“How can you change the audience’s perception?”

This was a question a freelance journalist Danielle Batist brought to us at the workshop of One World Media on “International Reporting”

 She explained mental and technical processes which journalists should take when reporting the issue of and in developing countries. There were tips and advices to keep in mind, both imaginable and unexpected to me. I, myself, am not ready to take action like her, but thought it would be good to share what I learned in the workshop.  I respect those journalists with passion and ability to establish their own path and build own career.

Practicalities of going overseas

Careful investigation of the area you are planning to cover is essential. At the same time, thinking deeply about what you want to get from that journey and why it really matters, are the musts.

Here are the lists of things to be concerned before planning a journey

  • Contacts of someone who knows the matter or is capable of taking you to the field, such as local journalist who speak their languages or NGOs as the access points
  • Permission of people to interview and places for shooting (Better not expect you find everything on the spot, prepare something as much as you can before travel)
  • VISA, medical vaccination, maps and logistics information, insurance and exit strategy., paper materials and printed copy of anything you may need in the field
  • A letter with stamp (anything looks official, developing countries are usually paper document society)
  • Allow extra days to cover up things to do for the article/video (Don’t’ cram plans or make super short visits)
  • Accommodation and budgets (Don’t expect everything will be cheap, the locals may set irrational price)
  • Proper weather idea and extra jacket or water-proof items

These above are more of materialistic preparations. But you also should need to…

  • Reflect yourself “Is this the story you are looking for?”
  • Review archives of similar stories. If your coverage is something already done or very similar, it may not get much attention regardless of your hard work. On the other hand, you may get some clue from archives.

What you need when on the ground?

  • Equipment (local mobile phone or check if your phone works, IC recorder, extra battery, voltage- converter in some country)
  • Transport (hire a driver is the safest option)
  • Back-up of any record you take for the work (try to do it regularly on the journey)
  • Research on the ground and general knowledge of the area (a couple of weeks are needed to get the sense of the country. Allow at least several days to settle down)
  • Food and drinks (purifying tablet for water or bottle with filter, cereal bar saves your life, choose to eat something deep fried and avoid raw salad, local brewed mysterious beer etc)
  • Small gifts sometimes help your research (don’t give money, be transparent)

There may be risks on interviewee because the status of “journalists” in some area will be different from what most of the Western country expect. They can be considered as government officials or spy. If the story is covering a big matter, it may put interviewee in tough situation and criticism from society. If necessary, change names of interviewee, hide or blur face, or don’t shoot face, use different shots, and don’t mention location.

Consent forms may not be influential to locals who are illiterate and only understands their local language. It may be more the matter of personal understanding, than paper work

Also,

  • Make effort to explain where you are from, what you do, who you work with.
  • Story protection and source protection are different (copy right, privacy and security)
  • Think whether you are the right person to broadcast this (impact of the story as well as the impact toward locals)
  • Events, religions, rituals, customs in the area may limit your research and practices (you may need to get through their procedures before entering in the village or admitted to be in)
  • Alcohol, shaking hands, wear certain clothes may give bad impression to locals
  • Think about the crew, groups you stick with (they may not get along well)
  • When offered food or water in the local villages, try not to have it while also not hurt their feelings (though it is difficult)
  • Have contact of the village elder, leader, opinion leader, area chief

Backup plan

What do you do when you fail in the project? It is better to find alternative plan on the ground or find another target. Try to have several similar ideas, and see if the person or organization you write for is OK with it.

Safety and other challenges

There will be sensitivities and concerns such as…

  • You don’t always know where you are going, especially at night
  • Being alone may lead to violent crimes and gender discrimination. Or your stuff and money might be stolen. Stay with locals who you can trust and know the place.
  • Be aware of driving condition and road accidents (road accident kills more people than malarias)
  • Illness and weather conditions (floods etc may make you stuck for several days)

Not just yourself but the viability of media production can be threatened by…

  • Police involvement (surveillance of the content, camera can be taken away)
  • Personal background, characteristic of interviewee (the person may not be trustworthy, can lie, or not even be the person who you are aiming to interview) Be careful when using the word “first, best, and the last”
  • Being stopped and prohibited to cover the story
  • People may try to be helpful, and can end up being disturbance
  • International relationship, who you are working for, how do they perceive “western journalist”?
  • Sometimes, how locals perceive us may not be the same as what we think they perceive us
  • Where do you draw line (as a freelance journalist)? Ideology beyond employee may be risky
  • Boundary journalism is being scrambled now (ex. Filming in Kenya and expecting American audience as the target does not mean Kenyans won’t have access to the film, be considerate and careful on your production)
  • Most local people and interviewee don’t know the effect of being on TV, so it is your responsibility.

There will be a dilemma of choosing whether you emphasize the voice of locals or your employer’s intention of how the coverage to be. The ideology of locals and employers in the Global North not always share the same opinion. Then, you may try to create alternative coverage story that both reflects the local voice and still may match the requirement. But if the reality says no, you still need to stick with the original plan as freelancers need funding for living, says Danielle.

Ethical issues

What would you do when facing ethical concern while reporting?

・Ignore—there is a bigger story to tell…?

・Report—but not intervene too much?

・Find help—and potentially report on this?

There will be hundreds of answers but none of them are the “absolute.”

  • Be part of the story and lose your position? Tell the story superficially or get in for more stories?
  • Reflect “what is your role?” not an aid worker. Convince yourself that the way you help is to bring story.
  • Ask yourself “Are you actually skilled to help a child in front?”
  • Use your connection to help them, if possible
  • Take the risk, sometimes walking away is tougher
  • What you do as “help” may not be the best, or not even help others
  • When asking question, interview as well, be aware of vulnerability of interviewee

Engaging the audience

How will you engage the audience with story?

  • Story is person, country, space that narrows down the perception of issue. One story can reflect many issues surrounding the particular area (such as conflict, bombing, child labour…)
  • Narrative brings closeness, puts the audience in the story, link “us” and “them.”
  • Sometimes, there is no need for narratives but camera work tells the story
  • Changing the object/ perspective/ focus of your story will make the story interesting too. (represent something from the other side)
  • Humour is a spice too.
  • African women in 20s story can be sold to women in 20s magazine in western countries
  • Juxtaposition of “look I will show you the other side” is a typical, popular approach to draw more viewers to the issue in the first place. But it has been used a lot too.

Speaking of the technical side, consider these below

  • Different techniques can be used in news format and documentary format
  • Charity press may use simplistic ways of explaining the relationship, lacks in complexity
  • Dabbing ‘eliminates’ the real voice and conceals the meaning of local voice
  • There is complication in subtitles when summary is needed, but it is possible
  • You can write several stories from your information and research by grouping them. Then few pieces can be composed for one media and some for the other. Always make the most out of research and visit.
  • It is always best to have and keep your copyright.

The more information and news becomes available and affordable to everyone, people are more likely to consume news and reports like “fast-foods.” Then how journalists fight against when most of their audiences may not be so interested in complicated, deep stories with background? Danielle believes that “Hunger for good story” is still there. There is still need for documentary, and target-matching is important. Social media can also play the role of connecting the audience in interest to the news.