A dozen journalism students and faculty from California State University Fullerton are bound for Havana this fall as part of an exchange program made possible by the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
The American students will report on Cuba's culture, the medical system, and other topics in a course in international journalism collaborating with the University of Havana.
Cal State Fullerton Professor Dean Kazoleas said last year his campus hosted nine visiting Cuban journalists. That visit helped seal the fall trip to Havana for the students and instructors.
The American students will be reporting under the direction of Jeff Brody, professor of communications, Cal State Fullerton said in a news release.
“It’s an American professor working with a Cuban professor and the students are working together in teams, and to my knowledge that has not been done in the past,” Kazoleas said.
The students' articles will appear in the campus newspaper and students will talk about their experiences at a campus event at the end of the semester, he said. Cuban journalism students are expected to attend the university next spring.
The two countries have radically different systems of covering the news. Cuba ranks low — 169th out of 180 countries — in the Reporters Without Borders' 2015 World Press Freedom Index. The nonprofit group promotes freedom of the press internationally.
Major news outlets in Cuba are operated by the government, Kazoleas said. “It runs the state television, it runs radio, it runs the newspaper. However, what you’re seeing is that more and more Cubans, for example, are blogging.”
When they visited California, Kazoleas said the Cuban journalists were surprised at how readers freely posted comments and photos on news websites.
Cal State Fullerton has been preparing for the opening of U.S. travel to Cuba. On Wednesday, President Obama announced the reopening of embassies in the two countries, the latest step in the administration's effort to normalize relations with the communist nation.
Conservatives like GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio have sharply denounced the move, criticizing the Cuban government for what he termed are its human rights abuses. Democratic leaders have said normalizing relations will open up opportunities for the two countries.