Reporting in Cuba is difficult with tropical storms, torrential rains, limited internet, no access to phones, and most restrictive laws in press freedom and free speech in America. 18 determined Northeastern Universitystudents set out to tell the story of Cubain spite of this. “During the first few days, the rain destroyed some of my notes,” said Merten, a third-year journalism major at Northeastern who spent a month in Cuba reporting on life on the island as part of a Dialogue of Civilizations program. “After that, we all started hauling our stuff around in plastic bags.”
Merten and her fellow student reporters functioned as international press corps, looking for interesting stories about Cuban politics and culture. The students would publish their reports in an online magazine, many of which got picked up by mainstream news organisations. The Washington Postran a story on Cuba’s musical legacy Alejandro Serrano, while The Ground Truth Project published the stories that explored the growing role of faith in Cuba.
The students had to face many hurdles like the language barrier and even the spotty internet connection. “Journalism existed before the internet,” said Hannah Bernstein, a third-year journalism major who reported on the United States’ embargo against Cuba. “But my generation relies on the internet so heavily that this was a lesson in extroversion and getting the story anyway you can.”
“There were obstacles you couldn’t see coming but you had to roll with the punches and keep going,” said Serrano, a fourth-year journalism major.Carlene Hempel, a teaching professor in the School of Journalism said that her students uncovered stories that no other reporters are writing about.
“The stories we did, no one else is doing. There aren’t reporters running around in Cuba,” said Hempel, who’s led international reporting dialogues in Jordan, Spain, and Greece in addition to Cuba. “That’s what made the experience so special for the students—they were writing about something for the first time.”
Bernstein thought that some Cubans would be unfriendly as a result of the embargo, but instead they were resourceful and resilient.“My goodness, the way the Cubans accepted us and interacted with us, it was a gift,” Hempel said. “Every day was a gift and everyone knew it.” Merten agreed with Hempel, but said it was hard to write about culture without mentioning the embargo because “it impacts everything”. Serrano said Cuba is an island of paradoxes. “It has an innate beauty and its people have an open mindedness that is unmatched, but there is also a lot of internal conflict and we heard some heart wrenching stories.”