Ines Drefs can’t get enough of the Mundus program. After graduating in 2009, she keeps returning to Hamburg university – first as a professor, now as a guest lecturer.
Drefs visited the Hamburg specialism’s Media, Conflict and Democratization class on January 13 to give a lecture on “International media development in conflict societies”. Her research has to do with improving the situation of journalists and the quality of journalism worldwide, especially in areas of conflict or developing democracies. Drefs and her collaborator professor Barbara Thomass conducted the study as part of an EU-funded academic project entitled MeCoDem (Media, Conflict and Democratization)
“We try to talk to people who are involved in media development and who work for international organizations and who go out to different countries and try to support journalists,” she explained. “I want to find out how they go about their job and where there’s room for improvement.”
Drefs found out about the project through the Mundus network. In the run-up to the project, professor Irene Neverla remembered that Drefs, who was working on the final stage of her Ph.D project at that time, had written her master’s thesis on a similar topic – role perception of journalism trainers in media development contexts. They got in touch and Drefs finally applied for a position specialized in media development.
Just a couple of decades ago, Drefs said, journalism training involved western trainers traveling to different countries and offering one- to two-day workshops with no regards to context. This got her wondering: What is the mindset of these people, who go to different countries and teach locals about how journalism is supposed to work?
“What you are being taught in a German [journalism] class, about objectivity, about the role of journalism in a well-functioning, democratic society, might just not be feasible in other contexts,” she said. This soon became clear to her in conversations with her classmates, and research supported the conclusion that isolated workshops were ineffective.
Today, she said, journalism training has become much more culturally and context-sensitive. “Training becomes a conversation about what is still feasible within the confines of this context without totally doing away with certain ethical standards,” she explained.
Drefs’ role in the project is dissemination and outreach, sharing their findings with governments, media development organizations, journalists, and anyone who could make use of the information in their everyday work. She said she is fond of the challenge of communicating scientific findings to non-scientific audiences. “Academia shouldn’t be satisfied with just disseminating their results within their own system,” she said. “This is something I’m really passionate about – that academic findings are relevant for different contexts. If the people who work in these contexts never learn about them, they cannot be used.”