UAF journalism students to report from Iraq

On Thursday, three undergraduate students and a professor from the UAF journalism department will head to Diyala Province in Iraq, where they will spend close to a month reporting as embeds with the U.S. Army's Fairbanks-based Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright.

The professor, Brian O’Donoghue, chairs the  Journalism Department. He is married to Statewide Public Affairs Director Kate Ripley.

O’Donoghue and the students--Jessica Hoffman, Jennifer Canfield and Tom Hewitt-- will live, eat and travel with the troops while filing daily articles, audio and video for multiple Alaska media outlets. They’ll also post updates on their blog and on a Facebook page.

In recent years, the UAF journalism department has embedded student reporters in Alaska training exercises leading up to the brigade's two deployments in Iraq. During the 2008-2009 academic year, the UAF student newspaper, the Sun Star, published columns written by college-age soldiers from the brigade called “A Year in the Desert.”

The brigade returns in September, most after a year-long deployment.

In April, President Hamilton suggested to several journalism students that they may want to bring the coverage full circle by actually going to Iraq to cover the brigade’s final days.

The students called O’Donoghue on their cell phones before they’d even left the Butrovich Building.  In the following days, O’Donoghue discussed the possibility with brigade contacts, President Hamilton and others, including General Counsel, Risk Management and UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. All agreed the project fit well within the academic mission of training journalists to cover stories of importance to society. 

"Many news organizations have cut back on coverage because of the industry's current  financial troubles. That doesn't mean Alaskans are any less interested in what our soldiers are going through in Iraq," O'Donoghue said. "Students will be collecting invaluable experience and providing a public service at the same time."   

The UAF journalism faculty invited all declared journalism majors to apply. The entire department took part in selecting five finalists. O'Donoghue chose the team, weighing the skills and references of each finalist. Parents of each were also consulted in advance of the final selections.

The brigade will provide body armor, saving the project $10,000.  The hands-on student experience is being funded by UA’s BP and ConocoPhillips fund, at an estimated $35,000.

Students will receive internship credit as well as collecting bylines or air-time via commercial news partners in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau. 

This opportunity is the first of its kind for the University of Alaska. The student journalists hope to provide some insight into the daily lives of the local troops nearing the end of the brigade's second Iraq tour since 2005.

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