About Penn State's South Africa reporting project

Penn State UniversityJune 20, 2011 

We are delighted that for the third consecutive year the McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau has chosen to display the work of Penn State University’s international reporting class.

This year, 16 of Penn State’s best student journalists travelled to Cape Town, South Africa for an eight-day reporting on the rising economic and political giant of the African continent. Our previous two trips, to Mexico City and to Shanghai, were relatively simple logistically. Not this one.

Cape Town is, of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, at the very southern tip of Africa, and not easy to reach from bucolic State College, Pa. In all, the trip took 27 hours, door to door — not that anyone was complaining about the change from a gray and freezing Central Pennsylvania winter to the glorious warmth and sunshine of a South African summer.

Once we got there, though, Cape Town proved to be an easy and familiar place for us. South Africa's most European city is ethnically and culturally diverse, English-speaking and tolerant, and quite open to the probing questions of journalists. It is overwhelmingly beautiful as well. Imagine a thriving city of four million with a spectacular ridge of mountains rising from its middle. Imagine as well these beautiful vistas changing by the hour as clouds and sun alter the very shape of the city throughout the day.

We went to Cape Town to report on South Africa's emergence from the depredations of apartheid, but determined not to dwell on the country's past. That proved easier said than done. While we anticipated that our stories about education, or politics, or the Afrikaner culture, would need to discuss apartheid extensively, we were surprised at how often issues of race and class intruded in unexpected places. Apartheid discussed in a story about diving for great white sharks? Or women's sports? Or pop music? Or winemaking? But there it was, over and over, the past as much a part of the present as America's own racial history shapes its landscape today.

We believe we have produced a rich and compelling variety of stories. We are once again pleased and proud that our work will be distributed nationally by McClatchy. In past years, our work has been displayed in more than a score of leading U.S. newspapers and news websites. For our students, the exposure and experience has been priceless.

We hope you enjoy our stories. Please feel free to get in touch with your comments.

Tony Barbieri is the Foster Professor of Writing and Editing at Penn State. He is a former managing editor of the Baltimore Sun and a longtime foreign correspondent for that newspaper.

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