An American Perspective on Faith in Europe

Browsing Posts published by Matt Culbertson

I’m 20 and don’t even have a degree. However, here’s my humble advice for the next generation of journalists from someone really underqualified to give advice to the next generation of journalists. My sources for this? For now, I’m citing the experts I’ve met on this trip over the last three-and-a-half weeks.

My target audience here is most likely high school students looking to go into journalism. Any college journalism student probably knows all this—or has heard it but disagrees. continue reading…

I’ve been refreshed by the number of times the journalists we’ve heard from have talked about their version of objective reality. I’ve long held the view that there are two things in this world: the infinitely complex set of real things that really happen and are really happening, plus everyone’s totally distorted view of them. No, that’s not commentary on religion or political tilts. But think of it this way: Look at your hand, and know that short of divine intervention, nothing and no one will ever be able to say for sure how your hand evolved or how it works or what its purpose is. Every last-minute detail of existence is so ridiculously complicated that it’s laughable to think economic projections or political observations are infallible. continue reading…

Not trying to sound like a shrink: This trip has been fascinating from a weird, Sigmund Freud-ish point of view. There were eight students and two instructors traveling to four countries, with quite a bit of stress placed on everyone from the beginning. The most outright stressful situation—something I can’t even believe—was returning to the flats in London to find that the girls’ room had been burglarized. Since I’m actually paranoid that the thieves could read this, I hesitate to write anything about how much evidence we have. (If they’re reading this: So much you don’t even KNOW! Just turn yourselves in.) continue reading…

I might have titled this something about reporting in a foreign country, but I can only offer advice from the perspective of an American in Europe. Here are some points I noticed.

-       Know your Internet situation. Internet access is crucial, and it can be a lot more difficult, unreliable and expensive abroad—especially in Italy. In the UK, it’s expensive and spottier than many are used to back home. In places like Japan or France, however, the opposite might be true. continue reading…

In Ireland, I had the opportunity to profile an Irish Catholic school with Janessa. It was a fantastic experience — we got very candid interviews with the principal and school administration, as well as the priest serving as chairperson of the school. What did I learn? Quite a bit about the set-up of elementary-level to secondary-level education in Ireland, which often falls under the control of the Catholic church (more than 40 percent of Irish children are educated in Catholic schools). I also learned quite a bit about school curricula and how some teachers balance teaching religion to Catholic vs. non-Catholic students in an awkwardly secular-yet-not-quite secular setting.

I also learned quite a bit about reporting in a foreign country — including how crucial it is to know public transportation and what the heck your international phone card is doing when you change service providers. And probably most important, I gained serious respect for the level of communication necessary to a group project of this kind.

But there’s a lesson to be learned for the gatekeeper as well. As far as I’m concerned, the interviewees story — the school administration, the priest, etc. were absolutely textbook perfect in their approach to working with us. They gave us the information we needed. They sat down and took the time to explain every facet of the story needed to understand it. They gave us background, they gave us access, and they gave us our time. We had other interviews and visits fall through — one Catholic school never got back with us, a government contact was of no help, a Catholic press contact was exceedingly difficult to get a hold of, etc. We had our share of obstacles and pieces of the puzzle falling through. But the school we talked to was more than accommodating, allowing us access to the children (which we received parental permission to photograph/interview), allowing us access to the faculty, and giving us all the attention and help we could have asked for, given time constraints and other factors. That made a huge difference to our ability to understand and report the story, and at the end of the day, I think it was in everyone’s best interest.

Of course, there are a million exceptions to the idea that access is a good thing. In many cases, a stakeholder has a vested interest in limiting what a reporter can see. In this case, there was a story that needed to be told in an accurate and objective manner, and access was crucial. I’m appreciative to have had the opportunity.

There are a few movie scenes that I think every journalist can relate to — maybe in “All the President’s Men,” maybe the more recent “State of Play,” where Russell Crowe plays one of the best reporter stereotypes ever.

For me, it’s the movie “Michael Clayton.” It’s the beginning of the movie. The top lawyer for a New York City-based law firm has had a psychotic breakdown, including stripping naked and chasing a plaintiff through a parking lot. He’s now also caused a lot of damage to his firm’s multibillion dollar case. The other lawyers at the firm are in full damage control mode when a reporter calls. “It’s that [expletive] from the Wall Street Journal,” one guy says to the firm’s top lawyer. continue reading…

Violent conflict in Ireland might have a silver lining: The Irish have become experts in peace building.

The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation is a direct result of bloody religious conflict and other violence in Ireland. Founded in 1974, the Centre facilitates dialogue and conflict resolution.

The Centre was founded in response to violence and religious conflict in Northern Ireland. Now it works internationally, conducting peace-making efforts in places like South Africa, the Middle East and Haiti.

When Eamon Rafter, the learning co-ordinator for the Centre, visited Afghanistan to conduct peace work, he was introduced to a group of men as someone who comes from a country where there’s been 800 years of conflict. They were impressed. continue reading…

I haven’t been able to access the Internet on my own in Rome except by using my iPhone, so I’ve been neglecting the blog (sorry!). Rome has been extraordinary. I visited last in December 2005, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know the city again. We’ve seen a few exceptional places and people over the last few days. Among the people we’ve met:

- Eamon Rafter, Learning Co-ordinator of the Glencree Centre for Peace & Reconcilliation in Ireland
- Sean Patrick Lovett, Program Director at Vatican Radio
- Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office
- The Pope (just kidding)
- Laura Buonocore, Public Relations for Far East and Japan at Salvatore Ferragamo continue reading…

I’ve been vaguely aware of the separation between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. In high school, I met the founder of an organization called Playing for Peace, which brought kids of different backgrounds together by getting them to play basketball. In Northern Ireland, the founder said, he virtually turned his back for a minute to return and find the Protestant and Catholic children fistfighting.

Belfast was full of in-your-face examples of the separation between religious and political groups. Of course, it’s more complicated than just Protestants vs. Catholics — it’s the Nationalists and/or Republicans versus the Unionists and/or Loyalists, and a few other degrees of complication that I’m sure I didn’t understand. There’s hundreds of years of fighting, infighting and religious and political disputes to back up both sides’ grievances. Even young children seem to be aware of how much the other side has wronged them for centuries.

The most striking example of separation: Peace Walls. also called Peace Lines. They’re enormous walls dividing Protestant and Catholic communities, and they’re breathtaking. At night, they close the gates to keep the neighborhoods fully separate. Looking at a Peace Wall reminded me of the barriers used to keep out the infected in zombie movies like 28 Days Later.