Medill reporters celebrate #BourdainDay with video stories from Buenos Aires

Medill journalism graduate student Andrew Sweeney films boys playing soccer at sunset in a park in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Sally Ryan)
A reporting trip to Argentina results in stories inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s television work

By Craig Duff
Medill Journalism Professor

Every year, graduate journalism students at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University pause their regular studies for a mid-winter trip. In a program called Medill Explores, students spent a week in February visiting sites and networking in U.S. cities and practiced global reporting and experiential learning in locations like Tokyo, Johannesburg, San Juan and Buenos Aires.

When planning the Buenos Aires trip for our video journalism cohort, I wanted to find a way to jolt students into a more creative storytelling mode, to challenge them to think outside of the conventional broadcast reporting they were studying in their foundational courses. As I researched options, I re-watched the Buenos Aires episode of the Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown series on CNN. Bourdain’s death by his own hand last June was on the minds of many of us who were fans of his and the aesthetically rich series he hosted.

Miley Sun (L) and Valerie Chen record video in Buenos Aires for a Medill Explores class assignment. (Photo by Sally Ryan)

Parts Unknown found a way to discuss culture, politics and the reality on the ground by Bourdain breaking bread and chatting with real people at dinner tables around the globe. The writing had a unique voice; the production of the series was simply exquisite;  the cinematography often evoked an auteur’s vision (for the Buenos Aires episode, the look and feel was an homage to visionary Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together,” most of which takes place in the Argentinian capital).

My co-instructor, photographer Sally Ryan, and I urged students to think cinematically as they reported, seeking the most interesting people who could help us see the issues confronting Porteños (as the people of Buenos Aires are called) in vivid and lively ways. Much like the producers at Zero Point Zero — the team behind every Bourdain series since his first, A Cook’s Tour, in the early 2000s — sought to do in each episode of Parts Unknown. (To see a video about our student’s efforts click the video player above.)

Medill graduate journalism students Karleigh Stone (L) and Clara Lee produced a story about street art in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Sally Ryan)

With the help of a team of facilitators (the invaluable local producers we call fixers), a dozen students reported seven stories in Buenos Aires, ranging from the city’s professional dog walkers to the recent boom in craft breweries.

On Instagram, chefs José Andrés and Eric Ripert called on others to raise a class in celebration of their friend Anthony Bourdain today, June 25th, on what would have been his 63rd birthday.

Knowing that #BourdainDay was approaching, we have published four of our Bourdain-inspired stories from Buenos Aires here on Medill Reports this week.

Medill reporter Shuang Valerie Chen photographs while on assignment in Buenos Aires. She and reporting partner Miley Sun explored how Chinese immigrants developed markets and restaurants in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Sally Ryan)

Reporters Shannon Longworth and Nicole Croteau profiled twin sisters who have fought to play soccer, a sport dominated by men and boys in Argentina.

Tianqi Gou and Carolyn Chen met a female  Kung Fu master who has opened a Wushu school in Buenos Aires, helping second-generation Chinese Argentines find a connection to their parents’ culture.

Valerie Chen and Miley Sun enlisted fellow student Tianqi Gou to explore the food in Chinatown with local experts and restaurateurs.

And Clara Lee and Karleigh Stone met mural artists, whose canvases are the many buildings in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, where street art is warmly embraced.

Medill student Tianqi Gou shoots street life for his video assignment on Chinese culture in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Sally Ryan)

Each of these stories was reported and produced in the spirit of Bourdain, and the teams who helped him take audiences around the world — and sometimes to our own neighborhoods — to find common ground.

Photo at top: Medill journalism graduate student Andrew Sweeney films boys playing soccer at sunset in a park in Buenos Aires. (Photo credit: Sally Ryan)