By Casey S. Elliott
Ohio University is building on its 25-year relationship with the University of Guyana (UG) to develop that nation's fourth estate.
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Associate Professor Mary Rogus and School of Media Arts and Studies Professor Vibert Cambridge are teaching journalism practices in Guyana as part of a three-year, $300,000 United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grant.
The grant -- with involvement from the Higher Education for Development (HED) and the American Council on Education (ACE) -- allows Rogus and Cambridge to teach three-week workshops in Guyana to practicing media. It also brings professors in the Centre for Communication Studies at UG to Ohio University to receive graduate degrees, enabling them to teach the next generation of Guyanese media professionals.
"Our goal is to help them develop professional standards, ethical standards, solid production and storytelling techniques ... given the obstacles that they face," Rogus said. "We spend a lot of time in these workshops saying 'OK, this is where you want to get to, what's standing in your way?'"
The relationship between Ohio University and the University of Guyana began in 1984, when a professor in the School of Telecommunications -- the former name of the School of Media Arts -- attended an international conference in Guyana, Cambridge said.
Cambridge, a native of Guyana, said the two institutions have collaborated and partnered in various fields over the years. In 2007, Cambridge discovered the Centre for Communications Studies at UG was about to close, and he went to then-Provost Kathy Krendl to see what Ohio University could do to help.
Around that same time, USAID became involved in nurturing Guyana's democracy, and called for proposals by American universities to partner with the University of Guyana in a three-year project to upgrade its mass communication and journalism practices.
Concurrently, four alumni of the Centre for Communication Studies joined together to bring the center back to life, and their plan -- dubbed Project Phoenix -- became a basis for the Ohio University grant proposal.
As part of the grant, UG Professor Carolyn Walcott attends Ohio University, and is working on her master's degree in communication for development, with a focus on using television for social change in Guyana. Ohio University recent graduate Celia Shortt, who received a master's degree in journalism, is at UG because she "wanted to work overseas as a journalist and experience a new culture."
Cambridge and Rogus, a past Presidential Teacher award winner, held the first three-week workshop in Guyana this summer for broadcast media. Seventy-one media representatives -- from reporters to producers -- attended the workshop.
In addition, representatives from the government, business and opposition parties to both the major television networks and the government spoke with participants to give their viewpoints on media issues, so all sides could understand the different perspectives that impact the Guyanese media environment.
"These journalists have a strong passion for doing the right thing and being better," Rogus said. "They just didn't really know how to get there."
Rogus said the majority of broadcast media in Guyana is taken from other sources, such as CNN and the BBC.
Rogus and Cambridge provided instruction in television production techniques to improve storytelling and enhance journalism ethics practices, and offered tips and insights on how to operate in a watchdog role. Next summer's workshop will focus on print journalism. The final workshop in 2011 is being developed, Rogus said.
This is not the first time Rogus has worked to develop media in other countries -- previous grants have taken her to the Ukraine and Indonesia. She also assisted Al Jazeera in Qatar as it launched its Al Jazeera English channel.
Every time Rogus goes to another country to help develop its media, she hears of the difficulties those journalists face every day.
"There's a lot of fear," she said. "There's the moment where you really get down to it ... where you get to that point where they're baring their souls," she said. "You realize it's about fear -- about fear of losing a job without which you cannot support your family. It's about the fear of physical threat and violence."
Rogus and Cambridge feel the program has already had a huge impact on mass media in Guyana.
"I think August 2009 will be recognized as an important moment in the development of the Guyanese media environment," Cambridge said.
These trips to developing democracies always hit home for Rogus, and give her a renewed sense of purpose in her instructional work at Ohio University.
"I always come back with a very strong, renewed sense of how important it is that I teach my students to protect the things we have as journalists here in this country," she said.