Chair Motivates Journalism Students in Bhutan

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Monday, January 27, 2020
Rachele Kanigel ('83). Photo courtesy of Kanigel

By Catherine Stites ('20)

Professor Rachele Kanigel spent 10 weeks teaching in Bhutan last summer as a Fulbright specialist with the goal of helping to train the first generation of journalists in the young Himalayan democracy.

“Bhutan really needs young journalists to develop good journalistic practices and to develop their voice -- the voice of the country,” Kanigel said.

Kanigel helped kick off Royal Thimphu College’s first mass communications bachelor's program. Her objectives were to help the faculty, give feedback on the program and work with students.

“Bhutan is a really fascinating place,” Kanigel said. “The population of the country is smaller than the population of San Francisco.”

It didn’t have television or internet until 1999, when the king finally made these forms of electronic media legal. “For many years the only newspaper was a state-owned newspaper called Kuensel,” Kanigel said.

While there, she taught three classes: a mass communications theory class, an introduction to reporting class, and a workshop to help start a student newspaper.

“She is the one who motivated me to step out of my shyness and to try things out,” student Ugyen Wangmo said in an email.

Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2006. Kanigel said that during the transition from a monarchy into this new government, the king wanted to introduce private media to educate people about their rights and the issues so they could become informed voters. At its peak, the country had 12 newspapers.

“There was this kind of flowering of media,” said Kanigel. But in the past five years, many of these media outlets have struggled to find sustainable business models. “One of [the newspapers] folded while I was there, and now they have just five newspapers,” Kanigel said.

Students in Bhutan seemed to be less stressed than SF State students. “Most of them aren’t juggling a lot of other responsibilities so they can focus on school,” Kanigel said.

It was also hard for Kanigel to get them to talk in class because they are very quiet. “But once they open up, they are really delightful,” she said.