Readers and listeners all over the world enjoyed special insight into the U.S. presidential election as a result of the International Center for Journalists' (ICFJ) Elections 2008 Visiting Journalists Program, which brought 48 journalists from 46 countries to the U.S. to cover the historic campaign and election.
The program, which ran from October 22 to November 6, was designed to let the journalists see American democracy at work. To achieve that goal, it placed them at the center of the electoral storm.
The visiting journalists fanned out to battleground states around the country and worked in newsrooms as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Florida and as far West as Colorado, reporting alongside American reporters and watching both the political process and the role of the U.S. media.
"Covering the 2008 U.S. election in Ohio has been akin to the experience of witnessing a bloodless revolution in the making," wrote London-based reporter Murtaza Ali Shah, who writes for the Daily Jang, a newspaper that is published in English and Urdu and serves Pakistani communities throughout Europe.
"Almost on all accounts, ranging from the prospect of a first African-American president, to the possible election of the first female vice president, to the mobilization of millions of disaffected voters and the unprecedented and spirited involvement of the youth in the democratic process, this has been an exceptional election race, with huge repercussions for the American people and for the rest of the world."
Shah, assistant editor of the Daily Jang, spent 10 days at the Cincinnati Enquirer in hotly contested Ohio, which eventually help propel Barack Obama to victory. He interviewed a wide range of sources, including leading political experts and ordinary people, such as "Joe the Plumber," who became a fixture at campaign events of Republican candidate John McCain.
Other participants also shared their views of the election and the democratic process:
Luciana Geuna, who reports for Critica, a daily newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina, covered the election in Florida, site of the hard-fought 2000 election that brought George W. Bush to the White House. She spent a 10-day attachment with the Tallahassee Democrat.
"Staying 10 days in Tallahassee has been a great lesson to understand deeply this country. In cities like Tallahassee you get the opportunity to live and see the black and white of the America way of living...
"I've seen happy people voting in this capital that had such a bad experience in voting just eight years ago. I've seen Barack Obama wining this election. This country has that unique way of development where you see hard and historical contradictions with some radical people against civil rights, but anyone can come here and also see that the majority of the citizenship has just elected an African American guy, a young senator full of hope and new ideas, as their next President."
Maria Luisa Diaz de Leon, deputy editorial director of Excelsior, a daily newspaper in Mexico City, was in Southern Florida, where she was assigned to the Miami Herald.
"Being selected to be one of the 50 international journalists to participate in the presidential campaign of the United States has been one of the most relevant experiences in my professional life. I was able to witness one of the most important moments of American history, and probably the world: the election of Barak Obama, the first black President. But also, I saw how the United States is such a big, heterogeneous, contradictory county; but yet a nation integrated around principles and values shared and respected by the majority: liberty, democracy, creation of wealth and the respect of its institutions."
Biljana Lajmanovska, of Kanal 77 in Macedonia, spent 10 days at New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, New Hampshire.
"As a journalist, I have followed many election cycles in Macedonia and in the countries of the Balkan region. All elections are historic for one nation, because they bring changes - they show the strength of the popular vote and the right to be responsible for your own future. But very few of them are historic for the whole world. These elections for a new U.S. president were, and it was an honor to witness them."
Musiliu Layiwola Lawal of Radio Nigeria was based at Minnesota Public Radio during the program:
"I was overwhelmed by the various tactics adopted by the candidates in their campaigns. Although such campaigns get to a ridiculous extent at times, it reflected the culture of openness and no-holds-barred principle of Americans as well as the level of sophistication of the society. Most intriguing is the show of commitment on the part of the electorate who without monetary inducement attend rallies in thousands far into the night. This is contrary to the practice in Africa where most people attend conventions only after been paid some gratification and even transported to the venue."
Jeerawat Na Thalang of The Nation newspaper in Bangkok, Thailand, was based at the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina, and she watched that state reverse a decades-long trend of voting Republican in presidential elections.
"I am amazed by the role of the TV ads ... in the U.S. politics. In Thailand, the TV commercials for politicians are new and the politicians tend to coyly introduce themselves on the TV ads. The American politicians seem to use the TV ads to their full advantage...
"I was also amazed by the role of the Late Night Shows on the politics: Saturday Night Live and quite a few of late night shows which tend to parody the political candidates. These shows become a factor to reckon with. This is a lesson for whoever covers the U.S. election that it is not only about pure politics, but the media, the celebrity and the pop culture."
Abdulla Mohammad Juma, managing editor of Zanzibar Leo newspaper in Tanzania, was based at the Keene, Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he was interviewed about the election and made comparisons to his country:
"We started the multiparty system in 1995, so politicians and supporters still find it a new thing. It is difficult for journalists to report equally because some parties think they have more right to be covered than the other parties because of this single-party legacy. But we are trying to do [our] best...
"[People] consider the election as a fight or conflict, so reporting in such kinds of conflict is a problem for journalists. For example, last month we had a bi-party election in a region in Tanzania. There, you can see people have been beaten, you can find cars that have been set on fire, houses have been burned down...
"Since I have come here I have never experienced this kind of thing. I find people are campaigning openly, and the reporters have the choice to write whatever they want to write."
Sylvia Gereda, editor of el Periodico in Guatemala, covered the election from Cape May, New Jersey; Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.
"Observing the presidential campaign from afar is quite different from experiencing it in the flesh and feeling the throb of the American people.
For over two weeks I had the opportunity of visiting a range of cities including both powerful cities such as Washington D.C. and remote towns such as the island of Cape May, in Southern New Jersey, where the population of barely 12,000 becomes an astonishing tourist center of 750,000 during the summer. In all of these corners, I was able to feel the yearning of a huge population that cried for change and that was willing to pack the ballot-boxes in order to make history and make their voices be heard.
While covering the elections in the U.S., I visited the political headquarters of both Republicans and Democrats, and walked through the streets, universities and research centers; I visited important media centers and spoke with high ranking officials and always found the same answer: these are times of change embodied in Barack Obama."
During the two-week program, which was sponsored by the U.S. State Department's Foreign Press Center, the journalists attended campaign rallies of the major candidates and talked to political experts and ordinary voters. They also received a series of briefings in Washington, D.C., from election scholars and political leaders, including Sen. Richard Lugar on Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Top photo: Tanzanian editor Abdulla Mohamed Juma in New Hampshire. Bottom photo: Chinese journalist Liang Jianfeng at rally in Denver, Colorado.
For more information, go to http://www.icfj.org.