The Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States (AFPC-USA) provides annual scholarships to foreign journalists who are completing their Master’s level studies in a U.S.-based academic institution.

Report by: Muhammad Moazzam Ali

“AFPC’s support will equip me with new skills to become a better storyteller”

Mercy Adhiambo Orengo from Kenya is a student at the graduate school of Journalism at Columbia University. She is in the MA-Science cohort. In 2021, she received an Annual Scholarship Award from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the USA. She has a first degree in journalism from the United States International University in Nairobi. She has worked as a reporter for various media houses in Kenya; writing human interest stories and features. Some of the beats she has reported on include: war and conflict, health, children, youth, and development. She was the 2020 Nieman visiting fellow at Harvard University researching how to report on children and vulnerable communities.

What was the primary reason you chose to pursue your master’s studies in the United States as a foreign journalist?

I was a features writer in Nairobi and one of my roles was reporting human interest pieces. At the height of Covid-19, I struggled to break down the science. I did not know where to get the right content that would be understood by people across different social groups. It was then that I realized that even though I had been a journalist for a while, I needed to specialize in science reporting because it interested me. I chose to pursue a master’s in Science Journalism. I could not find any university in my country that offered this specialty, so I chose to come to the US.

The fact that newsrooms were folding, and advertising models could no longer sustain media houses, made me think deeply about the future of journalism and my future. I realized it was time to think of global journalism and not just focus on local news writing.

You were recently awarded a scholarship from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States. How did you feel about this recognition? 

I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the email. I was doing laundry and I might have danced a little and scared my neighbors. I was overjoyed and humbled. I know so many people applied, and I recognize that they are good journalists too. Getting this scholarship made me realize the importance of daring to do things that felt too big for me. I almost did not apply for the scholarship when it was shared by my school’s notice board. I felt “too little and too unknown” to aim for this prestigious scholarship. I am so glad that I silenced the self-doubt in my head and went ahead to apply.

As a journalist, how do you expect your studies and the support from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States to help you advance your career?

I hope my studies and support from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents will equip me with new skills to become a better storyteller. I want to learn how to effectively report on science and how to use different tools that are available for journalists to tell stories that reach a global audience.

What made you decide to become a journalist? How do you hope to make an impact in the journalism field of your country of origin?

I am obsessed with telling stories. Growing up, I saw many injustices that went unreported. So, I decided to become a journalist and I mostly reported on the vulnerable in society. The impact I am hoping to make is to report on underreported topics in my country such as climate change, health, and basic stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

As a foreign journalist, what defines your mission? 

My mission is to tell factual and balanced stories about Africa; a region that has been misrepresented in the press over the years. I am also getting into a new area of science reporting, and I hope to be a mentor to other upcoming journalists who are too scared of trying out new areas of specialization.

What do you think is the greatest threat to journalism today?

Misinformation and Fake news. The fact that technology and social media platforms are available for people to manipulate news and mislead a mass audience scares me. It means journalists have to work extra hard to verify any form of information they receive either online or off the net.

Report by Muhammad Moazzam Ali

“AFPC’s support allows me to present myself with a guarantee to future employers in America”

Eleonora Bianchi is a Swiss-Italian second-year student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, focusing her career in narrative writing and Investigative journalism. In 2021, she received an Annual Scholarship Award from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the USA. Eleonora worked for the Swiss Radio and Television, and as an independent reporter at the 2019 G7 in Biarritz, following the anti-summit protests. While an undergraduate student, Eleonora traveled extensively across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East on her own to connect with people of different cultures and religions through storytelling. Working as a volunteer in remote regions of Tanzania, slums in India, and refugee camps in Iraq, she forged a deep understanding of the geopolitical landscape. After graduating in Human Rights and International Relations with a thesis on illegal human organs trafficking, she went to Syria to collect testimonies from civilians. She also honed her war reporting skills by completing a training course and obtaining a diploma.

What was the primary reason you chose to pursue your master’s studies in the United States as a foreign journalist?

When I decided to pursue journalism, specifically investigative journalism, there was no doubt about which country to choose. The quality of journalism in the U.S. is high not only because the First Amendment defends press freedom but due to the intensity and interest of the stories reported. And unfortunately, it is not present in other countries.

You were recently awarded a scholarship from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States. How did you feel about this recognition? 

I feel honored and grateful for the recognition from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents and to all the sponsors. It is important to me to know that I have the support and appreciation as a professional. We have all made sacrifices over the past two years, to see that one’s efforts have not been in vain but are also being recognized is a great feeling.

As a journalist, how do you expect your studies and the support from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States to help you advance your career?

AFPC’s support allows me to present myself with a guarantee to future employers in America. Considering that foreign journalists in the United States are underdogs from a bureaucratic point of view, an award like this could have influence by guaranteeing our professionalism and passion.

What made you decide to become a journalist? How do you hope to make an impact in the journalism field of your country of origin?

Traveling and meeting people along the way with powerful and inspiring stories is what drew me to journalism. The adrenaline rush of investigating and the passion for writing made me fall in love with it. The sense of anger in the face of injustice convinced me to marry it as a job.

I don’t plan to return to journalism in my home country because I hope to work internationally. However, the impact of my work may be of interest to the European media because of the relevance of the stories and the way news is reported in the United States.

As a foreign journalist, what defines your mission? 

Even though I am a foreign journalist, I like to think that I have the same mission as all other journalists, international or not: to tell stories. However, choosing this profession requires motivations that can vary depending on our firsthand experiences and the baggage we carry with us. Mine is undoubtedly packed with incredible encounters made while traveling, which inform the power of my stories.

What do you think is the greatest threat to journalism today?

Bad journalism. The lack of trust in journalism also comes from the way news is reported, and inevitably, if ethics are violated, or a source is not treated with respect, that trust falls apart.

Understandably, stories sometimes don’t appeal to everyone. But the purpose of journalism is certainly not to make everyone happy but to tell, investigate, and bring to light without losing sight of the importance and impact our work can have.

What is the state of press freedom in your country of origin, and how do you hope your work will encourage more people to access independent and credible information? 

Both Italy and Switzerland do not rank among the top countries for press freedom in Europe. The situation is surely better than in other countries, but many people still perceive journalists as an enemy, a figure to be kept away from and not to be trusted.

This can partly be explained by a mindset that is distant from the American one. Still, it is above all due to the inaccurate information, and the reputation that some journalists have handed down to new generations of journalists.

It is essential to break this chain and make a common front with the population. It’s crucial to fight the threat of populism, totalitarianism, and human rights violations we are witnessing. We need a union between media coverage and the public. The press is not an enemy but is the first barricade in defense of democracy.

                                                                                                                                                               ( as per reported by Foreign Press)






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