Steven Decraene

Steven De Craene is a news journalist for the public broadcaster VRT. Most of the time he covers breaking news. Whatever happens in the world he gets dispatched and reports on it. “I strongly recommend the embassy’s IVLP program”, Steven says “it's a unique way of getting to know the different aspects of the American way of life. You get “all areas” access.” A lot of people in Belgium think that the United States is one country united, but in fact, there’s such a variety. It's an entire continent!

About Steven “I’ve almost become an ambassador of the United States.”

I was invited by the State Department to participate in an International Visitors Leadership Program. I visited five different cities in the United States and covered a wide variety of topics. I met a lot of people, journalists, politicians but also your regular Joe Sixpack in the street. It was very interesting to see how the American political system works but at the same time experience everyday life.

I strongly recommend the embassy’s IVLP program because it’s a unique way of getting to know a lot of aspects of the American way of life. You get “all areas” access. You get to know so much more about the State Department. I visited different newsrooms. We had a tour behind the scenes in the U.S. Capitol. It was a once-in-a-lifetime!

The good thing about the IVLP program was that I got to meet a lot of Americans on different levels. I got a whole new view of the United States. In five weeks I went from Chicago to Cleveland, from Cleveland to Dallas and from Dallas to Washington and then Salt Lake City. So I encountered a wide variety of people.

Everybody can become an American but what does it mean?

A lot of people in Belgium think that the United States is one country united, but in fact, there’s such a variety. It’s an entire continent! There are different states with different laws. People from Texas are very different from people in the Midwest, just like people on the East Coast differ from those on the West Coast. It was very interesting to see how all those people have one common sense of being American, but on the other hand, they still keep their own identity or a particular way of life.

Everybody can become an American but once you’re American what does it mean to stay an American. Will you remain open-minded or will you become very nationalistic? 

I hope to still be a journalist in the years to come. Journalism is changing. I hope we can thrive in a climate where there is more trust. Sometimes I think it’s good that there’s a lot of fake news around on social media because our job as journalists gets more valuable because of it.

I hope that we can still do our job. That people will be more trustworthy, and appreciative of what we are doing. I’m hoping for a climate that is less violent.

Journalism is part of my DNA. I’m always curious and no matter what I will do in the future I will stay hungry for information and news.  That’s something that keeps me going. I just hope that journalism remains a way to earn a living because there’s a lot of free information out there. You need professionals to guide you through the massive information overloads, and so I hope people will still be interested in paying other people like me to find out what is newsworthy.

As a journalist, I like to be a reasonable voice. It’s sometimes easy to go for the big headlines and “the entertainment value”. I would like to be recognized as a trustworthy journalist so people feel confident in putting their trust in you. At the end of your career, it doesn’t matter how many trophies or awards you’ve won, but whether you can still look at yourself in the mirror and realize you’ve done a good job.

I reported on some of the Brussels terror attacks. They were horrible!  I also visited some conflict areas in Afghanistan, and in Libya, but despite the circumstances, I still saw people trying to make the most of it. As a reporter you cannot only report on the negative things, you also have an obligation to report on the positive, and put everything into context. It’s not only about the headline itself. Read the headline but also show an interest in the context surrounding it.

Journalism is part of my DNA.

I consider myself a typical Belgian which means I have multiple identities. We live in one country called Belgium but at the same time, we are all part of one of four language groups. I’m Dutch speaking, but I work in Brussels which is officially a bilingual city and on the other hand, we are also all Europeans. On a geopolitical scale Belgium’s very small, almost insignificant but as European we count so we tend to have a lot of identities.

Because I travel a lot, I feel like I’ve become a citizen of the world. Perhaps a bit of a controversial statement nowadays because of the ongoing discussions between the liberal cosmopolitan and then the nationalistic. In meeting people from all around the world I realize most all want the same, a good laugh, and to get along with each other.

I’ve almost become an ambassador of the United States here in Belgium, and at the news desk in particular. When people think about the U.S. they usually have New York or Hollywood in mind, or they’re thinking about the president. I have to tell them:  “Well the United States is just so much more than those three identities.” I’m like an investment agent who has to sell this idea that there’s so much more to the U.S. than those preconceived stereotype ideas. You should compare it more to Europe.

The same way people from Spain differ from the Polish, the people from the Midwest differ from those of the West Coast. All Americans have the American flag they can rally behind. The second thing I learned is that no matter where you are you will always find something in common.

What I like a lot about Americans is their optimism. You can learn from past mistakes but you have to prepare for the future and make plans for new things. That’s something the Americans have way more than us Europeans. We tend to look back at the past and think about what went wrong. Americans look to the future and wait to see what needs adjusting to make it even better.

“No matter what I will do in the future I will stay hungry for information.”

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