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December 6, 2001 Journalism students hone their skills on the army



by Sigalit Hoffman

Six Concordia journalism students returned from a 12-day simulation exercise with reporting experience and a newfound respect for the military.

“The first couple of days were very difficult, because nobody knew what they were talking about,” said third-year journalism student Albert Sévigny. After a few days of practice, though, he said, laughing, the reporters had the army delegates “running for their lives” with their probing questions.

The group, along with representatives from several non-governmental organizations, was sent to train the first-ever German and Dutch army corps of about 120 high-ranking staff members. The project was held at and organized by the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre (PPC) in Cornwallis, N.S. The program was meant to teach the military how to deal with civilian organizations in a post-war situation.

“The army is used to working alone,” said André Bédard, the project’s media coordinator. “We are teaching them how to manage and react to a situation in collaboration with other organizations.” The media, he explained, are an important component of civilian life.

Bédard said the German-Dutch corps chose the PPC because of its long tradition of peacekeeping. “They looked all over the world for training, and decided to choose Canada because the preparation from the PPC was the best,” he said.

Simulated crises

During the simulation, Nova Scotia became a fictitious country and every day, a new crisis, like a collapsed bridge or a minefield, would arise.

“We had [to write about] everything from storms to child soldiers and mass graves,” said Robert Scalia. Each student represented a different media outlet and wrote about the day’s events. They would go to a press conference every morning at 8 o’clock sharp, and would write three to four news articles or editorials a day.

It was Scalia’s first experience in a newsroom. “People talk in the background. You have to learn to block it out when you’re working, but you also have them as resources.”

Bédard was impressed by the level of expertise the journalism students brought to the exercise, despite a gruelling schedule. “I was thrilled to have worked with them,” he said. “They did a hell of a good job.”

Every student journalist had some journalism experience before they participated in the program. Scalia has freelanced for the Concordia student press and CTR, and Sévigny is a freelance writer for The Suburban. Sévigny said that thanks to the Journalism Department, their writing skills were up to the task.

The two are considering integrating foreign reporting into their writing careers, thanks to their experience in Cornwallis. Sévigny, who plans to make peacekeeping into a beat, or specialty, said the experience gave him a newfound respect for the armed forces.

“Do not believe for a minute that the military is a silly organization,” he said. “They’re very professional people.” He was pleased to find that the army cares about its troops, and said the experience also gave him a new perspective on war and peacekeeping.

“Canada has a long and honorable tradition of peacekeeping, and this is going to be the mandate of tomorrow’s armed forces. Making toilets run and making sure that people have water that won’t kill them — that’s what peacekeeping is all about.”

Journalism students David Weatherall, Helen Sergakis, Eilis Quinn and journalism graduate student Andrea Huncar also participated in the program.