Carolyn Robinson, '87
When Kent State launched its Florence program in the 1980s, its start also marked the beginning of Carolyn Robinson’s journalism career that would take her around the world.
She jumped at the opportunity to go to Italy, and took an independent study course to explore her interest in documentary work. But despite letters and phone calls, one month into the program, she had not found any documentary production houses shooting in Italy.
“Spring break was coming up and I started getting worried because I didn’t have any material,” Robinson said. “So I decided I’d try to ﬁnd something I could actually get my hands on: American TV news bureaus.”
On her spring break, Robinson went to London and met with ABC, NBC and CNN bureau chiefs and wrote a paper about how American TV news bureaus operate overseas. She followed her interviews with thank-you notes and asked the bureaus to contact her if they had any internships.
That spring break trip led to time with CBS in Rome and ABC News in London, where she interned on Good Morning America.
“By the time I left Kent I was in really good shape,” Robinson said. “I went almost directly to CNN Atlanta. They really liked my international experience and I had met the CNN bureau chiefs in Rome and London, so they were able to recommend me in a small way.”
Her work as a journalist led to international experience from Hong Kong to the Middle East. She trained journalists in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq as part of the Knight International Journalism Fellowships.
“It was remarkable to be there,” Robinson said. “I think of the Syrian journalists I worked with all the time and wonder how they are, if they’re still alive. It was quite an experience and I think we accomplished a lot.”
Robinson also spent time in East Timor as head of the United Nations’ local TV station. The country had gone through an occupation by Indonesia and voted for their independence and the United Nations sponsored a program to help East Timor rebuild.
“It was absolutely amazing to watch a country put itself together,” Robinson said. “The reporters I worked with were astonishing and worked under conditions we wouldn’t tolerate in a developed economy. They were very passionate about what they were doing and it was all so inspiring.”
She also spent several months in Libya with a team helping put the country back together after the government was overthrown and leader Muammar Gadhaﬁ was killed.
“We were supposed to train journalists... in six months because they never had them before. It was never a free country,” Robinson said. “I can’t say how much we were able to accomplish. That country still isn’t a good place, but we tried our best.”
Robinson’s international experience has not only framed her career but also her appreciation of living in the United States.
“When you’re overseas, people want to know what America is like and you’re like an unoﬃcial ambassador,” she said. “It’s made me understand my own country in a way that I wouldn’t have if I (had) never left.”
When Robinson made her way back to the United States, she spent a year teaching at Washington State University and also produced daily talk shows for Al Jazeera.
Most recently, her career has focused around the Solutions Journalism Network, for which she serves as region director.
“Journalists sometimes think that you have to talk about problems to be a serious journalist and if you include anything else you’re talking about ﬂuﬀ,” she said. “But no, it’s simply investigating solutions. What’s working? How well is it working? Could it work in other places?”
In the past four years, she has worked for the Solutions Journalism Network in more than 200 newsrooms in the United States. She teaches the basics of Solutions Journalism, helps to develop Solutions projects, and creates a playbook for newsrooms to reference.
Solutions Journalism concepts are also beginning to be taught internationally.
“It’s the most transformational thing I could think of to do in journalism right now,” Robinson said.
Sue Zake, a journalism professor and newsroom adviser at Kent State, met Robinson at a workshop sponsored by Solutions Journalism. She has since welcomed Robinson into her classroom as a guest lecturer and recruited her for other student-centered events at Kent State.
“Carolyn’s career track is amazing, particularly her work overseas in Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” Zake said. “Now, as one of Solutions Journalism Network’s regional directors, she is intent on giving back to students and sharing her experiences.”