Syracuse University

Edward R. Murrow Journalists

Journalists from abroad come to SU for an up-close view of America

Asharf Al-Raie is a Jordanian print, radio and television reporter. He came to Syracuse University during his first trip to the United States through an international journalists program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. “What I have seen here, I did not expect at all. I have been astounded by what is available here,” shared Asharf.

The visit to New York by the eight journalists and their three Arabic-speaking interpreters coincided with the U.S. elections. They observed firsthand democracy in action and how a free press covers that process.

“The organization of the elections and the way the process is managed and run and the participation of students in the process is incredible,” continued Asharf. “Also, the American hospitality has far exceeded my expectations.”

Fatma Ghandur is an independent journalist in Libya where she writes an opinion column on women’s issues and cultural traditions while also working in TV, radio, theater and cinema. On her inaugural visit to the United States, she was surprised most by how Americans differed from her preconception. “Of everything I have experienced, the simplicity of character of the American people and their openness to others was the most unexpected.” 

The sentiments from Asharf and Fatma are music to the ears of Bill Smullen, who oversees Syracuse University’s participation in the Edward R. Murrow Program for International Journalists. Smullen is the Maxwell Senior Fellow in National Security and a Newhouse adjunct public relations professor.

“Our goal was to promote a greater appreciation of the U.S. society and a stronger understanding of our culture, our values and our policies,” said  Professor Smullen, who has a deep-seated interest in the reputation of the United States abroad given his former position as Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the U.S. Department of State.

“My hope is that these journalists will return to their native lands with a more positive view of America and Americans and, in turn, share their experiences while here with their fellow countrymen,” Smullen added.

Participants in this program are nominated each year by the U.S. Embassies in their home countries. The program represents an innovative public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State, the Aspen Institute and leading U.S. schools of journalism.

Ashraf and Fatma were among the eight journalists from seven different countries from the Near East who visited Syracuse University as part of the program. This was the fifth consecutive year the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School have jointly hosted a group of emerging international journalism leaders through this program.

The U.S. Department of State initially invited ten universities to participate in the program based on their reputation for excellence in higher education and the preeminence of their journalism programs. Professor Smullen immediately saw the opportunity to further add to the value of this experience for foreign journalists by involving both the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School, which consistently ranks top among all public administration graduate programs in the United States.

The State Department responded positively to the insight participants might glean into the public policy and political aspects of America through inclusion of the Maxwell School in their visit to Syracuse University. Since the program’s first year, Syracuse has been the only academic institution with two participating schools and continues to be touted by the State Department for the quality of experience—both academic and cultural—it gives to the visiting journalists.

Due to the complexity of logistics and demands on resources of host institutions, Syracuse University is one of only a few schools that have participated in the program for each of the five years since its inception. “We are proud to be a consistent participant in this program,” shared Professor Smullen. “Each year, the deans of both schools have agreed to find the resources needed to run this program and to run it well. The fact that we have done so for five continuous years shows our commitment to the program’s key objective of outreach—having these journalists go back to their home lands and tell the story of the U.S. to their readers and listeners, who will then share that perspective with more people and extend the positive perception of the U.S. exponentially.”

To give program participants that close-up viewpoint of American politics in action, the journalists visited the Onondaga County Board of Elections and a polling station. The participants were fascinated as the Board of Elections Commissioner walked them through the voting process, showed them voting machines and described what happens in the event of a runoff.

Then, the journalists were given the chance to further delve into the American culture while visiting the Nottingham Assisted Living and Senior Retirement Community and having lunch with the “Great Decisions Group.” This group is comprised of Nottingham Residents who meet ten times throughout the course of a year to hear lectures or participate in discussions on matters of domestic and foreign affairs. Having been visited by Murrow Program participants in the past, Great Decisions Group members look forward to and prepare for the visit by learning about the journalists’ countries of origin and timely issues they face at home.

The interaction among the residents and journalists was informative and lively, and it made a significant impression on Ashraf. He shared, “I am struck by the interest of the American people in the human side of all things. The trip to the Nottingham showed the American commitment to improving the value of human beings at all stages of life.”

During their week-long visit, the Murrow journalists also attended an editorial meeting at Syracuse’s Post-Standard, toured WSYR-TV and—an overwhelmingly popular aspect of the trip among the group—sat in on classes at Maxwell and Newhouse.

“The most valuable part of my experience in the U.S. has been visiting Newhouse and Maxwell and the closer glimpse I have received of the academic environment in America,” added Fatma. “I came here to learn more in-depth about American education, people and press and to do like others before me from this program have done in conveying this understanding of America to those in my country.”

More music to Professor Smullen’s ears.