The organization paid forBy Susan Kreifels
Asian studies and travel
for U.S. journalists
When journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick first went to Asia in 1974, her college friend sent her a letter addressed to "Hong Kong, Singapore."
Few from the United States were traveling across the Pacific then, and Americans generally knew less about Asians than Asians knew about them.
That was also the first year the Gannett Fellowships started at the University of Hawaii. The program funded a year of Asian studies for U.S. journalists, followed by travel to the region. Kirkpatrick, today the assistant editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, was a Gannett Fellow in 1979.
Twenty-five years later, the program, now called the Freedom Forum Asia Fellowships, has educated 150 journalists who could in turn help their readers and viewers understand the region. But this is the last year it will be funded by the Freedom Forum, an international organization that supports journalism and free speech. The forum has shifted focus away from grants to programs under its direct supervision.
Kirkpatrick called the year an "eye-opener" for her group. "Honolulu was still a way station for people who were traveling between North America and Asia," she said. "It was an enormously enriching experience . . . that I continue to draw upon in my writing."
Daniel Kwok, a retired UH history professor who has led the fellowships since the beginning, said enough money remains through the UH Foundation to educate journalists for another two years at most -- but only four or five at a time rather than the usual eight. Since the mid-1980s, two of the fellows have come from China and Japan.
Kwok is now starting the search for new funding -- about $300,000 a year.
While he said 25 years has been a "heck of a good run" for which he is very thankful, Kwok sees irony in the fact that the fellowship will "stop before the next century starts."
For the new millennium, many have believed, would be led by Asia.
"The very thought that the current (Asian) economic crisis might not just be economic, that there might be cultural reasons," Kwok reflected, "makes this kind of program important. Asia is not likely to be less important in the 21st century."
Jim Schiffman, a former fellow and international senior editor at CNN, agrees that the fellowship is even more important now with Asia's crisis clouding the world. Despite the region's global impact, "journalism still suffers from a lack of attention to Asia."
And with many in the media -- CNN being an exception -- generally turning away from foreign news, Schiffman said, "the first place they'll turn away from is Asia."
Those who do report on Asia have a difficult task. "Stories tend to be a process, not an event, that is harder to grasp," he said.
"The fellowship has done a lot of good for a lot of journalists and maybe for a lot of people who are the consumers of journalism. It would be a real shame if no one stepped up to fund it."
Although the Freedom Forum operates programs on four continents, with the international division running journalism exchange programs, it has shifted its focus in recent years.
Beth Tuttle, marketing vice president for the Freedom Forum, said in a telephone interview from the headquarters in Virginia, that the forum concentrates on "programmatic funding" rather than grant-making. Those programs operate directly under its supervision.
Kwok said, however, that the Freedom Forum continues to partially fund UH's Parvin Journalism Program, which trains journalists from China.
He feels an academic program is valuable for journalists because it gives them a year to immerse themselves in traditional learning and research, to gain depth and sensitivity. "It's a self-rejuvenating process."
Carolyn Robinson, a former CNN medical producer and Cable News Hong Kong reporter, was a fellow last year. She said that the year in Hawaii gave her a chance to "revitalize myself as well as my career."
Now a free-lance journalist, she used the time to study Chinese. "Where do you get the time out as an adult to learn another language?"
East-West CenterBy Susan Kreifels
fellowship terms cut
The length of the Jefferson Fellowship at the East-West Center will drop to three weeks from the usual eight starting next year in an experiment to see whether a shorter program will enable more journalists to apply.
Web Nolan, director of the center's media program, said the budget has remained the same but the number of applications has declined from more than 50 to between 30 and 40. That's due to the Asian economic crisis and to editors' reluctance to let key people go for two months. Nolan said, however, that the quality of applicants has remained high.
Nolan said the center may sponsor two fellowships a year, which would expose more journalists to the study-travel program. Journalists -- usually six from Asia and six from the United States -- spend part of their time in Hawaii in seminars with regional experts and the rest traveling.
But the second program may instead bring in editors for a weeklong conference here rather than duplicate the Jefferson Fellowship.
The new schedule will dramatically cut travel time, which many of the journalists have found to be the most valuable. Next year the Americans will visit Beijing and Tokyo during their nine days on the road. The Asians will travel to the Midwest and Washington.
Carolyn Robinson, a former CNN medical producer, Cable News Hong Kong reporter, and Jefferson Fellow, said the travel is the most valuable aspect of the program.
"You can follow the story from afar, but actually being there was so valuable," said Robinson, now a free-lance journalist.
"We traveled as a pack and had access to really high places. It changed my life because l went to Asia after that."
More than 300 journalists have taken part in the fellowship since 1967.