Building Bridges: U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism


Amid Pakistan’s roller coaster relationship with the United States, especially on the subject of the war on terror, a capacity building exchange programme for journalists had been riding quite smoothly.

The programme, U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism, funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), was launched in 2011.

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Washington D.C is managing the project together with its main partner the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP). The USEFP is responsible for the selection of Pakistani journalists and ICFJ runs all aspects of the programme.

The professional partnership programme aims at training journalists in giving audiences both in Pakistan and the United States a more balanced picture of life and events in each other’s countries and dispelling existing myths and misperceptions.

U.S. journalist Joe Little reporting from Pakistan

Hands on training

The programme formally began at the end of April 2011 with 14 Pakistani broadcast journalists joining U.S. media outlets in different cities for a training period of nearly four weeks.

The multi-phase partnership programme will send a total of 128 Pakistani media professionals to the United States and 30 U.S. journalists to Pakistan over the next three years.

The first group of nine U.S. journalists visited Pakistan in January 2012.

The Pakistani journalists were placed in more than 30 newsrooms in 30 different cities across the U.S. The American journalists, however, owing to the security situation in Pakistan were not attached with specific media organisations, spending instead almost two weeks in the three major cities of Pakistan,its capital Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

Pakistani journalists said they felt luckier than their U.S. colleagues in terms of hands-on training, exposure to American media and society and the opportunity to closely observe the work of journalists in the United States.

Pakistani journalist Shumaila Jaffery was among the first Pakistani journalists who visited U.S. under the partnership programme.

Building long-lasting partnerships

“Journalists on both sides are developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity in all its forms and demonstrate it through improved coverage of all elements of their communities,” said ICFJ Senior Programme Director Johanna Carrillo.

She added that the programme is creating long-lasting friendships and professional partnerships among the participants.

Carrillo disagreed with the opinion that U.S. journalists were at disadvantage by not being placed at newsrooms in Pakistan:  “American journalists still get a lot out of the almost two-week visit to Pakistan. Due to the language barrier, it would be very hard to have them work in media organisations in Pakistan for almost a month.”

“They meet with not only journalists and representatives from media organisations but also with Pakistani people and government officials. It’s a very enriching experience for them,” Carrillo added.

The selection process

After placing advertisement for the programme in Pakistani newspapers, USEFP selected Pakistani journalists through a rigorous selection process including personal interviews aimed at where assessing the applicants’ proficiency in English. The journalists were also asked to seek permission from their respective organisations to take part in the programme.

The selection process is slightly different in the U.S. “We ask U.S. media organisations to present a story idea and explain why it is important for one of their journalists to travel to Pakistan and what are their objectives and expectations. We select the media organisations and they in turn select the journalist who is going on the trip,” explained Carrillo.

Pakistani journalists visiting the U.S. were not bound to report on specific topics and they mostly functioned as part of the host newsroom.

Before joining their host organisations in cities across U.S., Pakistani journalists took part in a three-day orientation training session during which they are briefed on various topics including social media, freedom of expression, trends in U.S. media and conflict/sensitive reporting and ethics in journalism. Besides, the journalists also visited different U.S. think tanks such as Atlantic Council and The Brookings Institute.

Most of the journalists who went to U.S. were not paid for that period of the programme by their media organisations in Pakistan. However ICFJ provided them the flight tickets from Pakistan to the U.S., a daily allowance and accommodation.

After almost a four week stay in their respective newsrooms Pakistani journalists got together at Washington D.C. to share their experiences, met with State Department officials and visited various locations in the city.

Joe Little reporting from Pakistan

“Reciprocal learning”

Shumaila Jaffery, assignment editor and senior reporter for Pakistan’s Dunya TV was among the first Pakistani journalists who visited U.S. under the partnership programme.

The group landed in Washington DC on the day Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in a unilateral operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

“We were bombarded by difficult questions, like “Do you think the Pakistani intelligence service is incompetent or corrupt? What is your reaction on Abbottabad operation? How come Osama bin Laden was living in a suburban area of Islamabad without Pakistan’s government and military knowledge?”, recalled Jaffery.

“It was a learning of its own kind. I felt and experienced the global reaction and perception about Pakistan,” said Jaffery who was assigned to NBC’s affiliate television channel.

The partnership programme gave her exposure to the American media market, journalistic standards, production techniques, and broadcasting style. “But learning was reciprocal; journalists from my host channel who were too focused on local stories also got an insight about Pakistani-US relations and issues related to Pakistan, particularly terrorism,” she added.

“We were given opportunity to move around and interact with local communities,” Jaffery said. “I watched baseball games, and attended the famous annual horse race “Preakness” in Baltimore. It was wonderful to forget about the political frictions between U.S. and Pakistan for a while and mix up with people, who were just people like us.”

Joe Little, a News Reporter at KGTV 10News, was part of the first group of U.S. journalists who visited Pakistan under the professional partnership programme in January this year.

“I expected an overwhelming anti-American sentiment when I spoke with Pakistanis but it was the exact opposite,” says Joe Little. Little added that his visit,  enable him to able to help “intelligent Americans see that real Pakistanis are good, normal people just like themselves.”

“Right now, I think most Americans are very naive about who Pakistanis are,” he said.

Little was disappointed not to be able to work alongside Pakistani journalists. “However, given the security precautions handed down by the US State Department, I understand why they couldn’t let us roam about freely,” he admitted.

Shumaila Jaffery reporting from the U.S.

Keeping connected

ICFJ Programme Officer Babar Taimoor created a closed group on Facebook exclusively for the programme participants as well as ICFJ’s own staff with an aim to keep them connected even after the professional visits to each other’s countries.

Through this online platform, programme participants have been discussing their professional work, media developments in their respective countries and other topics of mutual interest and whatever else they like.

Undoubtedly the Facebook group is helping to maintain professional contacts among journalists in both countries. Besides, the group is also helping U.S. and Pakistani journalists to develop contacts with colleagues within their own countries since media professionals from different geographical areas have been taking part in the programme.

The ICFJ website is another platform to keep the Pakistani and U.S. journalists connected. It has also been providing them an opportunity to share their experiences with people across the world.

The coverage of the partnership programme was efficiently handled by participating U.S. media organisations. Many of the U.S. media organisations had prepared special reports prior to the visit of their representatives to Pakistan. This was not the case on the Pakistani side.

Moreover, the ICFJ and some America journalists keenly made use of Storify, a social media based storytelling platform, to report on the partnership programme through tweets, photos and videos.

A video report by Joe Little about the flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border between Pakistan and India

Building bridges, removing misconceptions

The exchange of journalists is helping to build bridges of understanding between media professionals in particular and more widely, between the people of the United States and Pakistan. Thanks to the face to face interaction followed by opportunities to continue the exchange through online social networks, the programme could prove of great benefit for media practitioners in the two countries.

It is unfortunate however, although quite understandable, that given the security situation in Pakistan, American media fellows are unable to experience the country as freely as Pakistani journalists in the U.S.

One can hope that this type of partnership programme will contribute to remove misconceptions and develop long-lasting understanding among media professionals and common people in the U.S. and in Pakistan.