2018-08-16 / Front Page

Serbian Journalism Student Gets Real

By James Merolla

Igor Ispanovic Igor Ispanovic Igor Ispanovic knows all about “fake news.” The 21-year-old Serbian college student and aspiring journalist has lived his entire life under a regime that controls virtually everything, from the truth and freedom of the press to even reasons for smiling

“Everyone seems so happy [in the U.S.], so polite. When you go to a grocery store in Serbia, no one smiles at you,” he said. “Everyone here says, ‘Sorry, and thank you.’ I’m not used to that.” No one in Serbia asks how you are. It’s the small things that make the society click. That’s the biggest difference between Serbia and the U.S.”

But it is the so-called fake news that drew Igor to journalism. He has been in Newport since late May as part of a work and travel program at his school.

In October, he will start his third year as a journalism student at The Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, the capital city of a region called Vojvodina. He began the program studying America’s newspaper giants like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, and what most feel was the launch of true national investigative reporting, Richard Nixon and Watergate.

21-year-old Serbian journalism student, Igor Ispanovic, in Newport this summer as part of the international J-1 Visa program. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) 21-year-old Serbian journalism student, Igor Ispanovic, in Newport this summer as part of the international J-1 Visa program. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) “To be honest, I didn’t pay as much attention to the American press before [President Donald] Trump, but when the fake news things erupted, all of a sudden my professors and colleagues started to pay attention,” he said. “We have fake news, too, what the government allows.”

Government controls everything, he said. If you grab a microphone and expose corruption, “You won’t get the response you are looking for. People are afraid and they become indifferent of what’s around them. There is a saying in Serbia, ‘Shush! It could get worse.’”

Though he briefly shadowed editors and reporters at Newport This Week to get a handle on a small-town publication, his stay also includes working up to 80 hours per week, housekeeping at the New York Yacht Club and busing tables in the dining room, and a second job at the Surf Club, where he also buses and is a bar back on weekends.

“I plan to pay my parents back,” he said. “They paid $3,000 for me to come here.”

He will be in Newport, which is an extension of his college classwork, through Sept. 6.

He has four writing assignments to complete in the U.S., including covering an event. “I went to an Arctic Monkeys concert in Boston, my favorite band,” he said.

He also has to conduct interviews and write a story, and has chosen to focus on newspapers and journalism in the U.S. He has a five-day internship at a local Serbian paper for a final exam.

“I tried to leave Serbia without expectations, because I didn’t want to be disappointed in the end,” he said. “People are always talking about ‘The American Dream, this, The American Dream that.”

When not working, he immerses himself in the culture, the bay, the state and the region, then returns to a house where he lives with fellow Serbians. He received his J1 visa only after intense preparation, many interviews here and abroad, and through the luck of a lottery.

Since coming to the U.S., he said he now wants to become a journalist more than ever.

“It gives reason and sense to the world. Journalism is where the world gets the meaning,” he said. “You have to be knowledgeable and opinionated, but not in a way that hurts people. Your main task is to help the audience to understand what is happening around them and show them the reality for what it is.

“You also have a lot of power. The words you use can move and motivate people. Finally, I just wanted to make a change, especially in Serbia, where the state of journalism is far from even being decent. I want to stir the ocean and create a wave.”

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