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Gripping world events shape the International Media Seminar trip

Let’s just say there were no slow news days during this year’s International Media Seminar visited Paris over spring break.

Each year, the School of Communication, in cooperation with the Paris Center for the Study of International Communications and the American University in Paris, sponsors the week-long International Media Seminar (IMS) trip to the city of light where students with an interest in media, news, and international relations meet industry leaders and visit hotbed offices like those of the International Herald Tribune and Publicis, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

This year, on the group’s first full day in France, the final and deadliest of the three Toulouse shootings occurred, leaving a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren dead in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. The IMS participants were scheduled to meet with Jim Bitterman, CNN’s senior on-air correspondent for Europe, the next day—but he had already decamped to Toulouse to report on the story. Instead, he sent the students a live feed of his broadcast, which allowed them to take in events as they were happening and assess the news media’s reaction to the grave events.

The following day, the students arrived for a site visit at France TV24, an all-news cable channel, just moments after Mohammed Merah, the Toulouse shooter, phoned the station. “We were actually in the room while a reporter was broadcasting live, interviewing the person who’d taken the call,” said Bridget Illing (C14). “You could feel the sense of urgency in the room.”

Illing and her peers would later talk to the director of press relations from the US Embassy and visit the French daily Libération. Illing said, “We heard a lot of different perspectives on the story.” Among their many other site visits and lectures, the students participated in an interactive workshop at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, watched executives at Publicis roll out an ad campaign for a new L’Oreal product, and met John Morris, one of the leading photo news editors of the twentieth century. They also visited the Musée d’Orsay, enjoyed a cabaret dinner in Montmartre, and took a boat cruise on the Seine.

“One of the highlights of the program, for me,” Illing said, “was attending the reception with Janine di Giovanni.” The award-winning foreign correspondent and author of Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love relayed stories about entering war zones and the precautions journalists have to take to get a story. “I found her optimism in the face of all the horror she was constantly reporting about to be truly inspirational,” Illing said.

Robert Hariman, professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies, called the annual IMS trip “a great opportunity to step into our wider and rapidly changing world, to get outside the parochialism of the U.S. media and see how the world looks from another vantage.

“And did I happen to mention,” he added, “it’s in Paris?”

Next year’s trip is planned for the week of spring break.