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Journalism students, professor to embed in Iraq

Submitted by Marmian Grimes
Phone: 907-474-7902

07/29/09

University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism professor Brian O'Donoghue and three students will leave Fairbanks this weekend for an assignment that many journalists will never experience.

O'Donoghue, along with seniors Jennifer Canfield, Tom Hewitt and Jessica Hoffman, will board a plane to Kuwait, where they will join members of the 25th Infantry's Fairbanks-based Stryker Brigade Combat Team as embedded reporters in Diyala province in eastern Iraq.

The students and professor will spend most of August covering the war for Alaska media partners in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.

O'Donoghue said the project will provide an immersive learning experience for students, as well as a public service. The students will be filing radio, television and print stories from the field, along with posting to a blog. Their coverage will be available to print and broadcast media outlets throughout the state.

"Alaska is a state with a deep connection to the military," said O'Donoghue. "Here on campus we often have soldiers or their spouses in classes. Though interest in coverage of the brigade's activities remains high, most commercial newsrooms can't afford to send reporters right now."

This is not the journalism department's first foray into military reporting. O'Donoghue's students have been embedded on training exercises prior to previous deployments from Fort Wainwright during the fall 2004 semester and the spring 2008 semester.

O'Donoghue said UA President Mark Hamilton first raised the possibility of embedding student reporters this April with editors of the Sun Star, UAF's student-run campus newspaper. The journalism department explored the feasibility with brigade officers and put together a proposal, which Hamilton approved.

The project's $35,000 price tag is funded through private donations to the university. It covers travel and war zone insurance for the foursome, as well as about $11,000 in audio, video and photography equipment, as well as field-grade laptops. The equipment will see continued use in the department for years to come, addressing the need for field-editing of video by today's roving journalist. Canfield, Hewitt and Hoffman were selected from among a dozen students who applied to participate in the project. As a team, the students offer a broad array of media training: Canfield has radio experience, Hoffman is a video specialist and Hewitt, The Sun Star's new editor, is a strong print reporter, O'Donoghue said.

"I've found in my own career that nothing sharpens skills like intense assignments of finite duration covering a story of importance," O'Donoghue said. "This offers all of that and more. Former embedded journalists we've approached for advice have all encouraged us to go for it."

CONTACT: Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902 or via e-mail at marmian.grimes@alaska.edu.

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