Skype connects Medill students, Hong Kong students

Part of Medill’s ongoing mission is to give students exposure to global issues and ideas both inside and out of the classroom. This quarter, undergraduate students enrolled in Associate Professor Ava Greenwell’s Storytelling: Video Reporting, Shooting and Editing class experienced this growing global collaboration firsthand by participating in Skype sessions with students at Hong Kong Shue Yan University.

“The primary goal was to have them think about differences and similarities between two cultures of young adults learning journalism,” Greenwell said. “Most of the Medill students go on (journalism residency) next quarter so this experience was really important to them because they realized the importance of local and historical context in stories.” 

The storytelling course taught by Greenwell is required for students pursuing Medill’s broadcast journalism track. Along with the courses’ traditional focus on video reporting, shooting and editing, this quarter’s class met virtually with the students in Hong Kong three times, once in January, once in February and once in early March. Because of the time difference, the Medill students met on Monday evenings in the McCormick Tribune Center to Skype when it was Tuesday morning in Hong Kong. 

The Medill students and Hong Kong University students shared pieces they produced with each other and provided feedback on one another’s stories during the Skype sessions.

“With today's technology, it's ever more apparent that the world is extremely connected on a day-to-day basis,” Sammy Levitt (BSJ14) said. “At the same time, I think it's important for us as students to learn about different culture and journalism in different countries.”

During the Feb. 18 meeting, the Hong Kong students offered commentary on the ideas, presentation and method of production of stories the Medill students previously filmed and edited on deadline. As the Medill students discussed their reporting processes, one of the students from Hong Kong drew the conclusion that diversity had not been considered in Asia in the same contexts as it seems to have been in the United States, especially in regards to a story about the presentation of gender and racial diversity within video games.

“Before the collaboration, I really didn't have much of an idea of what the cultural issues were like,” Levitt said. “But after speaking with the students I realize that there are so many aspects of Hong Kong that make the reporting and journalism there unique.”

Additional story topics included a networking event sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association, a multi-cultural student-housing model in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and a look at age diversity.

Beyond the fact that the stories produced by the Medill students are topically different from those of their conversation partners, another major difference was that the students in Hong Kong were shooting video on their mobile phones rather than with the traditional cameras used by Medill students. The group expected that this variation would influence the material produced.

According to Greenwell, the cultural assumptions that American citizens and media normally hold toward China was an interesting consideration following the conversations. 

“Hong Kongers consider themselves almost separate from the rest of China, yet the American media cover China as if it is one monolithic country. It is certainly not,” Greenwell said. “I think that lesson is a reminder for us to treat each community as if we know nothing about it and to ask lots of questions.”

The collaboration began last year when Greenwell connected with Hong Kong Shue Yan University instructor Amy Wu at a conference in Las Vegas. The two professors recognized common threads in their teaching and ultimately decided to work together to explore how different reporting cultures work with diversity.

"Many journalism students at our university haven't had the chance to study abroad specifically in the U.S., so I wanted to give them the chance to learn and interact with their peers overseas," Wu said. "This was an eye opening opportunity for these young journalists to openly discuss and explore topics they knew very little about before the exchange, like diversity in the newsroom and diversity in media coverage."