By Chas Henry
As the debt crisis in Greece has rocked the Eurozone — and made lots of Americans anxious about how the events overseas could impact their 401k earnings — some U. S. broadcast journalists have been better prepared than others to help listeners and viewers make sense of European political and financial affairs.
They are the 600 or so Americans who, since 1994, have taken part in the study-and-report-abroad program co-sponsored by the RTDNF and Germany’s Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) Foundation. Twice yearly, the RIAS program pays the way for a group of U.S. broadcasters to explore German and European Union institutions and locales.
“Over the past year, I have been amazed at how much Germany has been in the news,” reflected Marilyn Geewax. The senior business editor at National Public Radio was part of the Summer 2014 RIAS Fellows group.
“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn more about the German economy and politics. The trip to a super-modern auto plant in the former East Germany was particularly helpful, in terms of understanding how Germany was able to deal with uneven economic conditions within its own borders.”
The program consists of a two-week core in which RIAS Fellows visit with people from many sectors of German and European Union government, society and business. This typically involves spending time in Berlin and other German cities, as well as traveling to Brussels, Belgium — a key headquarters of the European Union.
“We spent an entire day learning the inner workings of the EU and how essential it is to European financial markets,” recalled Los Angeles-based broadcaster Thomas Warren, a 2011 participant. That, he says, provided him insights he was able to pass along when his stations’ listeners felt effects of globally-entwined markets. “I understood better what was happening and I was able to help our news team better communicate to our listeners why it was important that they know and understand what's happening.”
On completing the two-week session, those Fellows who can set aside the time are allowed an additional expenses-paid week abroad to pursue individual reporting projects.
“During my extension,” noted reporter Max Smith of Washington, D. C.’s WTOP Radio, “I focused on transportation options and opportunities in Germany, since that is such a big focus for our listeners at home. The detailed interviews I was able to do have helped me understand the challenges and options for our transit system in the Washington region through a wider lens.”
RIAS Fellows have in recent years had unusually front-row seats to such international scandals as those sparked by release of classified National Security Agency documents. Certain of those detailed how the U.S. spy agency apparently monitored the private mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The background we got from the high-level meetings the RIAS trip arranged for us was invaluable,” recalled Smith, to understanding, and explaining, actions and reactions in U.S.-German relations.
Voice of America Science Correspondent Steve Baragona will be part of an upcoming RIAS Fellows group.
“VOA has sent a steady stream of people on the RIAS fellowship, and they've all come back raving about it,” he said. “What really amazes me is that they're going to turn me loose for a week to report on anything I want. It's hard enough to get travel money to get outside the Beltway, let alone overseas. I'm planning to spend the week reporting on Germany's Energiewende, their attempt to radically transform their energy sector from fossil and nuclear fuels to renewables.”
Another continuing benefit of the RIAS fellowship program, say participants, is that reporters and news managers who have shared the experience keep in touch. Smith notes the value he felt from “meeting, and learning from, other journalists from all over the United States” as they together learned more about Germany and Europe.
“We love to see smart broadcast journalists from markets of all sizes across the U. S. making up each RIAS cohort,” said Jon Ebinger, who serves as RTDNF coordinator for the program. “Having that variety of life and work backgrounds makes for a richer ‘learning together’ experience.”
More information about — and applications for — the RIAS Fellowship program can be found here.
Chas Henry is a Washington, D. C.-based broadcast journalist whose reporting focuses on defense, intelligence and homeland security. He took part in the Fall 2008 RIAS program.