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4.3 : Changing your approach to desk-based research.

There are a few preliminary steps you can take to begin with if you would like to enrich your desk-based coverage: starting with some broad research to give you an overview, compiling further resources to follow up, changing your routine a little and considering the criteria you want to select news coverage from agencies and other sources.

There are a few basic steps you can begin with if you would like to enrich your coverage. Starting with wider research to get an overview of the subject, compiling resources to inspire and inform your perspective and, most importantly of all, thinking about how to incorporate some changes into your routine. You should also give some proper thought to the criteria you use to select news from different agencies – which sources you can rely on and which you should try to avoid:

  1. Start with wider research to get a sense of what is actually possible. Make a list of specialized media resources (such as New Humanitarian, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Solutions Tracker, Positive News and many others) to follow on social media or sign up to their regular newsletters (check Did you check these media? section of this website).

    Scan through the stories they publish, look for the themes and topics they explore, identify perspectives and angles they use, what types of voices they include and how they narrate the story. Anna Jacková, Slovak journalists, describes her approach to this. She says she use to focus specifically on articles which are similar to her story, considering it “a way I can get new tips and approaches, new sources.”

    All these observations, if done systematically from your perspective as a journalist, not just a viewer/listener/reader, can be instructive and inspiring at the same time.
  2. Make your own list of media and expert resources to follow – but think creatively when doing so. Remember, you want to enrich your work by drawing on fresh and varied content that nobody else has covered.

    At the beginning, follow those media sources you have been subscribing to and add resources from international institutions (for example, IOM´s website on missing migrants and similar platforms), specialized media, NGOs (Mixed Migration Centre has a particularly useful web resource), think-tanks, universities and academic institutions (check Did you check these websites?)

    You can aim to follow them systematically: it isn’t too time consuming, especially once you’ve incorporated it into your routine (see the next step). But at the same time, cancel newsletters and updates if after several times it’s clear they won’t give you any benefit to save yourself time and inbox space.
  3. Consciously change your routine – and make it simple. For instance, you can make a conscious decision that while covering the top large macro stories, you will always include a certain amount of smaller micro or mezzo stories taking place in less prominent settings – or, even better, in marginalized contexts on the periphery of mainstream media interest.

    This change in approach should not make your work harder, but it will certainly be richer – a win-win for everybody, but especially your audience. And that is what counts.

    All that is required is a little out-of-the-box thinking, and accepting the fact that also information on less prominent or even neglected issues is worth covering in order to bring a more complex picture of the world to your audience. And enrich your portfolio.

    The next two points can help you to do that more easily.
  4. A significant portion of media-disseminated information on migration and development consists of agency news. It is not surprising that journalists sometimes pad out their coverage with generic new stories on these issues.

    The question then is how do you move beyond the stories presented in the mainstream agency platforms? Follow the criteria mentioned above, and look also for information from less prominent parts of the world and underreported issues.

    For example, imagine you wanted to produce something on the global impact of COVID-19. Rather than focus on the same countries again and again, try elsewhere instead: perhaps Malawi, or Papua, or the Falklands. And the angle? You could try to look at it through the eyes of those most invisible in the story (see post on processing and/or chapters on ethics), if possible. What are the experiences of migrants living in this country? How are members of a particular minority being affected?

    Or look for something totally different – some less prominent country or region that has managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic, like Bali. At the same time, try to avoid sensationalism or focusing too much on issues such as criminality (keep an eye on the proportionality of coverage of these and that issues).

    There are, of course, fundamental issues with the quality of certain news agencies. Many do not offer a very wide picture of the world – consciously or not, they have their own gatekeeping processes that ensure only a fraction of the complex reality of world events is reflected in this coverage. The final point below can help you to address this challenge, too.
  5. Identify which media outlets offer diverse and engaging content that is available for free reuse (for example, Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Conversation – check Did you check these media?). These agencies often present high quality journalistic content on underreported stories around the world. Unfortunately they are available almost exclusively in English, so translation is very often needed. This is one way to curate valuable content without skyrocketing expenses.

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4.1 : As opportunities to travel shrink, opportunities to communicate across the world have improved rapidly.

While the opportunities for media houses to send journalists abroad have been shrinking, the ability of journalists to cover issues taking place on the other side of the world have been greatly increased thanks to recent advances in communication technologies. In fact, most coverage on global issues is now done from behind a desk. Fortunately, it is possible to produce high quality coverage on global issues, including migration, from this setting. All it requires is a fresh approach and a shift in perspective.

4.2 : Is a desk-based approach to global journalism possible?

Media outlets must cover landmark events and issues. But at the same time they have the opportunity to do something more, to offer the audience a deeper and more diverse picture of the reality around us, even without being on the ground. And journalists, by following this approach, can enrich their portfolios with unique and groundbreaking stories.

4.4 : Collecting findings from behind a table: tips and suggestions.

In the old days, reporters had to rely on expensive and unreliable communication services to develop their stories. Nowadays, journalists have a universe of new technologies to communicate across the world – reliably, instantly and for free (or almost). This is the ‘new normal’ for news coverage and journalists have to adapt to make the most of these new opportunities.

4.5 : Balance and analysis.

Covering culturally and geographically distant contexts brings a variety of challenges. How do you achieve the right balance? How can you feed it into the bigger picture? How do you avoid the dangers of depoliticization and other common pitfalls of Western coverage of the global south? How can you analyse a subject you are not yourself an expert in? And can you make these unfamiliar contexts relevant and accessible for your audience? Fortunately, there are tools which can help.

4.6 : Before you start.

Planning is the essence of good coverage. Before you go anywhere or start your work, define precisely what you are interested in. Then do the research – find out what is already known about the topic. Do not forget additional, contextual information while doing so. Write down from where and from whom you could get information, and how could you use it. And finally, categorize your sources – from those simple to obtain to others more difficult to reach – and begin with the latter.

4.7 : Giving your story a hook.

A hook is a technique to make your story engaging, going beyond the ‘five Ws’ of journalism: who, what, when, where and why. Put simply, it answers the question ‘So what?’. Another perspective relates to narrative technique to open your story to hook attention in order to keep reading/watching/listening. Here we deal with the former one. These can be, for example, various events or reports.

4.8 : Making entry into a community.

It is important to get voices of people whom the issue you cover somehow relates to. Therefore, it is important to enter the community itself when covering migration and/or development issues. Find tips and suggestions how to do that.

4.9 : Pitching stories to editors.

When you are attempting to challenge the dominant discourse, persuading media outlets to commission your stories can be more difficult. A good pitch could help. Journalists use pitches to persuade editors that their suggested topics are worth covering.

4.10 : Live reporting.

Being in the field is a unique opportunity to bring something special – such as live reporting. Find inspiration about what you can do and how to do it.

4.11 : On the ground.

You are in the field – with all the challenges that brings. How can you proceed to find valuable content? Leave enough time to be able to distance yourself and gain perspective. Do not overestimate your memory and don’t forget about accompanying visual materials. And be flexible!

4.12 : Stories through the concept of nonuniform modernization(s).

As journalists, you will often encounter stories taking place in unknown environments, in culturally unfamiliar or geographically distant contexts. In these cases, it is often useful to use an analytical tool to grasp the topic in a structured way. One useful approach is the concept of nonuniform modernization.

4.13 : Dilemmas in the field.

Fieldwork brings a variety of challenges and even dilemmas for journalists. Some common examples of these are covered here. They include cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, local representatives, community members themselves and fixers.

4.14 : Working with your fixer.

One of the ways to overcome the challenges journalists face in unknown contexts is to cooperate with a fixer who will be able to fill you in on the background and help you access the stories you need. There are websites such as www.worldfixer.com or www.hostwriter.org where you can find more information. Another option is to engage with groups on social media and ask other journalists for advice.

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