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Aristotle University students weigh in on CSIS Journalism Bootcamp experience

The weeklong Journalism Bootcamp at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, is an intensive experience by design, and the most recent cohort of participants didn’t shy away from tackling a complex, thorny subject. “Gaza Through U.S. Eyes: Decoding its Potential Impact on U.S. Elections” is the topic of the forthcoming longform, multimedia story produced by undergraduate and graduate students from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in collaboration with CSIS’s Dracopoulos iDeas Lab.

The CSIS Journalism Bootcamp

Reporting on International Affairs, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), has welcomed cohorts from universities around the United States and two other universities in Greece. All work closely with the multidisciplinary CSIS’s Dracopoulos iDeas Lab, which was created in 2011 with support from SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos.

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Stavros Niarchos Foundation | Empowering Humanity
CSIS | Center for Strategic and International Studies
PJL Peace Journalism Lab

Group mentor Nikos Panagiotou, Associate Professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki School of Journalism and Mass Communications

A man in a suit and tie standing in front of a red furniture.

The second CSIS Journalism Bootcamp has proven to be an invaluable platform for our students to improve their skills, gain unique hands-on experience, and interact with industry professionals at the forefront of global affairs reporting. The immersive nature of the program has equipped them with the tools and knowledge necessary to navigate the complex landscape of journalism in the 21st century.

As a professor working closely with this group of students prior to, during, and after the CSIS Journalism Bootcamp, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of this experience. Our students return with confidence, a deeper understanding of global issues, a passion for storytelling that goes beyond borders, but also a commitment to share this experience/knowledge with their peers.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation's commitment has been instrumental in shaping our students' journalistic and personal growth journeys. The support by the Foundation has not only made this opportunity accessible but has also opened doors for our students to immerse themselves in a dynamic and enriching learning environment.

Thank you for being a catalyst for positive change and for helping to shape the future of journalism through your investment in education and providing opportunities to the younger generation of Greece.

People gathered around a lengthy table, engaged in a discussion or meeting.
Hear directly from the participants...
...who tackled different pieces of the reporting as part of story, data, video, and audio teams, about their experience.
Hear directly from the participants, who tackled different pieces of the reporting as part of story, data, video, and audio teams, about their experience.

If I remember right, at the end of the week, we were talking to one of the mentors, and he mentioned for the week, "What a ride!" In my opinion, it was more like a roller coaster! The most exciting, educational roller coaster I have attended, I have been a part of. The experience I gained from this process of synthesis and contrast through dialectical methods was definitive.

The first few days of defining the topic and research orientation made it clear to us how careful we have to be with a topic so "hot" that it raises issues of polarization and strong emotional reactions. While it was also a challenge for us to confront polarizing material and cases of mis/disinformation, to maintain our scientific integrity and ethical production conditions. As for the disinformation issues, it was a real challenge to understand the extent of the damage from the insulted reality that this kind of propaganda caused. Our team carried the weight of defining the spine of the story and making space for the important products of the other teams that would be defining for better understanding. That made us the center of the collaboration between teams and pushed us to improve our communication and interpersonal skills.

As a member of the story group, the most practical lesson I have received is that no matter what is said, no matter what we are told, words matter! Words can change the world and how we perceive it. And that is something we must not forget!

Georgios Karagiorgos

Words matter! Words can change the world and how we perceive it.
Georgios Karagiorgos

You may have the opportunity to participate in such a program once in your life. We were all very lucky to have experienced this. We learned a lot of things that will be useful for us in the future. We learned to work as a team under pressure with a deadline, we also learned to use programs, to do proper research, as well as to interview. We dealt with a difficult subject and despite this we responded and gave a good result even in a limited time. We worked very well; our mentors guided us and helped us a lot to get the final result. It was a unique experience especially for me who is in my first year and already had the opportunity to participate in something so important.

Eirini Peklari

Every day we conducted interviews with different people from the world of media or politics. Before that, each of them introduced themselves and talked about their given topic (which was mostly either about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about the role of journalists in our modern times), we had the opportunity to pose off record questions to them. I do believe that the pre-interview questions were a great opportunity for us to be able to ask questions that personally interested us. The editorial meetings that followed most of the interviews were usually productive and I liked that we voted on the issue regarding the subject of the article.

Klea Konstantinidou

The CSIS Journalism Bootcamp: Reporting on International Affairs was a unique experience! Having the opportunity to work together with policy experts and audiovisual experts, I had the opportunity to work in a unique working environment with people from all over the world. As a member of the data visualization team, I understood the critical role of data in journalism. At a time when information is abundant and often overwhelming, journalists face the challenge of presenting complex cases in an easily digestible way.

Using the Flourish platform and other visualization tools, we gathered complex data and created visual representations that are engaging and affordable. While visualization is a powerful comprehension tool, its effectiveness relies heavily on data quality and accuracy. Our main goal during the Bootcamp was to find data that is reliable, accurate and collected with methods that follow reliability standards, in order to avoid misleading conclusions.

One of the most important things I learned during the Bootcamp is that when information is presented visually, it challenges our senses and emotions in a way that plain text alone cannot. Visual elements can evoke empathy and create a sense of connection.

Konstantinos Trapezanidis

When information is presented visually, it challenges our senses and emotions in a way that plain text alone cannot.
Konstantinos Trapezanidis

I am a first-year undergraduate student and when I learned that I was selected for the program, I thought "This is a life experience," and it was. First of all, the environment was professional and the people were nice, I did not feel like a stranger. The outstanding thing for me was the work ethic of the experts at CSIS and how well they managed us and they guided us in a way that we still expressed our thoughts. On the Data Visualization Team, where I was, I learned so many things about research and how difficult and time-consuming the data visualization process is. Fabio, our mentor, did an amazing job by keeping us going and being open to new ideas and propositions. He did not force us to do something we did not like; we had an opinion on everything, and he never showed us how to do a task we did not know immediately, but he was always helpful, and even though he also worked enormously he was patient and receptive. In general terms, the experience as a whole I think broadened my horizons; as I got to know a new world, I learned to work with real professionals in a professional field that I am interested in working in myself in the future. In addition, I learned not to prejudge a situation, because initially when I joined the group, I was disappointed because it was a completely unknown field. Nevertheless, I realized that when I try hard for something, even if it's new and it scares me, in the end, the result rewards me completely.

Eleni Chantzi

When I try hard for something, even if it's new and it scares me, in the end, the result rewards me completely.
Eleni Chantzi

Participating in the CSIS Journalism Bootcamp was an educational and personal development journey that not only fortified my data skills but also merged informatics and social science. As a student specializing in informatics, the experience at CSIS provided a platform to bridge these seemingly distinct disciplines.

The bootcamp's environment fostered collaboration across disciplines, encouraging an exchange of ideas and perspectives. This not only broadened my horizons but also enriched the overall experience for all participants. The CSIS Journalism Bootcamp will be a unique moment in my academic and professional journey. I'm grateful for the opportunity and believe that the skills acquired, coupled with the interdisciplinary network formed, will continue to shape my goals, allowing me to contribute meaningfully to the dynamic landscape of data-driven journalism. What you get: teamwork, fun, professional work, knowledge, working in a professional environment with clear goals and deadlines set. What you give: you have to be open to learn new things, work hard, to be flexible and enthusiastic.

Spiros Panagiotou

The experience I was part of in the 2023 Bootcamp was very interesting and encouraging for our future steps as journalists. I listened to senior experts on a complicated and sensitive topic, which is the Israel-Palestine conflict, and how the coverage of the conflict, either extreme or moderate, by the US media can have a polarizing impact on the outcome of this war. These senior experts and officials were keen on giving information about the current crisis in the Middle East and after that answered questions about the situation in the region regarding the topic on how best to address the challenges and offer solutions to this global issue. After that they consented to having an interview which the CSIS Bootcamp team used as a useful tool for the making of the final presentation. Apart from the professional aspect, it was extremely beneficial to talk to these people on a personal level, as they used their limited time that was available to them to give advice to young students who aspire to be professional and innovative journalists in the future.

Regarding the methodical work that the team was tasked to complete, it was mostly a positive experience. We as a team were gathered to work, communicate, and collaborate in a modern workplace environment with all available provisions and the assistance of highly skilled professional in their fields (Shawn for the video team etc.) who tutored us from the very beginning to the very end of the procedure. We learned new basic and more advanced techniques and skills on the making of videos, editing of the video clips, doing the voice recordings.

George Mylonas

Despite the fact the CSIS Journalism Bootcamp passed in a finger-snap, as days go by, I gradually realize the amount of experience and knowledge we gained.

We traveled overseas to handle an issue most of our colleagues would prefer to avoid. Such a complex topic with trigger spots, firm human emotions and points of view all over the place. If I was a mentor at the project I would be concerned in the beginning for sure! However, isn’t that the big deal in every job? To deal with the issues which the majority tends to leave aside? Because if we don’t, someone else will. And we’ll carry the burden that maybe, just maybe, we could have done it in a different way.

In this week I’ve learnt a lot about leadership and team management. No, I wasn’t in a different project and yes, we didn’t have a session about it. But it was fascinating to observe how our mentors made us feel comfortable, how they assessed when to give more space to somebody or remind them of the borders of hierarchy in a delicate way.

I also learned to “kill all my darlings.” There were many bold statements, plenty of quotes from the interviews me and my team loved. However, many of them didn’t make it to the final cut of the video. Again, that is our job, isn’t it? To ask a thousand questions to a thousand different people, read a thousand articles from a thousand different sources and, at the end, condense them all into one. Erase. Make choices.

Last but not least, if I’m grateful once for the things I learned, I’m grateful a hundred times for the people I met. Because in the end it all comes down to people. Whether it is story writing, video editing or visualizing data, nothing would have been the same without this special group of mentors. Maybe the perfect finish is thanking them for the skills and the parts of themselves they shared in this experience.

Dimitris Eleftheriadis

I’m grateful a hundred times for the people I met.
Dimitris Eleftheriadis

My overall experience from the 2023 Journalism Bootcamp held by CSIS was enriching and valuable. After two long years of lockdowns and confinement, to have such a break in journalism was surreal. Getting to have some experience in this field and doing some research on it was very beneficial to me and could actually help me on my future plans. I really loved the experience because I gained some useful skills such as Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro, interview tactics and management, as well as improved and enhanced others, for example how to adjust my voice for a voiceover, public speaking, brainstorming, and producing a video. I also got to work with some amazing people. Our CSIS mentors were very helpful, open to our suggestions and thoughts, encouraging and amazing at navigating us through this delicate topic. Moreover, I had an amazing team on the video product. Our mentor was very patient and supportive, considering and materializing our every conception. The collaboration with each and every partial group was great and confoundedly methodical. Last but not least, by participating on this bootcamp I got to experience journalism in the act and understand what it really means to be a journalist, be delicate and discreet, some very important aspects for our profession, but above all else, aware of its impact and faithful to the truth.

Although it was an intense and stressful week, at the same time it was highly educational and enjoyable.

Pinelopi Stolikidou

It was meant to be the first time I would set foot in America to be realized in conjunction with the subject that I love the most and have a lifelong dream to deal with: journalism, and even in such a professional and pleasant environment as CSIS. We dealt with a very important, and sensitive, issue, the polarization that has resulted from the coverage of the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip in the American media. It is precisely because of this delicacy of the subject that one of the first things I noticed was the surgical precision in choice and use of words when it comes to such polarizing and sensitive issues. And here I would like to turn my attention to another, the tremendous professionalism that was abundant during the whole Bootcamp. All CSIS members were among the best in their field, they showed you the "secrets" of the profession, they were in a great mood to discuss with you and see your point of view. At the same time, there was a cheerful and not cold atmosphere, making even the most anxious person feel comfortable and pleasant. One of the most important things I got was exactly this feeling, that you can learn so much in one day, do so much and productively, and at the same time have a pleasant day and a little tiring, of course, but as Spinoza said, "All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare." The most characteristic example of such a mentality is our professor, Mr. Panagiotou, where seeing him working with such passion and at the same time being cheerful, I thought, follow his path and try in the future to forge your own path. In addition, adding to what I gained from the Bootcamp I would add the techniques in the sound part (I was in the sound team), the collaboration, as well as the fact that for the first time I was exposed to a foreign and so knowledgeable world.

Alexandros Papakonstantopoulos

The CSIS Journalism Bootcamp was an intense experience of professional working in international field. Its experts had a great approach to investigative journalism and they taught us how we can use new tools in order to be more accurate in our stories.

The same professional status came also from our mentors, who were there for us and our teams’ projects. Cera, audio’s group mentor, was an amazing teacher in state-of-the-art audio production through skilled editing in Adobe Audition.

Vasilis Dimokas