Story and photos by Jonathan Bach ’16, who participated in the World Press Freedom Day events. For more information on the Crossings Institute, visit

Sergey Tomilenko, acting chairman of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, spoke on Russian and Ukrainian reporting during World Press Freedom Day.

Sergey Tomilenko, acting chairman of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, spoke on Russian and Ukrainian reporting during World Press Freedom Day.

How often do University of Oregon ducks get to fly to Finland? For five UO School of Journalism and Communications (SOJC) students, a recent trip to Scandinavia was no regular study-abroad trip. The group, which included student research fellows with the University of Oregon-UNESCO Crossings Institute, covered this year’s World Press Freedom Day events in Helsinki, Finland, May 2-4.

Based in Eugene, the Crossings Institute partners with UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — to cover issues of multiculturalism and conflict-sensitive journalism around the world. The Helsinki event marks the fifth World Press Freedom Day celebration the institute has covered, according to co-director Peter Laufer, who teaches reporting in the SOJC.

“As important as it is to study free expression in the classroom,” said Laufer, “the opportunity to interact with those who both fight for what we too often take for granted in this country and suffer for their principles is not replicable otherwise.”

Laufer guided five SOJC students — Emerson Malone, Franziska Monahan, Negina Pirzad, Scott Greenstone and Jonathan Bach — through daily assignment meetings. But for the most part, the students chose which events they would cover and whom they would interview.

Event topics over the three days ranged from a discussion on the challenges facing Russian and Ukrainian journalists reporting on the war in Ukraine to gender equality in the media. The student research fellows are also producing podcasts for the Crossings Institute website based on their reporting on the events.

For the students, the World Press Freedom Day events were eye-opening.

WPFD image

Khadija Ismayilova’s mother accepted the Cano Press Award on her daughter’s behalf during World Press Freedom Day. An Azerbaijan investigative reporter, Ismayilova was recently sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison for her work.

Pirzad met one of her role models, Christiane Amanpour, CNN Anchor and Chief International Correspondent, before a panel discussion and took a picture with the lauded  CNN correspondent, who was there as a moderator.

“I knew I wanted to find her and talk to her somehow,” said Pirzad. “She’s my idol.”

Monahan, a junior studying journalism, had never been to the World Press Freedom Day events. She knew she was a representative not only of the SOJC, but of the United States as a country.

One speaker noted that not many journalists from major American media outlets attended. “But we were there,” said Monahan.

Malone, in contrast, was no stranger to travelling overseas with the Crossings Institute. Last year, he covered World Press Freedom Day across the Baltic Sea from Finland in Riga, Latvia.

On the recently released World Press Freedom index from Reporters Without Borders, Finland ranks No. 1, the best on the list, whereas Latvia ranks No. 24. (The United States comes in 41st place on the survey of 180 countries.) The 2016 World Press Freedom Day events were held in Finland in part because of its high ranking on the index.

Of the ties between the United Nations agency and the UO, Laufer said, “Our Duck presence in the midst of one of UNESCO’s premiere annual events continues to foster our close institutional relationships.”