Journalists Laura Ungar and Sujoy Dhar spoke to journalism students at UK on Tuesday about their career paths and how connections with other countries became an instrumental part of their lives.
Ungar graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in English. Near the end of her college career, she was asked to write a story for a local paper about a small general store in the area, and made the front page of the newspaper with her article.
“The act of talking to people and interviewing them about their passion was very fulfilling,” Ungar said.
After that initial story, Ungar said she realized journalism was her passion. She started as a freelance writer, but then applied to work for the Hartford Courant.
With her feature on the general store and some examples of her poetry and essays, Ungar convinced her employer through her persistence that she would work tirelessly for the part-time job.
Looking back, she said that if she had tried to apply for the job with as little as she had in this day and age of journalism, she would not have had a chance. But she received the part-time correspondent job, and decades later she is at the Courier-Journal and USA Today.
One of Ungar’s most crucial stories was about cervical cancer in India in 2007. Her research for the story led her to the country, where she met Dhar. Dhar was working as a print journalist in Kolkata, India at the time, and the two quickly become friends.
Nearly ten years later, the two are still working together. Sometimes they’re giving lectures side by side in the U.S. and sometimes Dhar works from India while Ungar is in the states.
In India, Dhar learned a style of journalism that hasn’t been commonly practiced in U.S. outlets for years; stunt journalism. Dhar studied commerce at university, and became a journalist in his 20s. He described journalism in India as a trial process for the civil society and government that fights against transparency and the freedom of information of which American journalists enjoy the benefits.
Aside from being a guest speaker at U.S. universities, Dhar writes for several international publications, including Inter Press Service, Global Times, Women's Feature Service and Pajhwok Afghan News. He also runs news agency India Blooms News Service.
During the spring semesters of 2014 and 2015, Ungar and Dhar taught a UK class that connected American students with students in India. The course paired one American student with one Indian student to write a journalistic article together on a topic of their choosing that connected the two countries. Ungar taught the students here at UK and Dhar taught the students in India.
“Usually I have them do 25, at least, interviews. Experts, people affected by whatever they’re writing about, customers if they’re writing a business story — these are big stories, like 1,500 to 2,000 words," Ungar said. "They have videos that go with them and graphics. It’s a professional story.”
According to Ungar, the two students talk regularly and do reporting from both sides, but the student in Kentucky is the one who ultimately writes the story. The UK students get a grade in the course for the story and the Indian students get a certificate from UK that signifies their participation with the story.
When each story is finished, the final products are published in the Courier-Journal and through India Blooms News Service.
This class is aimed at teaching journalism students to go out into the community and connect with people who are different than them, including students in another country. Ungar and Dhar said they hope to be able to offer the class again next year at UK.