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October 24, 2002 Journalism student wins internship in Cambodia



by Barbara Black

This is the season when Concordia students in the graduate diploma in journalism program put on a last spurt to finish off their year by doing a few weeks of work in a real live newsroom.

Most of them work for dailies or weeklies or broadcasting outlets close to home, but Susan Font has lined up a six-month internship for herself at the Phnom Penh Post, in Cambodia.

To enable her to do it, she has been given the first award of its kind by International Development and Research Canada, a $20,000 International Development Journalism award. The selection was made by a committee of Concordia’s Journalism Department, led by its chair, Enn Raudsepp.

“It was our unanimous decision,” Dr. Raudsepp said in a letter to the IDRC. “Susan is a resourceful person who should be able to get the maximum benefit from this award. And it should go without saying that she is a very good student and a promising young journalist.”

Susan told us by e-mail, “When I began to do preliminary research for my proposal, I held in focus that I wanted to find a developing country that I could really do a lot in. I did not want to simply choose a country that I wanted to visit. So I had to find out where I could be really useful.

“I made some phone calls and spoke with experts on Southeast Asia. One told me that Vietnam was already very developed. Laos was a better option but that with it being very communist, it would not be easy for a journalist to work and to write. Cambodia, however, was a place that was developing and eager to continue to develop. So, I chose Cambodia based on this, along with my own research on the country.

“I arranged to work at the Phnom Penh Post, which is one of the two independent English language papers in Cambodia. It comes out bi-weekly, which allows more time for getting the story together. I will be covering local news and events. My aim is to focus on stories about women and children in particular.

“Through further research, I found a journalist who now works for the New York Times who worked extensively in Cambodia for a number of years. I interviewed him to find out what life was like there to a North American and the challenges he faced in working as a journalist. This gave me an approximation of what I could anticipate for myself.

“I spoke with Cambodian people at the Cambodian embassy in Washington. A woman from Phnom Penh told me about her life there, and the rainy season that I will be arriving just in time for!

“I also found a research project to get involved in, which is focusing on conservation and resource management in the northeastern province of Ratanakiri. This is one of IDRC’s projects. I arranged with the responsible officer based in their Singapore office to assist him.

“Part of the aim of this project is to build ‘conceptual, analytical and writing skills within national and provincial institutions.’ This is the area that I have arranged to contribute to. Getting involved in this project also means that I will be able to write about different issues; environmental, land use and community development issues, outside of the city. And of course, I will meet different people in the villages.”

Susan has also arranged to meet with the Cambodian League for Protection of Journalists, and with journalism students at the Cambodia Communications Institute and the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Her preparations for this project are a basic lesson in how to successfully apply for a grant. “I did a lot of research and investigated everything I could think of,” she said.

“I think that in terms of presenting my proposal, it helped that I researched proper proposal format. I loosely followed a structure that I found through government agencies and on the Internet. It helped me to frame my intentions and to feel professional — and to project professionalism.”