Coleman talks on ‘correspondent as cultural translator’

Former AP bureau chief in Tokyo and current journalism professor-in-residence Joe Coleman addressed the club April 26. He said international reporters have to understand local culture to report fairly to readers. (Photo by Gena Asher)

School of Journalism professor-in-residence Joe Coleman drew on his years as an international correspondent as he talked about crossing cultures at the April 26 meeting of the Bloomington Press Club.

Coleman, former bureau chief for  The Associated Press in Tokyo, said the international correspondent is the cultural translator for his or her readers, illustrating cultural differences and showing their similarities across communities.

“One thing I liked to do was to use stories to communication and explain differences,” said Coleman, who came to IU a year ago to teach courses such as international reporting. Before, he was in Tokyo for several years and has reported from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

While leading AP’s Tokyo bureau, he directed multimedia coverage of the Asian tsunami, global warming and events in North Korea.

But he told club members stories about how he learned to navigate around Japan, first by learning the language so that he could talk to people. Then, he observed.

“For example, I learned all about the park culture,” he recalled. Mothers don’t simply bring their children to the nearby park to play. Instead, Coleman said, they follow a ritual of acceptance from the other mothers, who have their own pecking order. Though an entertaining story, the park example also shows how other culture’s rituals may seem funny at first, but when one peels away to find the reasons and traditions, one understands more about the people, he said.

“And this makes better reporting, because you can show the differences that sometimes aren’t so different at all,” he said.

Coleman, a current press club member, has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in English literature from Vassar College.

Also during the meeting, interns Darcy Marlett and Julia Haller recapped their experiences for the last year. Marlett, who interned with the American Red Cross, said she helped the local chapter dive into social media by setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as a Web site and blog.

Haller worked for Girls, Inc., where she updated press kits and other materials, including taking high-quality photos for brochures.

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