Missoula to Berlin Update: The Optimistic Generation

Montana Journalism students are shown around the headquarters of Moabit Hilft, where a team provides clothing, food, and basic amenities to refugees as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed.
Montana Journalism students are shown around the headquarters of Moabit Hilft, where a team provides clothing, food, and basic amenities to refugees as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.

It’s hard to imagine what’s going on in Germany today. But try this: imagine you live in a country that has the opportunity to accomplish two earth-shattering, history-making achievements in the space of one generation. First, you are able to reunite a country divided completely by the Cold War, and you manage to do this while actually improving your status as the most powerful economy in a united Europe. Second, you have the chance to change your reputation as a creator of refugees (during World War II) to one known for its “Willkommenskultur,” and you attract about a million refugees from all over the planet. And rather than taking on this challenge with a sense of resignation or obligation, you do this with a sense of joy and optimism. It is that sense of hope that is greeting the 18 students from UM’s Journalism School, as they get to know Berlin and seek to understand the refugee crisis.

In the press, many of the stories about the refugee crisis focus on potential problems. And like good journalists, these are the kinds of issues our students are asking about: what if the growing number of Muslim families insist on expressing their culture by demanding accommodations in school? What happens if all these refugees stay, and if more arrive? What if the right wing resistance to immigration grows more powerful? These are the important issues students are probing as they visit refugee camps, immigrant neighborhoods, NGO’s and other groups who have been affected by the new arrivals.

Many immigrants of course are still unsure about whether this can be a permanent home, or whether they will want to stay. But we have already met dozens of Germans who seem convinced that immigration is their chance to do something good, perhaps even great. Young people in particular are seizing this chance to help immigrants and figure out solutions with a sense of creativity and fun that is hard to describe. But we will try to do that in a series of articles, videos, radio pieces and social media posts in the coming weeks.

Follow the group and their adventures on Instagram!

By Larry Abramson

Missoula to Berlin Update: May 26, 2016

photo shows MT journalism students walking down a sidewalk.
The group explores their new neighborhood along the Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg ,Berlin.

They came by plane and by train and by foot, a dozen and a half of them, carrying bundles and suitcases and keepsakes, looking tired but relieved to have arrived in Berlin. No, these are not refugees, they are UM Journalism students, 18 of them, here on a study-abroad trip for the next three weeks. The disorientation many of them feel will be helpful as they begin to meet and study the challenges facing thousands upon thousands of refugees who made their way to Germany. The refugees’ goal is to escape war and find peace. The students’ task, a bit simpler, is to produce a series of articles about how the refugees adjust to their new situation.

The students are staying in a neighborhood called Kreuzberg, which has long been a crossroads for immigrants to this country. For decades, it was home to the Turks who came here during a big labor shortage in the 1960’s and 70’s, and helped Germany recover from war and become Europe’s strongest economy. Once Kreuzberg was a ghetto, but it has turned into a multicultural experiment, a mixing bowl where no one stands out as an outsider. As students are learning, many new refugees are finding their way back to this neighborhood. Kreuzberg has resisted the commercialization that has seized much of Berlin since the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Since the refugee crisis spiked last year, things have calmed down quite a bit, and the number of new arrivals has dropped dramatically. But as one pro-refugee activist told students today, refugees face months or years of adjustment as they come to grips with their new lives in Germany, and learn whether or not they can stay and prosper. Our students will begin to chronicle that adjustment, with articles appearing in this space and elsewhere in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

By Larry Abramson

Staying Curious: NPR Host Susan Stamberg on Becoming a Veteran Journalist

On a Sunday afternoon in Paris, while walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, Susan Stamberg came across a woman holding a sign that said “Hello! Let’s Talk.” Stamberg sat down with her, and when 81-year-old Miss Lily discovered she worked as a radio correspondent for NPR, she asked, “Well, don’t you want to interview me?”

stamberg

“Do lobsters want to fly? Of course,” Stamberg said, relating the tale to the audience at UM, gathered for the School of Journalism’s annual Dean Stone Lecture. Each spring the UM School of Journalism honors its founder, Dean Arthur Stone, and current journalism students with a two-night celebration featuring a guest lecturer followed by an awards banquet.

Miss Lily told Stamberg about a certain loneliness that she saw in people that she hoped to ease by getting more strangers to talk to each other. As a journalist, Stamberg related to Miss Lilly’s mission because she always tried to take her interviews with people to a more intimate level and advised students to do the same.

“Don’t accept ‘fine’ as an answer. Tell me what’s really happening. Go deeper,” Stamberg said. “After talking with Miss Lily I felt like I was walking on joy. It was such a serendipitous experience. I look for her every time I’m back in Paris.”

Stamberg started working at NPR in 1971 as a tape editor, but started hosting All Things Considered the following year. In the US, she became the first woman to anchor a nightly news broadcast fulltime. “It was a time when anything was possible at NPR,” Stamberg said. “We were still inventing ourselves, so we got to do everything.”

Susan Stamberg took questions from the audience after her talk.
Susan Stamberg took questions from the audience after her talk. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Dean of the UM School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, worked with Stamberg at NPR for many years, often sharing a ride to the office together. “Susan, for me, and for her followers, led the pathway out of a stiffer kind of journalism,” he said. “She showed that you can be a good journalist and be passionate, without sacrificing your objectivity.”

Stamberg also shared stories about her work with professor Jule Banville’s Advanced Audio class earlier that day. Her favorite pieces covered individuals’ personal achievement, “especially in the face of vigorous challenges.”

“Students asked her about her curiosity, how she keeps it sharp after all these years of reporting and interviewing,” Banville said. “She told them, ‘it’s not so much about style as it is about curiosity.’ I wrote it on the board because I thought it was so insightful.”

Later, Stamberg joked, “I am getting worse at remembering things, but I guess that’s why God invented Google.”

Yet having now worked at NPR for 45 years, she credited her genuine curiosity to the fact that she’s a life-long learner. After growing up as an only child, Stamberg also maintained her desire to reach out to new people, understand and befriend them.

“Susan’s an extremely diligent listener,” Larry Abramson said. “She can show the students how important it is in broadcast, and in journalism in general, to be a good listener.”

Stamberg took the time to listen to parts of Banville’s class’s brand new podcast series, Rest Stop Radio, offering feedback and sharing in their excitement.

“I’d always heard about how lovely and gracious she was, and now I know that’s the truth,” Banville said. “She made a huge impression on my students and on me, too. We were so lucky to get to know her.”

By Jana Wiegand