Students in the Media and Communications and International Studies master’s programs at the University of Wollongong in Dubai often interact with leading journalists during class sessions.
Earlier this month, Rym Ghazal, senior features writer and columnist for The National, told the students about her career as a correspondent in Lebanon during the 2006 war. She emphasised that many of the people she interviewed at the time remained optimistic despite the destruction of their homes and lives.
Ghazal who speaks Arabic and Polish as well as English and French said talking to people face to face is one of the keys to her success. Her interviews allow her to reveal local culture to the UAE audience of locals and expatriates. The logistical difficulty of going to meet someone should never keep a journalist from doing it, and phone interviews, she explained in answer to a student’s question, are not a good substitute.
Last week Jonathon Savill, editor in chief of CEO magazine, recalled his 20 years of freelance writing in the Middle East and the UAE. Savill has written on everything from luxury items like the most expensive cars to energy, but what he called “the bread and butter” of his current position are interviews with corporate and government leaders.
Like Ghazal, he emphasised listening to the other person and taking clues from the surroundings. A photograph of the wall or on a desk can suggest a new line of questions. Often the story that results is not the story that was expected but a better one.
“We try to schedule one speaker per week,” said Dr. Alma Kadragic, director of the two master’s programs. As a former journalist, Kadragic added, she is aware of “the distance” between what students learn in class and how media practitioners work. The guest speakers help “bridge the gap.”