The Class of 2020: (Clockwise from top left) Ahmad Noorani of Pakistan, Daniela Castro of Colombia, Abhishek Waghmare of India, Khatia Shamanauri of Georgia, Bilge Kotan of Turkey and Illia Ponomarenko of Ukraine Hillary Tan/Missourian

Alfred Friendly Press Partners suspended its fellowship program after the initial training period at the Missouri School of Journalism because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two members of the fellowship class of 2020 returning to their home countries on March 28-30, and three of the investigative reporters remained in Columbia for extended training until travel bans were lifted.

One fellow, who is on a three-month fellowship sponsored by Scholars At Risk, will remain in Columbia to develop his digital news outlet and work at Missouri news outlets.

Under ordinary circumstances, the Friendly Fellows work as reporters at major U.S. news outlets for five months immediately after their training at the Journalism School ends in early April.

The six Fellows are from Pakistan, India, Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey and Colombia. 

“The coronavirus pandemic shows again that our societies are global in every respect,” said Jonathan Friendly, chairman of Alfred Friendly’s board. ”The need for reliable information about the pandemic underlines the importance of having reporters from around the world be able to get the specialized training they need, which is exactly why the Friendly program exists. 

“I am heartbroken that we have had to interrupt training for our most recent class and grateful that the University of Missouri journalism faculty stepped up to give them extra help in the time that was possible this year,” Friendly said.  

Friendly Fellow Katia Shamanauri had her lunch at the empty Missouri School of Journalism cafeteria shortly before the university closed all of its buildings.
Photo by Bilge Kotan

The Fellows arrived in the United States on March 12, the day before the Trump administration’s ban on incoming flights went into effect.

The usual culture shock felt by journalists coming to the U.S. for the first time was exacerbated by the swift spread of the virus. The University of Missouri moved to online classes during the fellows’ first week on campus, so they started receiving their training from the School’s professional practice faculty — usually hands-on sessions — in their apartments via Zoom.

Bilge Kotan asks Professor Brian Kratzer, photo editor at the Columbia Missourian, a question during his Zoom session about best practices for shooting and editing photos.

Columbia began enforcing a four-week stay-at-home order beginning Wednesday, but the cities where the fellow were going, including New York and Los Angeles, faced worsening outbreaks. The host newsrooms, including NBC News, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today, closed to all but essential workers, and reporters and editors began working exclusively from their homes.

That eliminated the opportunity for the usual newsroom mentoring and face-to-face guidance that fellows ordinarily receive during internships.

The nonprofit organization was formed in 1984 and has trained 336 journalists from 82 countries and placed them in nearly 70 different newsrooms. This is the first time the fellowship has been suspended.