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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.

Just a few years ago, not to mention the decades before, journalists could only dream of the opportunities we now have to communicate across the world. We can have group video calls with people from virtually everywhere. For free. And instantly. Pure sci-fi, which as journalists you need to get used to and find ways to exploit to the full.

Previously, reporters in the field had to rely on expensive and often unreliable services like telex, enabling them to connect with their media outlets at home. If everything went well. Now it is perfectly possible to have a call with a Maasai herder while he is looking after his family’s cattle somewhere in southern Kenya. If you happen to have his cell phone number or if you are friends on social networks.

There is a whole new universe of contacts and communication opportunities  journalists need to master. Below are a few tips and suggestions to help you use these technologies to get local voices and first-hand testimonies into your stories.

Another approach to research is to undertake field research in your immediate surroundings – building networks with foreign communities in your neighbourhood at home, for instance – but we cover this in the Start local post.

  1. Start with local journalists and bloggers in the places you would like to cover. Open a local newspaper, using online translators if necessary, to get a sense of what authors and topics you are interested in. Bloggers are often a useful resource as in some countries they may be more independent and accurate than professional journalists in places where media agencies are government owned or controlled. (Check Did you check these media?). Compile a list of all those you find, following them on Facebook or Twitter so you can contact them for information or even collaboration. This is simpler than it sounds. In case of collaboration, think about how if possible you can remunerate them for their work, but in particular make sure you always give those people credit. It can help them more than you think and enrich their portfolios, too. Do bear in mind though that in some contexts, they may wish to remain anonymous or appear under a pseudonym due to security concerns – to protect their safety, be sure to check that they are comfortable being named before acknowledging their contribution.
  2. Look for relevant social media groups. There are plenty of social networks online that you can engage with. And you can look at them from two perspectives – either gathering people interested in migration (such as #MediaMigrationEurope) or groups of migrants themselves (for instance, migrants of the same origin residing in a certain country or city who use these forums to share their experience).
  3. Approach NGOs working directly on the issues you wish to cover. Organizations such as ReFocus Media Lab can connect you directly with media workers from local communities or refugee camps, thus providing you with unique content and inputs. As mentioned above, besides financial remuneration if possible, be sure to give them due credit (provided they have no security concerns about being named). Your work could help enhance their portfolios, too, and in the case of asylum seekers and refugees might help them in their future careers as they can put it on their CVs.
  4. Develop a network of ‘fixers’ or middle persons. Not everyone is able to collect contacts and build networks in, let’s say, refugee camps in different parts of the world. But there are people who can. These people – often activists, NGO workers, humanitarian professionals or others with strong local connections – can be invaluable in securing access to communities and individuals. Building up a database of well placed contacts will help you find respondents on the other side of the world in a matter of minutes or hours. (Check Do you know these people?).
  5. Don’t forget academics. It might sound surprising but yes, you can find human stories in an academic research environment, too. From sociologists to development studies experts, academics may be able to point you in the direction of important stories and even, within the limits of research ethics, pass on stories, interview materials and local contacts, as well as share their expert perspectives.
  6. Check out local media coverage. Let’s say you are covering the story of migrants from the Ivory Coast. Local media is a great place to start for stories and alternative perspectives. And what about if you don’t understand the language? Increasingly, online translators can do the job for you. They may not be perfect, but they give you a good picture. If necessary, you can always ask someone with the right language skills to help you.
  7. Think outside the box about who you can engage to contribute to your story. Do you want to cover the situation of Venezuelan refugees in Colombia? Find an organization or contact person, using the approaches described above, to say a few words or ‘fix’ you with someone directly involved. A search through local media or NGO networks can help guide you. And, for instance, invite them into your broadcast.
  8. Explore different sharing, community and hospitality websites. Remember Couchsurfing? This is just one example of an online forum that can enable you to develop contacts in a particular place. If you are a member of any of them, you can easily find possible respondents there to approach who can give you a better sense of the issues. Do bear in mind that they only represent one segment of the population: members of these sites are often relatively well off and from larger cities, with a certain understanding of the world.

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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.

4.3 : 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.

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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