Back to (summer journalism) school: Czech students learn reporting, writing basics in midst of global pandemic

Illustrative photo: Ivana Divišová, Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Most Czech high schools and universities are set to open in September, under strict hygienic rules due to fear of an uptick in coronavirus cases. But a number of such students are already in class – taking part the annual Summer Journalism School in Havlíčkův Brod, now in its sixteenth year – and even reporting on the pandemic.

The Karel Havlíček Borovský Summer School of Journalism, as it is officially known, normally attracts scores of students from central Europe and beyond to the rolling hills of Vysočina – applications are accepted in German, Polish and Ukrainian, though Czech is the main working language.

But this is not a normal year, of course, due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines and the like. So participation is effectively limited to Czech and Slovak citizens, co-founder organizer Milan Pilař told Czech Radio’s regional station as final preparations were underway.

“The world, and the Vysočina region is no exception, is dealing with an extraordinary situation. So, many students from central Europe, including those who come to improve their Czech while trying their hand at journalism, could not attend. But we have enough young Czechs and Slovaks – capacity is nearly full.”

Milan Pilař,  photo: Milan Kopecký / Czech Radio

The Summer School of Journalism includes daily debates on current events and lectures on the politics, culture and history of Central Europe. The core curriculum, though, is on the basics of news reporting and writing and journalism ethics in the digital/social media age, when plagiarism is rampant.

The intensive course also goes beyond explaining the importance of citing and quoting sources accurately – and not putting your own name on a story largely conceived, reported or written by someone else without proper attribution. Milan Pilař again:

“After these many years, I’ve come to recognise that the topics we debate and various activities are really for anyone who wants to look under the hood to see how a radio or TV report is made, also on a technical level. And how to recognise fake news – altered photos, videos, articles and so on.”

A reporter from Czech Radio’s flagship station Radiožurnál visited the now ongoing Summer School of Journalism and spoke to young people working on preparing their own first reports under the tutelage of working professionals.

Among them is a Summer School of Journalism veteran, Kristýna Dvouletá, who last year focussed on print media reporting, one of six specialisations on offer, which include broadcast, online, photography and PR concentrations.

“I really enjoy it. I learn a lot of information. I am trying to write a radio report, which is different from a print report, and I really liked it. We had an expert from Czech Radio here who explained how it works.”

That expert, Radiožurnál editor Vojtěch Koval, explained the basic process during a break.

“We do simulations of an event so they can try working on the various stages of processing the information that something is happening, and from the perspective of various professions, from reporter or editor to newsreader.”

Josefína Báčová, a young Czech student, says she was pleasantly surprised at the “boot camp” aspect of the Summer School of Journalism.

“I’m here this year for the first time, like quite a few others. I am surprised because I thought it would be very theoretical – and we already have been given tasks like getting contacts for specific people [sources who could be interviewed].”

Apart from prominent working journalists and media professional of all stripes, this year’s guest lecturers include historians, bankers, economists and – with the coronavirus pandemic being among of the topics explored – even an immunologist. As for the students, some of their best (edited) work will be published or broadcast in partner media already this week.