Friday, November 21, 2014

Pandas: The Highlight Of The National Zoo

Van Nguyen /
An elephant at the National Zoo.

By Mugdha Gurram
WASHINGTON, D.C. – It's fun, it's free, and it was only about a 10-minute walk from our hotel, so of course we took the time to go visit the National Zoo.
We were probably most excited about seeing the giant pandas, and we were not disappointed.
The pandas were out, and they managed to look adorable while feasting on bamboo – giving us the perfect opportunity for a few selfies.

Mugdha Gurram /
A giant panda at the National Zoo.
The zoo is officially the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and part of the Smithsonian’s many free offerings in the capital city.
The animals there stay in large, open spaces filled with trees, rocks, and toys that let them learn and play.
And video feeds like the panda cam allow visitors to watch these little guys even when they’re spending a day in the den.
Mugdha Gurram /
Flamingos at the National Zoo.
Van Nguyen /
A burrowing owl at the National Zoo.
Van Nguyen /
King vultures at the National Zoo.
The zoo around in fall is absolutely beautiful; the changing leaves provide a colorful background to the animal habitats.
Even the rain didn’t stop us from enjoying the zoo. We simply headed into the bird house to take a look at our winged friends.
From among the variety of animals we saw, my personal favorites were the pandas.
I’ve never seen them in real life, so it was a fun, new experience.
But of course, it was wonderful to see the elephants, the flamingos, the zebra and the multitude of other animals there, too.
Mugdha Gurram /
A pathway at the National Zoo.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bracing For Possible Violence In Ferguson

By Sydney Hallett
OAKVILLE, Missouri, U.S.A. – They wait. The citizens of Ferguson and protesters around the United States wait for the grand jury to make a decision whether to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown last August.
As the grand jury makes a decision whether to charge Wilson, both the Missouri National Guard and protesters in Ferguson and other cities across the United States are preparing for what is to come.
On Monday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, activating the state highway patrol and the Missouri National Guard to help maintain order in the St. Louis region when the grand jury announces its decision.
It is no wonder why everything is a mess. It seems that the government wants to protect citizens against police brutality by letting the police use brute force against the protesters. Though the protesters are violent and often get out of hand, they are standing up for what they believe in. Whether the grand jury decides to indict Wilson in Brown’s death or not, this will change history for better or for worse.
If Wilson is not charged, violence will break all across the country – starting with Ferguson. It is possible that it will be even worse than the August outbreaks after Brown died.
Though the protesters have settled down, they have not gone away and have been lingering, waiting for the grand jury’s ruling, which could range from intentional murder to a far lesser charge of manslaughter.  What makes it worse is that Ferguson Chief of Police Tom Jackson said in media reports last week that Darren Wilson will “immediately” report back to duty if the grand jury does not indict him.
Because of this, tensions will only grow higher and put both protesters and Wilson in extreme danger. It was not a smart move to report this to the public just days before the grand jury’s decision.
If Wilson is indicted and charged with a crime, then it is possible that tensions will die down. Of course, there will always be pressure between citizens and police, but laws may be passed to change that.
It might be better if Wilson is charged with a crime – he might be safer in jail than anywhere else he would be if he is not charged at all. Though it all comes down to the evidence, I believe that it would be better if he was proven guilty for everyone’s sake and safety. Violent protests would be less likely to erupt and fewer people would get hurt in the mess of it all.
Until there is a conclusion, there is no way to find a possible outcome for the situation. It is likely that there will be violent protests that erupt no matter what the grand jury does.
As the moment of decision – at least as far as the grand jury goes – in the Brown case approaches, it seems as if the city of Ferguson and African-American groups around the nation are a ticking bomb. Though Ferguson already had an outbreak in August with police using tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, there is a good chance that the protests will be much worse if Wilson is not charged, especially if he immediately reports back to duty. The chief’s stance sends a message that police brutality, even if Wilson did not commit that act, is okay.
It is good that the African-Americans and others who are supporting Brown are standing up for themselves against police brutality. Someone has to stand up against the injustices of this world and the voices taking a stand need to be heard.
The trouble is not all police officers, either, but the select few who abuse their power. Most policemen and women are out there risking their lives to protect their community, and I respect that.
For the sake of the United States, I hope that Wilson is charged in Brown’s death, because if he is not, 50 years of tension will break throughout the nation.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Woodward To Student Journalists: Do Your Research, Then Go Out And Get The Story
An overflow crowd of student journalists and teachers filled a Washington, D.C. hotel ballroom to hear legendary journalist Bob Woodward deliver the keynote address at the National Scholastic Press Association. The students greeted Woodward with a standing ovation.
By Mugdha Gurram
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Young reporters need to get out and talk to people if they want a good story, legendary investigative reporter Bob Woodward told a crowd of student journalists.
“The best source of information is people,” Woodward said in his keynote address at the National Scholastic Press Conference last week.
“Go to the scene,” Woodward said. “There’s always a scene to go to.”
As journalists, “we don’t show up enough,” said Woodward. “You have to get your ass out of the chair and go see things.”
Woodward, best known for being one of two Washington Post reporters who investigated and unveiled the 1970s Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon.
Now an editor at the newspaper, Woodward is also the author of 15 non-fiction books – all of them national bestsellers – and is widely regarded as one of the best journalists in the country.
But as a young reporter in 1972, just months before writing his first Watergate story, Woodward learned his lesson the hard way about going to the scene.
Woodward told students that he wrote a story based on information from a reliable source. The source told Woodard that the Mayflower Coffee Shop had failed a health inspection because of “horrific” conditions. He wrote the story about the coffee shop in the fancy Mayflower Hotel and filed it.
A city editor asked him if he’d ever been to the coffee shop.
When Woodward said no, the editor suggested, “Why don’t you get off your ass and go visit?”
When he did, Woodward discovered that the Mayflower Hotel had no such coffee shop. The closed down Mayflower Coffee Shop was instead in a Hilton hotel. He went back to the office and corrected his mistake.
Woodward told the students to look to witnesses, documents or whatever they can get their hands on, because there’s always something.
“I have never heard of a story where there’s no source of human beings, no source of documents,” said Woodward. “Your job as a journalist is to present the facts.”
Van Nguyen /
After speaking to the student journalists, 
Woodward spent time signing books.
He emphasized the importance of this in America.
“This is the wonderful part of this country,” said Woodward. “You can ask about anything!”
He stressed the importance of doing research, especially before an interview, and advised going beyond a simple Google search.
“There are no boundaries,” he said, when it comes to getting information.
Looking up the person to be interviewed and researching their work shows that you “take them as seriously as they take themselves,” Woodward said, adding that he once sent President Obama a 15-page memo outlining what he wanted to talk about before their interview.
Woodward also talked about where to draw the line. He said that while it’s important to pursue a story, something that violates privacy and isn’t something that the public needs to know is not worth it.
He talked about the ever-increasing presence of political bias in cable news channels, calling out networks like Fox News and MSNBC.
Along with giving journalism tips, Woodward reminisced about times from his iconic career.
He told the audience that one of his great regrets was the slip-up with Janet Cooke, a reporter who made up a story about a child heroin user that he, as an editor, failed to catch. The story, published in 1980, won a Pulitzer Prize, which the embarrassed Washington Post had to return.
He talked about his interview with President Ford, some 25 years after Ford pardoned Nixon for his role in Watergate.
In multiple interviews, Woodward repeatedly pestered Ford for the reason why he granted the pardon.
Exasperated, Ford told Woodward he was bored with the question, but the reporter told the former president that he still hadn’t answered it.
Then, Woodward said, Ford opened up.
“I did this for the country,” Ford told him. As president, he didn’t want the nation to be hung up on the scandal, which would surely have dragged on for years without the pardon. Ford also told him he wanted his own presidency, not one mired in the drama of Nixon and Watergate.
It was not the answer Woodward had expected at all.
“This is one of the things about journalism,” said Woodward. “You are often surprised.”
One of Woodward’s last pieces of advice was not a journalism one, but rather a humanitarian one.
“Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them.”
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Up Close And Personal With The Berlin Wall

Mugdha Gurram /
Part of the Berlin Wall, on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

By Sydney Hallett
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The West Side: Artistically represented with vibrant colors. Someone spray painted the words “Act Up!” across the wall, indicating the freedom that the citizens had on that side.
You could tell that a thriving community flourished there under a democratic government, with a free press and citizens at liberty to paint the wall that divided a city.
The East Side: A blank, gray wall. There were no signs of expressed freedom, as it looked like it was never touched by a single citizen. Next to the gray wall stood a tall guard tower, signaling that if anyone tried climbing the wall or touched the wall on the east side that they would be arrested or even shot.
Mirwais Kakar, Hila Yosafi-Lehman and 
Sydney Hallett were part of a recent 
Youth Journalism International excursion 
to the Newseum.

Communism had taken over East Berlin, the side where people were hungry and poverty rates were extremely high.
It was two totally different worlds, but it was one city.
November 9 marked the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A piece of the Berlin Wall is on display at the Newseum, where visitors can see the difference between the democracy and Communist rule in the city of Berlin from 1961 to 1989.
When I visited the Newseum on November 8 with fellow students from Youth Journalism International, I didn’t know it was the anniversary of the unity of Berlin.
As we arrived, signs that marked the anniversary greeted us, and I wondered why it was so important. I never really learned about the Berlin Wall in any of my classes, so I did not understand what the big deal was. Of course I knew about it, but until that moment, I didn’t realize the extreme importance of the wall to those not just in Berlin, but around the world as well.
Mugdha Gurram /
Hidden compartments in the Trabant automobile, a small car manufactured in East Germany from 1957 to 1991, were sometimes used to smuggle people through the Berlin Wall from East Berlin into West Berlin. It was also used to drive through breaches in the wall the day it fell - Nov. 9, 1989. A "Trabi," as the cars were called, was on display outside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on Sunday as part of the museum's observation of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

At the exhibit a piece of the wall stood just like it would have in pre-1990 Berlin, but without the barbed wire.
The first sight I saw was the West Side and I was extremely impressed with the beauty and expression painted on the wall. Every inch was full of color and joy. It seemed like the people of West Berlin made the wall a canvas of their freedom.
Walking over to the East side, I expected it to look the same, but when I crossed over and looked, I was in shock.
The East side was gray and bland to the point that it seemed like a completely different piece of stone. If I saw the two sides in a picture, I would have never have guessed that they were two opposite sides of one wall.
On the East Side stood the guard tower. Even though no one was up there, it made me feel uncomfortable compared to the West Side.
The differences were drastic, and without even knowing the history, just looking at the two sides made me realize how different East and West Berlin were.
I then understood how important the Berlin Wall was to people.
Citizens on the East side were restricted to harsh rules and given little to no freedom. On the West side, citizens were creative, imaginative, and society thrived.
Part of the Berlin Wall on display at the Newseum

in Washington, D.C.
When the wall was torn down, it not only proved to be a physical barrier but also an emotional barrier in a divided city.
Loved ones who had been separated for 28 years finally got to see each other on November 9, 1991. Friends united and a broken city finally became one again. Even though I was not yet born, I could experience the emotion and power that the Berlin Wall stood for because of the Newseum.
Seeing the wall was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life – not because it was a beautiful sight, but because of the history and the emotional journey behind the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall.

See Youth Journalism International's overview of the Newseum, a piece that includes photos and information about the FBI and crime exhibit.

See more from Youth Journalism International on the Newseum, including photos and information about the 9/11 exhibit and the Pulitzer Prize winning photography exhibit.
Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at

Newseum Displays Unforgettable Images

Van Nguyen /
The broadcast antenna of the World Trade Center's North Tower, destroyed in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Behind the tower are newspaper front pages from that time.
By Van Ngoc Nguyen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – While attending the fall conference of National Scholastic Press Association, I had the precious opportunity to visit the Newseum.
This museum of news is truly an ideal place for student reporters and photographers to get worthy information about gathering news and gain insights into journalism.
Two exhibits at the Newseum attracted my attention the most: The Pulitzer Prize Photography Gallery and The 9/11 Gallery.
Van Nguyen /
A 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by New York Times photographer Josh Haner of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman.

The Pulitzer Prize Photography Gallery consists of Pulitzer-winning photos and a documentary film featuring some photographers talking about the stories behind their famous images.
Van Nguyen /
Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut appears in a documentary about Pulitzer Prize winning photos. In 1972, he made the iconic image of Huynh Thi Kim Phuc, a Vietnamese girl burning and running from a napalm attack that won Ut, an Associated Press photographer, the Pulitzer Prize the following year. 

Their stories touched my heart, inciting feelings and thoughts: surprise, sorrow, admiration and happiness.
Van Nguyen /
The Newseum photo gallery includes photographer Nick Ut's 1973 Pulitzer winner for spot news photography. The photo, Terror of War, shows nine-year-old Huynh Thi Kim Phuc, burning from napalm, running and screaming, "Too hot, please help me!"

With indelible pictures, artifacts, and interviews with people on the scene, the 9/11 Gallery makes every visitor sadly remember the tragic terrorist attacks.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the broadcast antenna from the top of the World Trade Center. On one wall are front pages from many newspapers covering the attack.
Along with others in the crowded exhibit, I silently read the front pages about that horrific day, and reminded myself to appreciate the present more.
Van Nguyen /
Cameras, a press pass and other gear that belonged to photographer Bill Biggart,who perished in the 9/11 attacks as he documented the scene at the World Trade Center, are at the Newseum.

The 9/11 Gallery also shows a documentary film about the passionate photojournalist Bill Biggart, who died when the second tower at the World Trade Center fell. He was the only working journalist killed while covering the attacks and some of his pictures are on display along with his equipment and press credentials recovered by rescue workers.
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FBI Artifacts, The Berlin Wall, Unabomber Cabin And More - The Newseum Has It All

Mugdha Gurram /
An open air balcony on the top floor of the Newseum offers a spectacular view of the U.S. Capitol. The flags of the Canadian embassy hang from the building next door.

By Mugdha Gurram
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With exhibits that included a piece of the Berlin Wall and others that focused on 9/11 and years of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, it’s tough to make it through a fraction of the displays at the Newseum, a museum of news.
The Pulitzer Prize Gallery featured a multitude of award winners dating back to 1942 and in the center is a wall covered with small version of the photographs, categorized by date.
Mugdha Gurram /
The Unabomber's cabin 
is part of the FBI exhibit
at the Newseum.

The surrounding walls are covered with enlarged photos with descriptions of what is shown and the circumstances of how the photographer captured the image.
These images varied from heartwarming to heartbreaking. The photographs spoke for themselves, but for some – such as the picture of a starving Sudanese child and a vulture taken by the late Kevin Carter – the descriptions made them even more meaningful.
One of my personal favorites at the Newseum was the FBI exhibit featuring federal criminal cases of bombers and serial killers. 

Mugdha Gurram /
Items that help document the arrest of the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef are part of the FBI exhibit at the Newseum.
Mugdha Gurram /

A Ku Klux Klan robe and

hood is part of the FBI

display at the Newseum.
The display included the handcuffs used to arrest Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Center bombing, and a carefully preserved Ku Klux Klan costume.
They even had the cabin the infamous Unabomber used to live in.
The FBI exhibit is quite chilling. As a huge fan of crime mysteries, thought, I was fascinated by it. Any fellow Criminal Minds fans probably would be, too. On the other hand, to see the various objects that belong to such gruesome parts of history – well, it was a mix of emotions.
The top level of the Newseum included an open-air balcony that offered a beautiful view of the Capitol – and a great spot for a selfie.

Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Students Swarm Exhibit Booths At Washington Journalism Conference

Mugdha Gurram /
Students attending the National Scholastic Press Association's fall conference in Washington, D.C. last week spent some of their time at the exhibit booths. Colleges tried to attract potential pupils, yearbook companies pitched to students and advisors and the non-profit Youth Journalism International, tucked in a back corner, provided information about its annual Excellence in Journalism contest.
Mugdha Gurram /
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SportsCenter Anchor Jay Harris Advises Student Journalists: Don't Ever Give Up

By Van Ngoc Nguyen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a down-to-earth and entertaining way, ESPN anchor Jay Harris offered useful advice recently to student journalists at the National Scholastic Press Association's fall conference last week.
“From today on, shine, just shine,” said Harris, who anchors the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter.
Harris, a keynote speaker at last week’s conference, talked about his journey in journalism, beginning in 1982, when he was in eighth grade.
“When I embarked on journalism, I had no idea where it would take me,” said Harris.
After graduating from Virginia’s Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication, Harris applied for many jobs, but the wheel of fortune wasn’t in his favor.
Instead of becoming discouraged, he attended graduate school to polish his academic record.
ESPN publicity photo
Jay Harris
“Don’t ever give up,” he told the aspiring young journalists.
Harris went to work for free as a news reporter at a radio station. Though unpaid, he had freedom to do things he wanted. He wrote his own show, learned from his mistakes and got valuable experience.
He worked in radio in Pennsylvania and Virginia before going to work for ESPN in 2003.
Even now, he keeps trying to be better.
“It is called the practice of journalism, because we may never get it right,” said Harris. “We might get pretty good.”
Journalism boosted Harris’ confidence and gave him a platform to see different kinds of people every day and figure out who he is.
The best career choice he made, Harris said, was to join ESPN in 2003. He loves sports, particularly basketball, but Harris said there is actually no difference between writing about news and writing about sports.
It’s all about journalism, he said, interviewing, writing, and telling a story.
“Don’t you ever go out to a story, and not come back with a story,” he told the students.  
Harris stressed the importance of persistence in journalism. If you learn the basics, do it well and send it to someone, they will notice it, he said.
Be tenacious, Harris said, and be patient. He advised students not to be afraid of trying something different.
As young journalists learn and grow, Harris said, they should not forget the people who helped shape and support them.
Keep up the enthusiasm, Harris told students, and have fun.

Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

YJI Takes To The Road In New Vehicle, Connects Students In Washington, D.C.
Mugdha Gurram of Connecticut, Tamar Gorgadze of Virginia and Van Nguyen of Hanoi, Vietnam became friends through a Youth Journalism International trip to Washington, D.C.
Last week, six young people who were strangers to each other met in Washington, D.C. through Youth Journalism International and emerged as colleagues and friends.
Coming from vastly different backgrounds, they put aside any differences and shared personal stories and experiences.
Mirwais Kakar of Kabul, Afghanistan, Mugdha Gurram and Hila Yosafi-Lehman of Connecticut and Van Nguyen of Hanoi, Vietnam stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool behind them.
They bonded over pandas at the National Zoo, bravely tried new foods, posed in front of presidential monuments, checked out Chinatown and saw part of the Berlin Wall up close at the Newseum.
Van Nguyen, Hila Yosafi-Lehman and
Mugdha Gurram with the YJI Mobile, ready to
drive from Connecticut to Washington, D.C.
A lot of people helped make this happen. Inspired by our Toronto Tour 2014 in June, two generous donors this fall bought YJI a beautiful van to safely carry students wherever the story takes us.  They want to remain anonymous, but everyone here at YJI is grateful for their generosity.
Another key supporter donated funds for a hotel room that was shared by two adult advisors and two students, making it possible for us to stay at the conference.
Gifts from other donors paid for conference fees, fuel and tolls.
The journey, which Connecticut student Mugdha Gurram called “amazing,” couldn’t have happened without that help.
YJI Ambassador Hila Yosafi-Lehman 
with students Mirwais Kakar, Van 
Nguyen, Mugdha Gurram and 
Sydney Hallett of St. Louis in front of the 
entrance to Chinatown in Washington.
A travelers "selfie" with YJI Ambassador
Michelle Harmon. From left, Mugdha Gurram,
Jackie Majerus, Hila Yosafi-Lehman and
Van Nguyen.
Attorney Hila Yosafi-Lehman, a YJI alum and Ambassador, took time off from her job to travel with the students and help YJI Executive Director Jackie Majerus guide them in Washington. At the conference, students met YJI Ambassador Michelle Harmon, a journalism teacher in Boise, Idaho.
We’ve called YJI a “peace factory,” because in addition to teaching journalism skills like interviewing and reporting and helping students polish their writing, Youth Journalism International builds bridges of understanding between young people of different cultures, religions, races and nations. From there, valuable friendships grow and flourish.
YJI Executive Director Jackie Majerus and Ambassador Hila Yosafi-Lehman at YJI's table in the exhibit area of the National Scholastic Press Association conference last week.
At the Newseum, YJI students Mirwais Kakar,
Van Nguyen, Mugdha Gurram, Sydney Hallet
and Ambassador Hila Yosafi-Lehman.
While our destination was the fall conference of the National Scholastic Press Association – and students absorbed a lot of exciting lessons and came away inspired – they agreed that meeting and getting to know each other was even better.
As one of our travelers, Van Nguyen of Hanoi, Vietnam, said, “I can feel the warmth of a family here.”
Watch this space in the coming days for news stories and first person accounts from Mugdha, Van and others about their adventures in Washington.
Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at