part of the graduate school’s Global Journalism Program, worked in teams with five undergraduate journalism students from NU-Q to report and produce video, photos and text stories on the topic.

“It was an opportunity to exchange ideas, perspectives, techniques and approaches to journalism all while producing a substantive work of journalism in a very limited time period,” Andrew Mills, an assistant professor at NU-Q, said. 

During the project, the students were broken down into four groups – respectively considering imports, domestic food production, water security and how Qatar can sustainably provide food in the future.

Because of its desert climate, it is difficult to produce food domestically in Qatar. As a result, Qatar imports 90 percent of its food, which puts the country in a vulnerable position.

MSJ student Julie O’Donoghue, who recently started her global residency in Johannesburg, explained that even more than the imported foods, Qatar’s water shortage is especially pressing. 

“If Qatar's water purification plants went down for whatever reason, the country only has enough water to support its population for about 36 hours. Thirty-six hours is not a lot of time to evacuate a country, even a small country like Qatar,” she said.

Along with learning about resource security, the students gained significant global reporting experience and connected with students at NU-Q.

“Outside of the reporting, the chance for our students to visit the Middle East, not as tourists but as working journalists, in a collaborative reporting situation was probably the highlight for everybody,” said Bill Handy, assistant professor and residency coordinator for Medill’s Global Journalism Program.

The students also confronted the language and cultural barriers that come with reporting in an unfamiliar environment. 

“It’s much more difficult to report in a foreign country when you don’t know what is and what is not acceptable,” said O’Donoghue. “I usually use small talk to warm up a person I want to interview. It's much harder to engage in small talk when you are in a foreign place and you don't know what people would want to talk about.”

According to Handy, the e-Book, which is meant for an international audience, is in its final stage of production and the team is looking for appropriate audiences.