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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.