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Pulitzer Center Update May 1, 2007

From Around the World to Across Town, Class Shows How News Events Affect People's Lives


By Erin Taylor
Originally published in the West County Journal

Erin Taylor photo/ Reporter Stephanie Hanes, who works out of Johannesburg, South Africa, spoke to students at St. Joseph's Academy, Parkway West and Maplewood-Richmond Heights high schools about global issues and local impact.

When personality Anna Nicole Smith died in February, her death and the subsequent battle for paternity rights of her infant daughter made headlines for months.

When astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak was arrested in Florida that same month and charged with attempted kidnapping of a female U.S. Air Force captain in an apparent "love triangle," Nowak's mug shot was broadcast around the world.

In the age of 24-hour news networks and information available immediately on the Internet, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting has begun to wonder what exactly is news.

Based out of Washington D.C., the Pulitzer Center has made it its mission "to promote in-depth coverage of international affairs, focusing on topics that have been under-reported, misreported or not reported at all."

Representatives with the center, including director Jon Sawyer and reporter Stephanie Hanes, met with students at Parkway West High School, St. Joseph's Academy and Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School to tap into the next generation of newspaper readers.

At Parkway West, teacher Kristen Collins, who teaches a Challenges to Democracy class, was selected as a model classroom to be filmed and shown to other classes across the country. The video was taped by KETC-TV (Channel 9) and will be used to promote the Pulitzer Center and to show how to teach controversial issues in the classroom.

Sawyer, who spent most of his career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said it's important to reach high school students.

"For those of us who have spent our careers in journalism, one of our biggest challenges is getting these sorts of stories to the readers," Sawyer said of reporting on global issues.

When Sawyer asked how many students read the newspaper on a daily basis, one or two hands would go up in each class of students. When he asked how many use popular social networking Web sites such as or, almost all of the students raised their hand.

It's that disparity that the center is focusing on and is trying to bridge through working with teachers and students to bring global issues to the forefront of American students' minds.

Hanes, a reporter on leave from the Baltimore Sun, has spent two years covering stories in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. During a presentation at each school Friday, April 27, she told students about one particular story of the environmental consequences of human conflict.

Three decades ago, Gorongosa National Park in the center of Mozambique was a booming tourist attraction, with 100,000 visitors annually and an influx of tourism dollars. Thirty years of civil war have since torn the park apart. Many battles took place inside the park. Almost 95 percent of the large animals are gone in a place that used to have the densest wildlife on the continent.

A few years ago, philanthropist Greg Carr pledged millions of dollars to help rebuild the park. Hanes' reporting has focused on what Carr's aid means to those living around the park and how it will affect their lives.

"It's definitely one of those things you wouldn't hear about in the mainstream media," said Molly Madden, a junior at St. Joseph's, a private, all-girls, Catholic school in Frontenac.

The story of the park's decline and subsequent new funding illustrates the intersection of human conflict and environmental impact, Hanes said, which can play out anywhere, including St. Louis.

Arthur Lieber of Civitas Associates, a non-profit organization with the goal of helping students connect world issues with what's going on in their own lives, has studied one such issue.

One mile northwest of St. Joseph's Academy, residents of a mobile home court in Frontenac off South Outer Forty Road have found themselves in court battles during the last several years. The city of Frontenac has twice tried, and failed, to force the owners to sell the land. The courts have ruled the mobile court had "grandfather status" because it existed before the city of Frontenac was incorporated.

Lieber said he sees a connection between the struggles of residents of the mobile home court and the villagers who depend on Gorongosa Park.

At MRH High, the discussion turned to issues of residents who were forced out of their homes when the new Wal-Mart was constructed in Maplewood and those who will be forced out in the next several months for the Hadley Township development in Richmond Heights. Lieber said about 187 homes and more than 400 people, about 75 percent of whom are African-American, will be forced out because of the development.

The 63-acre neighborhood is bordered by Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and Dale Avenue on the north, Laclede Station Road on the east, West Bruno Avenue on the south and Hanley Road on the west. The redevelopment is expected to include 50 acres of mixed-use development, including retail destinations and a small residential component.

Lieber said the buyout of current residents would change the composition of the student body at Maplewood-Richmond Heights, one of the few naturally racially integrated districts in the area.

"You see it at graduation when they play the slide show and some of your friends in the pictures aren't here anymore," said MRH history teacher Angelia Moore.

Moore said she thought it was important for students to learn about the Pulitzer Center and issues such as the story of Gorongosa National Park, "because these are things that are important to connect from global issues to local ones."

St. Joseph's history teacher Jane Garvin agreed.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to see what we can do beyond the classroom," Garvin said.

Whether the story is that of Gorongosa in Mozambique or that of St. Louis County residents who are bought out of their homes to make way for commercial development, Sawyer said it was important for students to recognize that human action has consequences.

"What seems stable and permanent may not be in 10 or 20 years if we don't start acting," Sawyer said.