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Combining Journalism and Public Policy to Tell Compelling Stories

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Combining Journalism and Public Policy to Tell Compelling Stories

As an award-winning producer for Vice News Tonight on HBO, alumna Karen Ye credits her ability to approach broadcast journalism from a unique perspective to her education with the School of Public Policy.

Ye started her graduate-level education by earning a Master of Professional Studies - Public Administration with SPP in 2014 and the following year she earned a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at UMD. She says her policy background helps set her apart from other journalists.

“I had a much stronger understanding of how the system works from my policy education,” Ye says. “We learned a lot about how public sectors and private sectors and the entire public administration is evolving and how they now have to collaborate a lot more than they did in the past. So when I look at an issue, I’m able to dig deep and think about things other journalists may not even think about.”

Some of her current work involves investigative journalism where she’s able to utilize her well-honed research, writing and analysis skills. “My job right now is to take a very complex issue and turn it into a story that’s easy enough to understand for the general public,” she says.

Earlier this year, a documentary produced by Ye won the Overseas Press Club of America’s David A. Andelman and Pamela Title Award for the “Best International Reporting in the Broadcast Media Showing a Concern for the Human Condition.” That documentary, “Year of the Dog: Inside the World’s Largest Human Migration,” focused on an intimate portrayal of a Chinese family and their experience as migrant workers who live apart from their children.

“'Year of the Dog' was one of the best shoots I’ve ever had since I started working here. It was a massive project,” Ye says. The story behind the documentary is the Chinese New Year migration. In China, many parents leave their village homes in rural China and go to coastal cities to work, she says. A lot of them can’t afford to take their children with them, so the grandparents raise their children in the villages. “The kids grow up with their grandparents and only get to see their parents once a year--that’s when the parents go home during the Chinese New Year.”

“In this story, I went to Shenzhen, China, which is thought to be the Silicon Valley in China. And this couple is from Sichuan province, my home province. I went there and spent about a week with them in the city,” Ye says. “We captured their daily lives of them going to work, coming home and then going to the train station to travel to their village. We also captured their reunion with their children and we spent time with them in the village.”

Ye says she developed a passion for helping others when she was in her junior year of college. “I started volunteering at the International Disaster Relief Center during my senior year and when I graduated they offered me a job,” she says. “I stayed for three more years. At the time, I thought that’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with nonprofits to do humanitarian work and that’s why I went into public policy.”

When she started her education at SPP, Ye got an internship working with CCTV (now called CGTN). “At the time, that was my first impression of how a documentary should be made,” she says. “I thought ‘I really need to know and learn how to tell stories like this and write like this. It would be great if I could be able to tell these stories. It would be so cool if I could produce these stories and share them with more people.’”

Studying nonprofits and public policy at SPP helped Ye develop her storytelling abilities. “I’m able to take a look at these policy issues and know there’s no absolute right or wrong--there’s no one solution,” she says. “I think a lot of that helped me see the world. Now when I look at stories I’m able to be more understanding. I’m able to be objective and make sure that I hear every side. I believe that everyone has a story to share when it comes to complex issues.”

Associate Dean Bill Powers was very influential during Ye’s journey through public policy and journalism. “He was really supportive of me going to journalism and he certainly played a big part in how I’m able to be where I am today,” she says. “I really love what I do. Public policy and journalism are a really good combination and I’m glad that I get to utilize my skills and have the best of both worlds.”

“I get to produce stories that are about very complex policy issues and I get to do them in the form of journalism to tell these stories of people in a personal narrative,” she adds. “I’m always asking questions of people who know more than I do on that specific topic, so I’m always learning.”

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