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From students to journalists: the Shanghai journalism study tour

News story

If someone were to tell my first-year self that by the third-year of my journalism studies I would be weaving my way through the streets of a city home to more than 24 million people, in search of a story, I am sure they would be met with a nervous scoff.

Sarah Makse and journalism student on tour in Shanghai
Sarah Makse (left) in Shanghai

Yet, in June that is exactly where I found myself, camera in hand ready to face the bustling city of Shanghai on the 2018 journalism study tour. Over sixteen days, sixteen students and two tutors travelled to Shanghai to hone our journalistic skills and understand the enigmatic, global force that is China. Through lectures, industry site visits and creating our own investigative journalism projects, we were granted a taste of life as globally minded journalists.

The study tour is an annual opportunity extended to third-year journalism students to produce their final projects in a foreign city. Each student is tasked with investigating a topic of our choice and forging connections within the city to tell these stories through a variety of mediums. We traversed the city by foot, train and mobike following leads, speaking with locals and capturing our stories first-hand. Our investigations took many forms and saw students scale the corners of the city in search of stories. From talking with students to understand the pressures of the school exam system, documenting Shanghai Pride celebrations or scaling rooftops to discover Shanghai’s parkour scene, the city of Shanghai was a challenging classroom that tested the skills we had acquired from our degree so far.

Experiencing Shanghai through the eyes of a journalist was one of the most educational and empowering lessons of my degree. Despite limited Mandarin capabilities, I was able to have authentic conversations with the people of Shanghai. To listen to their experiences growing up in a country that is historically guarded and to share these stories through our major projects was incredibly rewarding. It has not only shaped my worldview but instilled in me how easily journalism can be a tool for connecting the experiences of people across the globe and what skills we need to grow as student journalists to perform this service ethically and creatively.

Mornings began with a lecture hosted at Fudan University. Topics ranging from China’s culture, history and media landscape provided invaluable commentary on the city that we were living and breathing. A particularly memorable talk was presented by Professor Lian Lu on feminism in modern China. The talk concluded with a conversation with a panel of Fudan’s women’s studies students. Listening to the stories of each woman and how they balanced the demands of higher education with traditional expectations of raising a family was eye-opening. Conversations with students allowed us to gather a unique vision of China and connect with the experiences of people across the globe.

Amongst lectures and conducting interviews we toured some the media outlets that provide news to a city smaller than Perth but with a population nearly ten times the size. At Shanghai Daily, China’s leading English-language newspaper, we spoke with journalists about the drastic changes to the industry. It is clear that the pressures to make news more accessible to global audiences and adapt to changing technologies are being felt in newsrooms around the world, even amidst the political pressures on Chinese journalists. We also toured the energetic hub of one of China’s most influential media conglomerates, the Shanghai Media Group. This was a fascinating look at a media landscape where newspapers, radio stations and movie studios all operate under the same roof.

Aside from these immersive learning experiences, we had ample time to take in the iconic sights, sounds and certainly tastes of the city. From the timeless architecture of the French Concession, wandering along the rainbow skyline of The Bund to quiet afternoons under the shady trees of Shanghai’s many parks, each day was an opportunity to discover the city.

The Shanghai study tour is a true culmination of what makes Curtin’s journalism course so unique, pairing practical industry experience with comprehensive theoretical teaching and guidance from tutors. The tour provided an opportunity to challenge myself and learn through experience by working towards a real deadline in a truly unique environment. It has demonstrated that the foundation of knowledge we have acquired as students of journalism has prepared us to be capable and passionate, ready to take part in the rapidly globalising media landscape.

Personally, the tour has instilled a newfound sense of perseverance, taught me to challenge my assumptions and to be more globally minded. By exploring to the stories of Shanghai, I have a much deeper understanding of the country’s culture and history that is difficult to grasp through textbooks. The rewards from taking part in the tour have extended far beyond Shanghai. It has allowed me to create lasting friendships with a passionate group of students and has been an unpredictable, rich learning experience. Luckily, I was able to take part in the tour through a New Colombo Plan grant, however there are many different options to help students fund international study opportunities. Often it is easy to go through a degree ticking boxes and racing to assessment deadlines, but stepping out of my comfort zone has proven the immense value in making the most of the practical learning experiences offered at Curtin. Without this opportunity I am not sure how confident I would feel to face the final semester of my degree, but now I feel not only capable but raring to begin a career in journalism.