Journalism students intern in Rwanda

Allan Thompson is the driving force behind a media internship program that has given 20 Carleton University journalism students and new graduates first-hand knowledge in the daily hardships faced by African journalists.

He hopes these experiences will, over time, create “A new generation of Canadian journalists for whom Africa really matters.”

The media internships are one component of the Rwanda Initiative, a program developed by Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication to explore the role the local and international news media played during the Rwandan genocide. Thompson is a Carleton journalism professor and spearheaded the Initiative in part because of his own experience as a professional journalist working in Africa after the Rwandan genocide and his subsequent belief that both the local and international media are accountable, in part, for the destructive events.

As Thompson explains, the unpaid work terms are primarily intended to provide students with reporting experience in Africa. “Canadian news organizations simply don’t pay enough attention to Africa. You can probably count on one hand the number of Canadian journalists placed in [African countries].”

While the initiative will not be able to change entire news organizations, Thompson says, “I am hoping we can change the mindset of more and more journalists.”

Interns are selected on the basis of feedback from professors on their classroom performance as well as their journalistic credentials, related experience and French-language skills. Despite the $1,000 participation fee that students must pay (for airfare and room and board), interest is high and the school tries to accept as many applicants as possible.

The first group of eight interns arrived in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, on May 10. After a weeklong orientation, including a visit to a genocide memorial, they officially started their placements.

Some interns worked as reporters and copy editors at the New Times, Rwanda’s main English language newspaper. Others were placed at state-run Radio Rwanda and TVRwanda, or at independent media outlets such as the French newspaper Grand Lacs Hebdo.

Photographer David Kawai, BJ/07, spent eight weeks interning at the New Times and four weeks at the independent newspaper Newsline. One of only a few photojournalists on staff, Kawai was often given interesting assignments, such as covering a presidential news conference. He had worked professionally prior to graduating from Carleton in June, and he quickly discovered that working conditions in Rwanda are significantly different from those in Canada.

As he describes on his blog (which is mandatory for all participants), “security is very tight for official government functions, people are generally reluctant to have their photo taken, media outlets do not have enough computers and there are daily power outages.”

Melodie Cardin, BJ/07, arrived in Rwanda with Kawai and worked for eight weeks at Radio Rwanda. She not only shadowed a staff reporter, but also was assigned her own stories.

Completing an assignment often meant asking questions in English and French, editing her tape the old-fashioned way (by cutting it), writing the article and then reading it live on air.

As a result of this experience, Cardin believes her professional skills and her understanding of the significant problems faced by Rwandan journalists have improved.

“Our newsroom had aged computers, aged printers [and] barely any internet access,” she says. “[Plus] we couldn’t say what we wanted to. We couldn’t impugn the president or paint the government in a bad light.”

Most of the interns who travelled to Rwanda in May have returned to Canada. A second group of interns was dispatched in late June, and more will visit in September.

Readers can find out more about the Rwanda Initiative and the intern program at

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