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Professor Fights For A Free Press
by Sarah Kopman-Fried

Photo Courtesy Tim Kenny

Kenny and his class at the Faculty of Journalism at the University of Bucharest, 2005.

In a dark, dank, dreary building in Romania, where elevators worked only intermittently and the heat barely worked at all, Associate Professor Timothy Kenny decided he wanted to teach. Wanting to bring a Western-style free press to newly democratic nations, the two-time Fulbright scholar made three separate trips to former Soviet satellite states in order to teach journalism students in Romania, Kosovo and Kazakhstan.

Having spent years as a foreign correspondent and a foreign editor for USA Today, Kenny wanted to do more than just bring news to the people of America. Thus, in 1991, Kenny found himself at the University of Bucharest. Despite being situated in Romania's wealthiest city, Kenny said conditions at the university were deplorable.

"The facilities were just absolutely horrendous," said Kenny, describing how the journalism program there lacked both equipment and adequate heating. "If you're cold, you can't really learn very well."

In the winter, students would come to class dressed in thick winter coats, which they would keep on for the entire lesson.

In addition to poor physical conditions, Kenny said Romanian students were also suffering because of the legacy of communism in their country. Although Romanian journalism has recently begun to improve, students had to constantly struggle against older professors, many of whom were Soviet holdovers who encouraged self-censorship over good journalism.

Despite Kenny's attempts to teach Western-style journalism, emphasizing fairness and objectivity, it was extremely difficult for students to learn these skills then not be able to use them once they got a job. Because newspapers in Romania were still heavily tied to political parties and social organizations, Kenny said that students needed to be careful of what they wrote, lest they get themselves, or their families, into trouble. According to Kenny, although the situation in Romania has improved somewhat in the past 17 years, there is still a pervasive sense of censorship throughout the nation.

But, the country's political history didn't stop Kenny from trying.

While teaching in Romania, there were frequent price increases in gasoline, which would cause people to line up for days to try to stock up before gas became more expensive. One day, when there was a particularly long line outside, Kenny sent his journalism students out to interview the people waiting in line.

"They argued with me," Kenny said of his former students. "They said 'You can't just walk up to someone and talk to them!' I asked them, 'Why not? Why can't you?' That was the first time anyone ever told them to go out and talk to real people to get a story."

These difficulties left by the legacy of communism would be something Kenny would encounter again while teaching in Kazakhstan more than a decade later.