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No bull: students excel on journalism Dialogue in Spain

On a late May evening in Madrid, the city is bursting with emotion as fans react to the outcome of an epic soccer match in which Real Madrid defeated rival Atlético Madrid for the UEFA Championship. A group of Northeastern students are in the thick of the action, but not as spectators—they’re part of a traveling press corps reporting on the ground as part of a transformative Dialogue of Civilizations program in Spain.

“It was one of the most remarkable and compelling scenes I’ve ever seen and will ever write about,” said Danny Mortimer, AMD’15, a combined major in journalism and cinema studies. He reported the story along with Bryan King, AMD’18, Julia Moss, AMD’16, and Ian Debevoise, AMD’17, as student photographer Maria Amasanti, SSH’16, captured a series of remarkable images.

The students spread out across Madrid to cover the action before, during, and after the match. After wrapping up reporting at 3 a.m., they then rushed back to an apartment where six other Northeastern students were staying—and as a result was dubbed “The Real World House”—to write throughout the night. Their peers packed into the apartment to lend their support, whether it was giving writing advice or ordering food. By 9 a.m., the exhausted team had finished the story—which later was published by The Boston Globe.

Fans react to react to the outcome of an epic soccer match in which Real Madrid defeated rival Atlético Madrid for the UEFA Championship in May, a scene captured by Northeastern student photographer Maria Amasanti while on a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Spain. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Fans react to the outcome of an epic soccer match in which Real Madrid defeated rival Atlético Madrid for the UEFA Championship in May, a scene captured by Northeastern student photographer Maria Amasanti while on a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Spain. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

This is but one of many articles, videos, and photo slideshows the group of 16 students—15 reporters and one photographer—produced in Spain while on the Dialogue program, which was led by Carlene Hempel, a lecturer in the School of Journalism in Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design. The Dialogue featured a website where students kept individual blogs reflecting on their experiences.

The students were tasked with producing three stories each over the five-week Dialogue, which included stops in Salamanca and Madrid. In each location, Hempel set up what she called an “open classroom,” a space with WiFi access where the students congregated, pitched their stories, returned from the field to ask questions and discuss their experiences, and wrote.

“These students were go-getters, and they found some great stories,” Hempel said.

Among them was an extraordinary package on bullfighting. One story focused on the growing debate surrounding Spain’s time-honored tradition, another article profiled a young matador, and a third piece delved into the fascinating art of crafting matadors’ attire. The students attended live bullfights (one student even fainted and awoke moments later with her notebook on her chest, Hempel recalled), visited the farms were bulls were raised, and interviewed tailors and seamstresses who spend months crafting the matadors’ outfits.

Nailing these stories was no small feat. Hempel said students overcame a number of challenges—notably the language barrier. None of the student reporters spoke fluent Spanish and thus were forced to find creative ways to interview their subjects via translators. That persistence revealed itself in many other ways too. They convinced matadors—traditionally known as very private people—to open up and share their stories, and they found a bright spot—a thriving wine export industry—amid Spain’s economic struggles.

The journalism Dialogue program is now in its fourth year and in past years has taken place in the Middle East. Hempel said this Dialogue at the heart of Northeastern’s emphasis on experiential learning. “For journalists, there’s nothing like being dropped in another country and executing in that environment,” she said. “It’s incredibly challenging, and they did a magnificent job. They always do.”

Graduate student Kelsey Luing, MA’14, said she selected the Dialogue program to push her limits as a reporter. “I definitely accomplished that,” she said. “Now I have the mindset that if I can report in Spain, I can report anywhere. This experience did a lot for my confidence.”

One of Luing’s articles focused on Spain’s housing crisis, while another piece covered a growing movement to make the workday in Spain more efficient, which includes reconsidering siestas. “I’ve always seen journalism as a means for social action, and I want to continue doing that reporting,” she said.

She added, “I felt like I was engaging with the country and the people in a way that I wouldn’t have if I were a tourist.”