January 23, 2008

Recktenwald captures Fulbright honor

by Pete Rosenbery

Bill Recktenwald

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Award winning journalist William Recktenwald continues to share his skills with young journalists in Uganda.

Recktenwald, a senior lecturer and journalist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, recently earned a Fulbright Senior Specialists Award from the U.S. State Department and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

He will spend a total of six weeks between now and the end of summer teaching journalism classes at Makerere University and the Islamic University in Uganda.

"It's remarkable to me the influence that journalists can have on society, particularly in emerging democracies like this," he said. "The fact is that students studying journalism in places like Uganda and Kenya face altogether different challenges than our students face here.

"Our students may face a surly politician. The students there may well face death … or a beating, or being locked up. This is not unusual, but they are willing to take that challenge," Recktenwald said. "And if they are willing to take that challenge then I am going to do everything I can to help them and support them. They are really fine people."

Recktenwald joined SIUC's School of Journalism faculty in 1999. The School of Journalism is within the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

"This honor for Bill continues a long tradition in the college with professors from both the School of Journalism and the Department of Radio-Television participating in programs designed to foster the growth of independent and free press and broadcast networks in developing countries and emerging democracies," interim MCMA Dean Gary P. Kolb said. "We are very proud of Bill's achievement in being recognized with this award and we wish him the best as he embarks on this initiative."

Recktenwald is a retired Chicago Tribune deputy Chicago bureau chief and investigative reporter who earned four Pulitzer Prize finalist nominations and was part of two Pulitzer winning series in the 1970s. This is the first time he has received a Fulbright honor.

Recktenwald is no stranger to Uganda or its students. During a visit there last year, U.S. Embassy officials asked if he had considered a Fulbright grant, an idea that Recktenwald concedes was "one of the furthest things from my mind."

"I consider it quite an honor to have been chosen, and I think it reflects well on Southern Illinois University. I'm very pleased about that, too," he said.

While at the two government-operated universities, Recktenwald will work with students on interviewing skills and understanding basic story structure. He will also emphasize the importance of fairness and accuracy in reporting while keeping editorial views out of news stories, and using the Internet in researching stories.

He helped create an online newspaper with Makerere University student journalists. He hopes to set up internships for students this year where they work in the classroom for a few hours and then work on reporting assignments. He also hopes to have a daily radio news program produced on the campus radio station.

In June 2006, Recktenwald worked as a volunteer trainer for journalism programs in Uganda and Kenya. The students' enthusiasm and interest in journalism was impressive, he said. He returned for brief teaching stints at both universities in March, July and August of last year. That included conducting workshops, in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy, for Ugandan news editors.

"The students tell you that they know that education is the way out of poverty," he said. "People who have never been to the Third World don't realize that things we look upon as very common and expected — turning on the tap water or turning on a light switch and having electricity – are rare."

According to the U.S. State Department, Recktenwald "is one of more than 400 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad this year through the Fulbright Senior Specialists Program."