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St. Mary's partners with NewsHour's de Sam Lazaro

PBS NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from what he calls the "global south," but lives in Highland Park, and has a new Winona-based funder: St. Mary's University.

It's not every journalist in these economically stressed times who can find a university benefactor, but for De Sam Lazaro (disclaimer: MinnPost board member), it's the second.

Fred de Sam Lazaro
Fred de Sam Lazaro

Collegeville-based St. John's was an earlier partner for Under-Told Stories, de Sam Lazaro's reporting/teaching project. He would travel to places like Sudan, PBS viewers would see the results, and students at St. John's would get a literally real-world seminar every fall.

Why the move to St. Mary's? "I forgot to write in my contract that the president not die," de Sam Lazaro says.

He had a personal relationship with then-St. John's president Dietrich Reinhart, a dedicated internationalist who resigned in 2008 because of health concerns and died months later. "It happened during an economic downturn, the embrace of the program wasn't there any more," says de Sam Lazaro, whose relationship with the school ended last year.

St. Mary's is funding Under-told Stories at a bigger scale — about a quarter of the project, with the bulk coming from the NewsHour, he explains. The idea is to bring back material that is "valuable in the classroom, anecdotes that don't make it into stories. It's not the same as textbook learning — we speak plain English, and the method seems to appeal to students."

St. Mary's — like St. John's, a Catholic school — offered a couple of differences. St. Mary's Minneapolis campus is 81 miles closer to de Sam Lazaro's front door than Collegeville, and the grad-school student body at that Phillips neighborhood campus includes many émigrés from Under-told Stories countries. (The school also has a Nairobi campus.)

"On balance, it's certainly true that St. Mary's in Phillips is more reflective of the world we go to compared to St. John's, which is much less diverse," de Sam Lazaro says. "But on an intellectual level, there's appeal to both places. It was good to reach behind the 'Pine Curtain,' as they say [at St. John's], but at St. Mary's, the presence of students from around the world changes the interaction."

De Sam Lazaro — whose formal title is Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Hendrickson Institute for Ethical Leadership — says he's out of country about eight to ten days a month. The Under-told Stories roster features stories from Pakistan, India, Israel, Jordan, Cambodia, South Africa and Kenya — and that was only the last half of 2010.

Not bad for a guy who worked for KTCA's "Almanac" for two months in 1985 before becoming PBS's upper Midwest bureau chief, de Sam Lazaro's eventual gateway to the world.

"We try to make the foreign less foreign," he says of Under-told Stories. "Why are we engaged with Malawi, with the Congo, what relevance is there to us as Americans, as Minnesotans? Not just in a moral vacuum, but in terms of economic and security interests, what opportunity there is for students. We also look at social entreprenuerialism as a way to look at the world's problems. We're not sugar-coating stories, but we're casting things as solutions-oriented."

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Comments (3)

This is a real loss for St. John's. I was a student there when the Project for Under-Told Stories came to SJU, and a student in communications (pursuing journalism) I personally benefitted from the NewsHour affiliation. When the RNC was coming to St. Paul, Fred and his producer, Nikki See, were tasked with finding a half-dozen PAs to help out while the production moved to St. Paul for the week. All the PAs were students chosen were from the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, including me. During my three weeks working at the convention, I worked my way into serving as camera assistant on the floor of the convention, assisting during the live broadcast. I also got to sit in as on-set PA during NBC's Meet the Press (they rented the NewsHour set to shoot on). I'm not sure if this was a typical occurrence, but it still remains one of the most rewarding experiences I took away from St. John's. It's a shame they're losing it.

I'll agree with my classmate and good friend that this is a huge loss for St. John's. One of my most memorable courses was a small-group seminar taught by de Sam Lazaro and Nick Hayes taken in Fall of 2005. As a college sophomore focusing on International Relations, it was very significant to have a course taught by journalists who had reported on global realities to supplement to my courses taught by political scientists.

David: Maybe you mean the Midtown campus is 81 miles closer to St. Paul, but I think Collegeville is a much shorter drive from our fair cities compared to Winona.

Additionally, I'd be curious to know what happened to the collaboration between Hayes and de Sam Lazaro. They used to teach the course together and I think both were involved with Undertold Stories.

Matt - thanks. I misunderstood what Fred meant about the drive. He meant Minneapolis campus is 81 miles closer than Collegeville ... fixed now.