As Burns Fellowship Turns 30, Transatlantic Reporter Exchange More Crucial Than Ever

May 32017
  • Burns fellow Everett Rosenfeld at a September demonstration in Berlin, interviewing two people advocating against a proposed EU-U.S. free trade agreement.

Thirty years ago, the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship was established to offer young German journalists the opportunity to report from the United States. In 1989, ICFJ expanded the program to include U.S. journalists, making the program a true professional exchange. In 2013, the fellowship expanded to include Canada, further broadening its reach.

Today, each class of fellows produces more than 250 stories during its time across the Atlantic, improving their audiences’ understanding of important global issues such as the refugee crisis and international trade deals.

The media industry has changed radically during the Burns Fellowship's first 30 years. The internet and the 24-hour news cycle have fundamentally altered the way journalists produce the news. But the basics of reporting remain the same. Journalists who know their beats thoroughly, who explore every angle, and who have access to a wide range of knowledgeable sources are able to produce the most thoughtful and informative news. Giving young reporters the chance to learn new perspectives and deepen their knowledge by reporting overseas has a profound impact on the quality of their news coverage, which in turn benefits their readers and viewers.

Three decades have also brought dramatic changes to the political landscape. Germany was still divided into two countries when the Burns Fellowship started bringing West German participants to the U.S. At that time, the Soviet Union was still a significant threat to Europe and the United States, and the European Union had only 12 members. Today, the EU has 28 members, a generation of Germans has grown up in a reunified nation, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and the whole map of Europe is different.

Yet the Burns Fellowship's mission—to increase public knowledge and understanding about the partner country—remains as vital now as it was then. Russia is a renewed threat to European and global stability. The EU faces new and greater challenges due to Brexit, nationalist leaders and a more globalized world. The U.S.-German relationship is more fragile than it has been in years. Burns Fellows shed light on these and other complex issues, improving transatlantic understanding and dialogue.

As it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the Burns Fellowship looks forward to providing a new generation of journalists with the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and deepen their coverage, preserving and strengthening the transatlantic bond in the process.

Maia L. Curtis is the development director and publications editor for the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship. Previously she worked as a development manager for the International Center for Journalists.