Archive for the ‘International freelancing’ Category


Freelance Journalists: Team Up!

I grew up without a tv at home. Instead, I read newspapers and I created scrapbooks full of articles. My interests were broad: royal families, wars, and American elections. The scrapbooks piled up, barely being touched because there was always new news. Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

This time last year I moved to Istanbul, where I got the opportunity to start to work as a freelance journalist for the Dutch financial daily. I finally had the chance to make my dream come true. An extra bonus was being in my favorite city. I was full of energy and the first months went very smoothly. There was a referendum to report on. There was news, always. (And there was great Turkish food, always.)

Soon I woke up from the dream. I landed with both feet on the ground. I was frustrated with my progress. I got fed up with bureaucratic paperwork. I didn’t seem to find a good tone of voice towards my editors. I wasn’t enjoying creating new stories.

Starting to cover the financial beat without having experience as a financial reporter in Turkey was not easy. And that’s an understatement. Although I was educated to be a journalist and worked in one of the Dutch journalism schools for five years, I felt I had to start from scratch. I had to knock, no I had to burn the dust off my pen.

Last October I started to write this blog. By then I was hoping to write a very positive story about my booming journalism career in Turkey. But while there was a huge news flow around me, I was fighting my own battles. In my former job at the university, I got used to intensive teamwork. I was always surrounded by a new generation of enthusiastic young future journalists and motivated colleagues. There was never a day that I would work on my own. There were always calls, messages, emails. Now it was silent.

But in that silence, I found my own voice. ‘Don’t compare, do it your own way’. I kept telling myself.

I reached out to the Coalition for Women in Journalism and I was impressed by their hands-on mentality. Within a week I found myself having coffee with one of the founders of the Coalition. She encouraged me to not only focus on stories that editors want, but also on the stories that I wanted to make. “Don’t become a robot”, she told me. “At the end of the day, producing a lot of stories will not make you happy.” By focusing on research articles, while keeping a solid beat in reporting news stories, I re-found my passion for journalism.

Mentorship became a crucial part of my journalism career. Especially as a freelancer, it’s good to be held accountable. Not only by your editors and the public but by a mentor who keeps an eye on your progress. Also, a mentor is able to see your qualities even when you have a blurred vision. “Focus on developing your skills. Your brain will be happy when you work hard”, she encouraged me. Now, four months, and many motivational speeches later, I find myself in a better place. I established a routine, although it’s still a daily challenge because you can’t schedule journalism.

When I worked as a lecturer, I used to tell my students that, if they were talented, worked hard and had a solid network, they would succeed. I now learned that I should replace ‘talented’ with ‘being passioned’. Because passion, not talent, comes naturally. It comes from within. Talent comes from hard work, from putting an alarm in the morning and not snooze your way through the day. From keeping deadlines and promises. ‘Nothing will work unless you do’ became one of my favorite quotes of Maya Angelou.

Being a freelance journalist will not allow you to slow down. To keep you sane, you need to establish strong teams around you. At home. Local and international journalists. Family and friends. Former colleagues. These teams not only support me but moreover, they keep me balanced. The Coalition for Women in Journalism became important to me as a female journalist: I feel part of a team, even though we are scattered all over the world.

‘Ah, you’re still here’ is usually the first response of my male Dutch colleagues when they see me in Istanbul. Yes, I’m still here. And I’m here to stay. Because, although the scrapbook got replaced by screenshots, my passion for journalism is more alive than ever.

Ans Boersma is a freelance journalist, based in Istanbul. She mainly works as Turkey correspondent for Het Financieele Dagblad, the Dutch financial daily. She previously worked as a journalism lecturer at Ede University (the Netherlands). With a background in cultural anthropology, she gave courses about intercultural communication, media and diversity and international journalism. She is a member of the Coalition for Women in Journalism. You can follow her on Twitter to stay updated with her work.

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I Want to See Equality in Photojournalism, so I Hire Women

As a journalist, I often cover topics related to gender equality, but it is only recently that I’ve discovered the power of using my budget and my editorial relationships to get more women hired. As I’ve become more comfortable and confident negotiating with editors, rather than simply accepting assignments as editors propose them – I negotiate. But I’m not talking about negotiating rates for myself, which is a given. For example, if an editor accepts a pitch of mine and provides a rate, I will immediately propose that a woman photographer to join my team, provide links to her work, and ask for a photography budget. I have a long-term love affair with photography, and I am continually enraged to see how few women photographers are represented at major media outlets – 15% to be exact.

This year I decided to channel my anger into making a change in my own projects. Early in my career, I was too afraid of editors and too desperate for money to ask them for anything. But what I have realized is that often if I can make a convincing argument, editors do have flexible budgets and they will support my vision for a project. I spend a lot of time obsessing over photographers who would be ideal for specific projects, so I have a clear idea of who I want to work with and why, and editors, for the most part, respect that.

I have also started to send all my editors a link to Women Photograph, which was founded by photojournalist Daniella Zalcman and showcases some of the best women photographers around the globe.  My editors have been responsive and have hired women photographers for projects that previously would have either had no photographer or a male photographer. Now I regularly receive emails from editors asking for recommendations for women photographers working in certain regions. One of my editors at Longreads recently wrote, “Women Photograph has been such an essential resource, thank you.”

Photo by Cambria Harkey.

Sometimes the statistics on gender equality in journalism are soul-crushing because the struggle is real for women to get paid equally and to be represented equally at the highest levels of publishing. In order to fend off the weariness that comes with feeling powerless, I have tried to make small changes in my own work and to challenge myself and my editors to have more awareness of the importance of representing the world through the eyes of women.

These experiences working with women photographers have enriched my work and pushed me to take on more physically and mentally challenging stories. In August 2017, I found myself traveling from San Salvador, El Salvador to Tapachula, Mexico via bus accompanying a trans woman fleeing El Salvador alongside photographer Danielle Villasana. I had discovered Danielle’s extensive body of work on trans women online, was moved by the strength of her photos, and wrote to both her and one of my editors to propose a project. As a result, Danielle and I spent 14 days in El Salvador documenting the threats faced by trans women. On our first night there, we interviewed Marfil, a trans woman sex worker, and she told us, “Tomorrow at 3am, I am getting on a bus to flee the country.” Danielle and I looked each other in the eyes, and as if reading each other’s minds made a split-second decision to ask Marfil if we could accompany her.  We were matched in our fierce desire to tell the story, to do it justice, and we knew that we would.

Alice Driver is a long-form journalist and an international speaker who focuses on human rights, gender equality, and migration in Latin America. She is currently based in Mexico City. You can follow her work on Twitter and Instagram.

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Why Doesn’t Anyone Train Fixers?

Fixers are a vital part of the newsgathering process. They secure your access to a story, handle your logistics and act as a go-between when interviewing in a foreign language. The success of your project, as well as your personal safety, is directly placed in their hands but there is no other part of the industry where such a vital role is given to untrained, largely unverified individuals.

Writer Paul Theroux wrote “Most Travel, and certainly, the rewarding kind involves putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life” and never was this truer than in the fixer/journalist relationship. Therefore, why are there no training platforms out there, certifications or accreditations to ensure that the person you’re working with has at least a basic level of knowledge about the job, your organization’s ethical considerations or security?

The reality is that you can literally pick someone off the street, anywhere in the world and put them on the payroll if you believe they will be of use. Whilst it’s been this way ever since human travel existed is it really aligned to the modern news business with its sensibilities towards risk assessment and responsible practice? In the most base case you might be putting your personal security at risk but on a wider point, you are also jeopardizing the integrity of your work and the impact it might have on real issues.

Journalists have access to numerous training material and courses in order to go as deep into the academic or practical side as they like but to date, there is no comprehensive initiative aimed at the locals they worked with. At World Fixer we’ve tried to encourage support for a free training platform from various news outlets but the truth is that the appetite isn’t really there amongst the ones we approached. From their side, it seems that the issue isn’t really a problem but for anyone with experience on the ground this simply isn’t true.

This mentality also doesn’t take into account the growing percentage of freelance journalists who contribute to their output and may not necessarily report a lot of the issues they face. As staff jobs dwindle and the independent correspondent role balloons the industry is essentially pushing young (and established) journalists into the field to fend for themselves with little effort spent on the kinds of networks that could help them succeed.

I believe that the kind of information you’d promote through training covers the core issues associated with a journalist’s work. These are:

Standards & Ethics in Journalism

This would provide an insight into the role of media within society and the guidelines by which it must operate in order to produce honest, reliable output. It would include commentary on issues such as professional conduct, balanced assessment, ethical content acquisition and information verification.

Interview techniques & Information Gathering

In the case of no common language, a fixer is the link between a journalist or producer and his subject. It’s important that they can lead the interview to get the right information and relay it clearly and accurately taking into account cultural references and insinuation. How many times has a journalist been in the middle of an interview and felt that they are being told what the person thinks they want to hear – not the actual facts? A solid understanding of the use of interviews and the importance of accuracy is surely invaluable? Whilst interview techniques are an advanced skill there are many guidelines that can be given to encourage the fixer to clearly understand the question and push for a relevant answer.

Outside of interview techniques is information gathering – a fixer using his/her network to source information independently. Again a firm foundation in how to conduct that effectively, ethically & then communicate it clearly are necessary skills.

Risk assessment

This section could be as much a resource as a training tool. Creating clear, downloadable templates which can be understood by those with simple English is the first aspect. The more important aspect would be to teach the fixer to understand that what might not constitute an inherent risk to them may be one for a foreign professional. There are many risks a local might not consider merely because they are surrounded by the every day and they need to open their mind a little to the idea that these are something their client would at least want to consider before going into an area. They need to understand the language of risk assessment forms and familiarise with the concerns of editors, producers, and journalists.

Costs & Budgeting

Projects and working relationships rely on accurate information related to costs and budgeting. At World Fixer around 80% of disputes are centered around misunderstanding from either side related to this. Culturally there can be some discrepancy between issues such as estimated costs and an accurate quote, hidden extras and overtime. Ultimately its something that can be solved with contracts, paper trails, and proper conversations but journalism isn’t excellent at this, especially in the heat of the moment on the ground.

Its necessary to try and educate local fixers to clearly communicate when it comes to finances and take equal responsibility to ensure its understood.

Digital Security

Digital security is not only relevant in a hostile environment setting, all media production demands that employees keep information about their project away from social media or other forms of online publications. This section would explain its importance and gives useful tips for improving digital security in all its forms, providing links to more in-depth resources currently available online.

I believe that armed with a basic understanding of the above, not only would fixers have the tools to further their skills and knowledge about the job but also give a basic grounding to new fixers looking to package their existing capabilities in a way a foreign journalist might see the value. From the journalist’s side, they could have some assurance that the person they hire understands how they work and can conduct themselves in a professional way that doesn’t compromise them or their project.

This training is well suited as an online platform, partly because it would have the potential to reach a larger section of the fixer population, it can be distributed for free and completed quickly if a journalist hires someone in a hurry. A platform could easily generate codes on completion for journalists and news desks to verify when hiring and it could be added to or updated whenever needed.

The costs for such a platform are nominal but in order to gain meaningful traction amongst the fixing population, it has to be something ‘from’ the industry, not aimed at it. By this, I mean that any product that’s made must have the endorsement of several major broadcasters and news outlets for it to be taken seriously enough for everyone to complete it. This doesn’t mean it should be mandatory but it should at least be desired and respected. Sadly, until the established industry accepts the real value in this it may only remain a beta on our laptop.

World Fixer is a database of media fixers and facilitators, with a membership of nearly 7000 globally they strive to make good fixers easier to find and improve working practices. They believe that giving these dynamic individuals a platform to connect with the industry we can raise standards and create transparency.

Mike Garrod previously worked for twenty years in documentary, current affairs and TV in the UK before setting up World Fixer. Ranging from hostile environment to factual entertainment he’s filmed in over 35 countries and worked with some of the best local professionals out there.
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Reflections of EIJ 2017 from a First Time International Student

Traveling has always given me great exposure to the world. I have traveled more than ten countries so far during my student life, but the most recent has been the best one.

The first international conference I have attended in September was SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism conference in Anaheim, Calif. Attending a conference like EIJ17 was my dream since 2013 when I started studying Media and Journalism at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore Pakistan.

EIJ17 attracted thousands of the people including media and journalism studies students, researchers, scholars, media practitioners, journalism organizations, universities, marketing companies and news media outlets from throughout the world. Of course, most of them were from the United States, but there were participants from all over the world.

Traveling to the Anaheim, California, was successful because I met a lot of media professionals, research scholars and marketing managers from the media sphere.

  • There were dozens of training sessions, workshops, get together parties and individual meetings and recruitment auditions from world-renowned companies such as CNN, ABC News, CNBC, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Facebook, Google, USA Today, NBC, FOX News, ESPN and The Chicago Tribune.
  • The universities represented included Columbia Journalism School, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Arizona State University, Washington State University, University of Southern California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Boston University, Emerson College, Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources and the University of Colorado.
  • Advertising and marketing companies represented included The NewsGuild, Nexstar Media Group, Philadelphia Media Network, Quincy Media, RNN-TV, SAG-AFTRA, Samson Technologies, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Think Public Media, TopicPulse, Facebook, Google, and McClatchy.
  • The organizations, associations, and centers represented included the American Association for Cancer Research, American Heart Association, Asian Development Bank, Bloomberg, Bureau of Economic Analysis, The National Library of Medicine, RIAS Berlin Commission and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They were found all under one roof at the conference.

One of the top benefits of attending a conference like EIJ17 was that journalists and students were able to meet media studies department representatives of highly-ranked universities; and secondly, if you needed a coach and understanding of guidelines related to media and journalism field, many options were available to learn.

Even freelancing and internship opportunities, early career training, as well as professional hiring, took place at the same place within three days.

I have observed and seen the American way of reception, welcoming, organizing and executing the conferences, workshops and training programs. I have met almost 50 professionals including journalists, freelancers, media studies students, interns, marketing managers, research scholars, and most importantly, SPJ international community members and one of the local chapter individuals.

The SPJ International Community gives me a lot of energy, support, networking opportunities, exposure, ideas, and motivation. It was not just three days at a conference – it was like I learned an equal to half of my education.

I really enjoyed every moment of the conference and afterward when I visited a friend in Washington D.C. My friend Julio showed us many places around D.C.; it’s a great place and worth seeing. I must say thank you to him because we visited Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and spent time and had a great conversation with professors over white supremacy, media laws, U.S. under the Trump administration and learned much more about the MSU department.

I must say that, after this tour, I have more than 30 professional contacts including university professors, media professionals, freelancers and media students. I recommend all my friends and people who are connected to journalism and made the effort to go to EIJ17. This was especially important for individuals at the student level and mid-career level. I would say it’s equally important as your grades or degree program because in the field of media and journalism you cannot survive without networking and exposure in the field.

I would like to thank the people who made this happen and made my trip memorable and enjoyable:

  • Elle Toussi always supported me from the application process, which also included applying and receiving a visa to visit the U.S.
  • Sharon Dunten always offered me services at every step and made my day great in Anaheim while meeting new colleagues and people.
  • I also enjoyed meeting Dr. Bill Silcock from Arizona State University, Julio Cesar from American Research Institute and Dr. Jackie from Morgan State University, Baltimore.

See you next year in Baltimore, Maryland.

Muhammad Ittefaq is a graduate fellow at the Institute of Media and Communication Science, Technical University, Ilmenau in Germany. He received his first MA from the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab Lahore, Pakistan. He is a co-founder of The Educationist, an English monthly newspaper of Pakistan and the Asian Journalism Network.  His research interests are social media and public diplomacy and strategic communication, public relations, international journalism, development communication, the role of emerging and new media in strategic communication, the role of social media in the socio-political change in the world, political communication and digital diplomacy. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Staying Emotionally and Mentally Strong Is Important as a Photographer, Take Breaks When You Need It

As a high school senior, in lieu of going to college, I decided to travel. With money earned through various jobs, over the next four years, I would travel to more than 30 countries, with my camera as a window into different societies and cultures. As a citizen of one of the world’s richest countries, I was disturbed by the lack of access to education, collapsing infrastructures, and limited technologies in many of the places I saw. Shocked by the disparity, I continuously asked myself, “What will make a difference?” After meeting a photojournalist in Ghana, I realized photographs can expose injustice in a way that humanizes suffering and provokes positive action by compelling people to respond. After years of working, saving, and exploring, I knew I wanted to be a photojournalist. To achieve this goal, I decided to pursue a university education to learn about the world in a different way. I returned home in 2009 to pursue a dual degree in photojournalism and Spanish in Austin at The University of Texas.

As a student I pursued opportunities that not only honed my technical skills through professional experience but also shaped my ethical practices and beliefs. To this day I strive to live and work by the advice of one of my college professors and now my mentor, Donna De Cesare: “You are a human being first and a journalist second.” This belief is most evident in my years-long work with transwomen in Lima, Peru, where I developed close relationships built on trust, allowing me to photograph sensitive subject matter such as death, violence, and substance abuse. This ultimately helped me show a more accurate picture of what trans women face due to societal discrimination and stigmatization. My work in Lima was my first long-term project and it taught me a lot about storytelling. Because ethics and trust are the most important things to me, I spent the first few months simply getting to know the women I would photograph and the neighborhood where they lived and worked. I was always clear about who I was and my intentions, but I wanted to develop a two-way relationship before documenting their lives. Eventually, they opened their doors to me, and because of so much time invested, my foundation and relationship with these women are still incredibly strong.

Working on this project was also the first time I encountered really difficult situations, such as death. The first transwoman I started photographing, Tamara, passed away this year and it was a deeply painful experience. We had grown so close and even called each other “hermana,” or sister. While it felt strange to photograph this part of her life, I knew that I had to in order to show the extent of the life-threatening consequences of transphobia. Sadly, many transwomen share a similar fate throughout Latin America, with most not living beyond 35. I continue to work on this project, but it was necessary to distance myself a bit from it because it was becoming emotionally overwhelming. It’s important to be emotionally and mentally strong as a photographer documenting difficult stories, so when you feel that you need a break, take it.

I have since continued to focus on stories about human rights issues, women, identity, and health, and am currently based in Istanbul. While navigating the photojournalism industry is incredibly difficult, especially as a freelancer, there are some lessons I’ve learned along the way that has helped me tremendously. Make friends. You will have a thousand downs and hundreds of ups; it’s your friends who will help you through the hard times and be there to celebrate with you through the good times. Without the support of friends and family, this profession would be impossible. Be interested. Study and be inspired by photographers and their work, get involved with group projects, start an initiative. This profession is only as rich as you make it. Lastly, don’t give up. You will have thousands of lows and know that you’re not the only one. I try to see the low moments as the times that push me, that makes me re-examine myself and my work, that makes me say “I can do this.” The more you get through the hard times, the easier it gets. Believe in yourself and your love for people and humanity and your passion for sharing that with others. If you can feel the love for what you do and believe in that love, you’ll survive even the darkest hours.

Danielle Villasana is an independent photojournalist whose documentary work focuses on women, identity, human rights, and health. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, PRI’s The World, PBS News, ABC News, News Deeply, and Al Jazeera. She is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey, and contributes to Redux.

You can follow Villasana and her work on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and stay updated on her latest projects on her website at daniellevillasana.com.

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Shuttered Cambodia Daily Editor Jodie DeJong on Leader’s Promise to “Smash Teeth”

A government crackdown on the media and nonprofit groups in Cambodia has led to the demise of the 24-year-old Cambodia Daily, which was forced to cease operations on Sunday, Sept. 3. The paper’s staff, a mix of foreign and Cambodian journalists, worked on through to the end, reporting on the looming arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, accused of collusion with the United States. His arrest came the same day the Daily shut its doors.

The Phnom Penh-based paper, founded by American journalist Bernard Krisher in 1993, aimed to deliver independent news while training Cambodian journalists, and carried the motto “All the news without fear or favor.”

“I feel bad because, after the Daily is closed, we won’t have independent news to read anymore,” award-winning Cambodian reporter Aun Pheap told the New York Times in September. “After they close down all the independent newspapers and radio stations, no one will be able to print true information for the upcoming election.”

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration levied a $6.3 million bill against the paper for what it claimed was back taxes. Sen, a former Khmer Rouge officer during that group’s brutal reign over the nation in the 1970s, has been in his position for 30 years, making him one of the world’s current longest-serving leaders. Sen labeled the paper as the nation’s “chief thief,” and said that it should “pack up and go” if it doesn’t want to pay the tax bill. The paper claimed it had been operating at a loss since 2008.

At least 15 radio stations have been either forced to close or stop broadcasting content by outlets including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. The pro-democracy nonprofit National Democratic Institute, which had ties to the Democratic Party of the United States, was expelled from the nation.

Jodie DeJong was the editor of the Daily for less than six months before the shutdown. She worked for the Associated Press for 20 years as a reporter, news editor and bureau chief. She went on to the China Daily in Beijing for a year before joining the Cambodia Daily as managing editor in 2016, and became editor in April 2017. She spoke with SPJ from a beach in southern Thailand.

Photo by freelancer Omar Havana.

SPJ: How long have you worked at Cambodia Daily and how did you get started there?

J.D.: Just over a year. It was a long, circuitous route. Most foreigners who work at the Daily are in their 20s or early 30s. But I spent more than 20 years at the AP, as reporter, news editor and bureau chief, then a year in Beijing for China Daily before the Daily’s editor in chief hired me after a Skype interview while I was on vacation in Chengdu. I spent nine months as ME, then took over as editor in April.

What was it like being an outsider doing journalism in a third world country?

The wonderful thing about the Daily is that collaboration was at the heart of the newsroom. The Cambodian reporters are an impressive bunch, doing challenging work in difficult conditions, and for the paper’s 24 years, they patiently trained scores of foreign journalists in how the country works, the geography of the place, its people, its complex history. Phnom Penh is an easy, beguiling place to live, and the Daily was such an interesting place to work that it never felt like a hardship. It was fun and invigorating.

What’s next for you and other staff?

Do you know, not one of the foreign reporters and editors have left the country since the paper closed on September 4th? They still want to report about Cambodia, even though these are troubling and dangerous times. The Cambodian reporters also are eager to stay in journalism, but it could be more difficult for them to find jobs. The prime minister has come out against the Daily numerous times in the past year, and went so far as to describe the Khmer reporters as “servants of the foreigners,” so I worry about their prospects. As for me? I hope something interesting will come my way.

Why did the government shut you down? Was there a particular story that may have been the final straw?

The Daily was known for its fearless independent reporting, which included stories about corruption, human rights abuses, forced evictions, pervasive illegal logging, deforestation, patronage, fraud, abuse. So no, I don’t think there was one story that pushed the government into taking this action. Instead, there were several reasons, most importantly a critical election year and a pivot away from the West and to China, and all that entails, and of course the tax issue, that allowed the government to put a target on the paper.

Were you or other staff ever worried for their safety? Were you worried about being arrested? What protections did you have?

Yes, these were ongoing concerns. It’s been like that since the beginning of the Daily in 1993. During a recent beat meeting, the paper’s main political reporter told me, “I have story ideas that are dangerous to me.” And earlier this year, two of the Daily’s reporters were summoned to answer a complaint over reporting before the local elections in June. The questions they asked villagers in Pate commune were very basic, about why this commune was the only one to go to the opposition in Ratanakirri province in the previous local election, but the aftermath was anything but. Protections were few as the rule of law is not strong in Cambodia. But some groups had our backs in the lead-up to the Daily’s closure, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Project Journalists, rights group Licadho and the UNOHCHR, and I think that helped, psychologically, that people were paying attention and speaking out about what was happening.

What does this mean for other private companies and media companies in general in Cambodia?

Voice of Democracy, run by the Cambodia Center for Independent Media, was shut down. Numerous stations were barred from carrying VOA programming. U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia shut down, and the spokesman for the Information Ministry described its reporters as spies and threatened legal action if any continued to report in Cambodia. NDI was shut down and its foreign staff expelled. That the Daily could be forced to close over a bogus tax bill of 25 billion riel (about $6.3 million) after barely breaking even for the past 10 years has given companies pause. They are asking, “Is it safe to invest and do business in Cambodia?”

Do you expect civil unrest next year during the general elections?

Prime Minister Hun, already one of the longest-serving leaders in the world, said that 100 to 200 people might have to die in order for him to stay in power. The defense minister threatened to “smash the teeth” of political opponents. The government has arrested and jailed several ordinary people who criticized Hun Sen on Facebook. The crackdown on dissent has been severe and people are afraid. I’m not sure that democratic rollbacks will result in civil unrest under such conditions. 

How cautious should expats in Cambodia be as the nation heads into general elections in 2018?

The U.S. government issued a security warning for Cambodia last week, citing “rising tensions and anti-American rhetoric.” It urges U.S. citizens living or traveling in Cambodia to exercise caution, stay away from demonstrations and be vigilant about personal security. Seems like good advice for everyone.

What does press freedom mean in Cambodia, why does it matter, and what’s being done to protect journalists there?

There’s been a strong modern history of press freedom, which is why the Daily’s fate is such a cautionary tale. The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia is looking to provide hazardous environment training, for example. Still, there is not much anyone can do to protect journalists in such a climate. 

Do expat journalists in Cambodia have less to worry about than Cambodian journalists?

Yes, most certainly. Foreign journalists can be deported. Cambodian journalists, if arrested, have much less recourse.

The Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s has long drawn the interest of journalists. Was that something that drew you to Cambodia?

One of the Daily’s reporters was fascinated by the country’s history and came to Cambodia and covered the trials of Khmer Rouge leaders at the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) for the Daily, but it’s not what drew me to Cambodia.  

What advice would you give to anyone interested in moving to Cambodia, especially journalists?

To borrow a line from Game of Thrones: “The night is dark and full of terrors.” It’s going to be a very challenging year in Cambodia. Make sure you know what you’re doing, join the press club so you have a community to alert you to risks, employ smart, capable fixers. Have your “go bag” ready.

Tom O’Connell worked as a copy editor and writer for magazines in New York City for a decade after college, and is now based in Albuquerque, N.M., where he is a member of the SPJ-Rio Grande Chapter. He left the USA in September 2017 to pursue his longtime dream of living in Southeast Asia, and filed this story from Bangkok, Thailand. His current plan is to settle long-term in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. His writing has appeared in Details, British Esquire, German GQ, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow his work on Twitter.

If you or someone you know would like to contribute to the SPJ International Blog, contact spj.internationalcommunity@gmail.com

 

Self Confidence, Empathy and a Break

When asked about what is the biggest challenge of being a female photojournalist, people generally might expect me to talk about safety. It´s true that being a journalist or a photojournalist means many times being at risk, as our profession request to be in certain places at certain moments where probably most of the people would never be. And it’s even more true that, not just as journalists but also as women, we are more vulnerable to violence, as we live in a male dominated world.

But challenges come in a wider spectrum. This isn’t an easy job. It isn’t an easy life. It is complicated to get your work published, to build a network, to get assignments. Journalism is a very beautiful passion inside a very competitive industry, and it requires from the journalists, more often than not, a daily struggle to make it financially sustainable. And specially working in long-term projects, sometimes there is no other option than rely on self-funding.

As if all these, let´s call them, “external obstacles” were not enough, sometimes one more is added into the equation: a lack of self-confidence. Having doubts about your abilities is a condition that can be experienced by both genders, but there is something I have recently observed.

In several occasions in conversation with my female friends – some working in the field of journalism and some with careers in a variety of sectors as well, a common concern always comes out in the talk: the feeling that, as women, we have to prove more than men that we are capable of the work we are doing.

And this starts from the hackneyed – but sadly still common — situation where a woman has to prove that she is not there because of a pretty face but because of her capacities, and lasts to the inner feeling that you have to demonstrate intensely, even to yourself, that you are good enough in what you are doing.

As the world has been dominated by men, women have been raised, even in most equal societies, with the inner feeling of self-questioning.

The time when women started getting out from the roles that society expected from them and adopting “typically men professions” are not so far ago. These brave women had to prove to the world that they were “as good as men” to do their jobs. This feeling still remains. And even if we are lucky enough to belong to societies where gender-equality laws are enforced, women have to live with the certainty that they will be questioned.

Self judgment has been imposed, making us believing that we are never skilled enough, qualified, experienced or legitimized to do what we are doing. And most of the times this feeling comes unconsciously. I have seen in several occasions female colleagues doubting if they are doing right in a way that I´ve never seen male colleagues.

And that is, after all, insecurity and self-distrust. So do not doubt yourself. Do not doubt what you are capable of. This profession has already enough to make it not easy, so do not be your own barrier. If you are where you are, it is because you are doing something right. Trust yourself, your capacities, your attributes and your virtues.

Journalism, and especially photojournalism, has always been considered a profession for men. What is needed to do this job has always been measured through the abilities typically attributed to men: strength, fortitude, courage…

The image of a lonely an adventurous guy has always been associated with a journalist, and was far away from what it was expected from a woman. But fortunately, these virtues are changing and other values, such as empathy or sensitivity, are starting to be considered as essential for being a journalist.

During my career as a freelance photojournalist, I have learned about how important sensitivity is. We have been taught that getting emotional during an interview is unprofessional. Yes, it might be considered that way for some. But when you are in front of a person who opens up a painful episode of his/her life, sharing their suffering with you, I find almost impossible not to get emotional.  

Empathy and sensitivity have been considered typically female attributes (what does not mean at all that men cannot feel empathy or been sensitive), and that’s probably the reason why both characteristics have been usually seen as a sign of weakness. They are not. They are actually a strength, a magnificent gift.

If you develop your journalistic work based on empathy and emotions, do not try to stop it, because it is a great virtue. Journalists should not be afraid of getting touched by the people they work with or to get involved into their lives.

Commitment is seen as a must to develop long-term projects, and in my opinion, commitment to a story cannot be separated from commitment to the people to whom that story belongs.

Don’t underestimate your feelings. Never. But as important as to let them out it is to let them go. And this is a lesson I am learning now: to take a break whenever your body asks for it. You cannot work 24/7, especially when you are working in high-dramatic stories.

The idea that as journalists we are mere observers of history and that we do not feel anything I think is simply not true, and again, is a consequence of seeing the profession from a macho-I-can-handle-everything point of view.

As witnesses of suffering, the suffering remains on us. So getting that break is not just necessary, but healthy. Sometimes it would be enough with a one-week holiday on the beach or a weekend in the mountains or in a spa, but other times you might need a disconnection: a physical and emotional disconnection.

It does not mean that you care less about the people your work is about. Listen to yourself, take care of yourself. Love yourself. And if you need to make some distance for a while, just do it, because only when you feel strong enough you would be able to do a useful work.

Elena del Estal is a Spanish freelance photographer and journalist based in India from 2013 to 2016 where she has worked in different stories about health care, the eradication of polio in India in 2014-2015, and women’s rights violations. Her photography work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, CNNPhotos, Narrative.ly, Revista 5W, El País and El Mundo among others. As a writer, she is a frequent contributor to El Confidencial and Público, Spanish Media. 

She was selected 30 Under 30: Women Photographers, Photo Boite in 2017. She attended the Eddie Adams Workshop XXVIII 2015 and was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2015 and 2017.

You can follow her work on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and her website elenadelestal.com

If you or someone you know would like to share her narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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The Art of Storytelling Helped Me Explore Life and Myself

I remember gazing from my bunk bed every night in our house in Athens at my dad’s black and white pictures hanging on the corridor wall. I would stare at them until I would fall asleep. They just seemed to me so alive and beautiful and for some reason I wanted to do the same. Take pictures, travel, explore life and become a creator. (Just to be clear my father is not a photographer, but an architect).

My background has been in fine arts, specifically in painting and photography.

Documentary photography for me has been really my life’s dream and I truly have been lucky enough not to have worked in any other industry. It has taken me into worlds that I never thought that I could actually be a part of. It has given me strength, has made me face my weaknesses and has given me a mission — a mission to communicate, understand and respect different cultures, share and give a voice to those who do not have any other ways to be heard.

My interest in documentary photography and filmmaking stems from my passion in discovering untold stories and relating them in a way that will engage audiences on an intellectual and emotional level. As a journalist and creator I have travelled to numerous under-reported parts of the world and have seen first-hand the power that stories can have.

Greece, Kos island 2015
An immigrant wondering about at dawn in front of the port in the island of Kos.

Facts are important, but often they are only as powerful as the narratives they serve. Telling stories has always been the way people make sense of the world, and I firmly believe that documentary photography and filmmaking is one of the most powerful ways to tell them.

My name is Amani el Mekhlef I am 29 years old and mother of five. When I was in Syria I was seven months pregnant and one day an air strike hit next to my house so I lost the baby. After that they took me to a place to take out the baby from my belly without any anesthetics. It took the doctors about six hours to take the baby out. After that we decided to leave while being pregnant again. We basically left when I was pregnant to my son because of the many bombings. The borders were closed so we waited for about one week to go to Turkey. After that we went to Turkey and we stayed in a camp (Tel Abyad).

All this may sound ideal, but the truth is that to enter into these “magic” microcosms I had to struggle and work often harder as a female photographer in a male dominated world.

I had to prove that I was capable enough to work in the business in a way that my male colleagues did not; to show again and again that I could work under difficult circumstances, on interesting assignments, turning my head away from sexist comments so I could get the job, fighting for equal pay, being taken seriously by my peers.

Athens, Greece 2013: Red heels.

Nevertheless these obstacles never stopped me from pursuing my dream to become a photographer and storyteller. Indeed, these obstacles became my tools to move forward and carve a path for myself and take on stories that I was not “supposed” to work on as a woman.

So if I had to suggest something to a young female who wants to become a photojournalist, documentary photographer or a journalist, it would be to not let these obstacles stand in your way of becoming who you want to become. Work on developing a thick skin and don’t live down to others’ expectations of you. It can be hard but believing in yourself opens up new worlds in unexpected ways.

Pamir mountains, Roshkala region Tajikistan 2014
A bride getting ready before the ceremony.
Tajiks living on the plateau have very unique wedding ceremonies. Most ethnic groups in Central Asia begin the wedding ceremony with the betrothal and arrangements made by the elders of the family, but a Tajik wedding is quite different. It lasts seven days. On the first day of the ceremony, the bride and the bridegroom proclaim their marriage and hold separate banquets with their own families, which continue for three days.

In 2010 my life brought me back to Greece from New York and Italy, and here I really had the opportunity to work with major international outlets covering a wide range of stories in relation to the financial crisis and its impact on Greek society, as well as the refugee crisis.

These years in Greece have transformed and matured me. I saw a country that I often didn’t recognize and I felt obliged to report on its changes as I felt I was living through historic moments. In particular I have reported on the rise of nationalist and xenophobic movements, on the financial boom in the sex trade and on issues of European integration, immigration and identity.

In a way returning to Greece as a photographer has been both a curse and a blessing at the same time. I learned to live with the ongoing recession and all of the austerity and reforms that were imposed in the country on the one hand, yet on the other hand as a creator, I really had the chance to delve into fascinating stories and find my voice at a time when the country was in the international spotlight.

Of course, being a documentary photographer or a journalist is a never-ending journey – especially in this age of globalization and I don’t claim that I have figured everything out. Cases of editors who do not understand the situations photographers or journalists face are also part of this business. They basically often just want ‘the story’ as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But being a reporter or a photographer is often about much more than that.

Documentary photography can have a massive impact in our society and it takes a significant level of responsibility from our part to represent someone else’s life, culture, and country.

To achieve this, we need to spend time to work and develop strong relationships, gaining the trust of the people we photograph and gaining a deep understanding of all the issues and representing them fairly. Balancing the need and desire to cultivate these relationships with the pressing demands of the industry is often a difficult line to walk.

While getting stories commissioned and making a living in this field remains a constant challenge, looking back on what I have achieved, the people I have met and learned from reminds me why I chose this career to begin with and makes me eager to get out there and see what else I can discover and share. It reminds me of the feelings I had as a child: of wanting to explore life and to understand and learn about myself and others through stories.

Myrto Papadopoulos finished her studies in 2003 after completing a five-year Fine Arts degree, majored in painting and photography. In 2006, she applied for a documentary photography degree at the ICP (International Centre of Photography) in New York, where she was granted a scholarship.

Her clients include TIME Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, GEO International, Le Monde, The Guardian, nationalgeographic.com, WSJ, DIE ZEIT, WIRED, Lens New York Times, Time.com, ARTE TV, ZDF TV among others. Today she works as a freelance photographer and a documentary filmmaker and is represented by Redux Pictures in NY. You can follow her work at www.myrtopapadopoulos.com and on Instagram.

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Fixers: Who Are They and How Do They Work?

Even the most seasoned foreign correspondent will swear that their job is only possible because they’ve learned to rely on experienced, reliable local people to help them in the field. But these aren’t just ordinary people. As many of you know there is, spread across the globe a dynamic group of professionals who have dedicated their work to helping journalists and filmmakers tell their stories. They go under many monikers but are most commonly called, fixers.

As one producer recently put it, “Without fixers, we are basically just curious foreigners wandering around with expensive equipment”. It’s a sentiment that is key to accepting your limitations as an outsider and allowing local help to really get you under the skin of a subject. You can go into an area, you can know the story that you’re going to do, you may know roughly how to get it, but you’ll never be able to fully get the nuances without help. If you take the basic knowledge of the operation aside, you still need to understand the current situation, and you also need to be understood – you need to be trusted, and fixers can help with that.

“I could not do my job without the work of the local fixers I hook up with wherever I go. They are my eyes and ears. I have worked with some of the finest in the business – and to me they have as important a role in the making of our reports as I do, as the correspondent, or as the camera person or producer.” Jonathan Miller, Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the UK’s Channel 4 News.

So who are these people and what are their qualifications? There is no qualification you can do for this kind of work, no certificate or succinct career path. This disparate group of individuals will find you subjects to talk to, get them onside, apply for your permits, translate, book your cars, feed you, find you a hotel, fulfil whatever random necessities you throw at them, make sure you’re safe or get you out of trouble when you’re not. Theirs is essentially a job title with a thousand meanings whose only qualification is a singular desire to help produce stories and enough experience of your job to become one of the team.

However, the many who view them in terms of translators or guides would be interested to learn that on World Fixer we have a range of professionals from all spheres including researchers, ex-cops, tour operators, producers from the world of TV, ex-Government communications officers, academics and increasingly journalists, diversifying in the face of an industry on the squeeze. It is wise when hiring someone to consider what their strengths are in relation to your work and play to that. A tour operator for example may have excellent access to remote communities whilst an ex cop will bring a different level of insight. You’ll never know for sure though unless you talk to them. There is no online solution for the perfect hook up and whilst our site endeavours to introduce you to as many fixers as possible you can’t ‘Uber-ize’ a people business of this kind if you want the best experience.

For many fixing is a logical extension of their exposure to the media industry but for some their work began through a chance meeting with a journalist, or a recommendation from a friend. The good ones have managed to turn it into a productive career.

Take Suliman Ali Zway and Osama Alfitory in Libya, for example. During the war in 2011, whilst many young men in their area headed off to join the rebels they decided that helping journalists was a better way to help the cause. As the foreign press congregated in Benghazi they made themselves available and quickly (with no formal media training of any kind) became the ‘go to guys’, earning themselves the title amongst international media as ‘The A Team’. They worked with everyone from top tier journalists like Leila Fadel at the Washington Post to small, independent reporters with equal fervour and those in the know fought over each other to book them. Eventually they were honoured with the prestigious Martin Adler prize and have now managed to forge a journalist career for themselves.

They became successful not simply because they spoke good English, or that they had great contacts but because they had a relentless work ethic and cared only about about getting the truth out – whatever that was. All the great fixers share this quality.

In the field, you are trusting a fixer with the success of your project and possibly your life, but it is probably the most unregulated aspect of the industry. You can literally pick someone up off the street and put them on the payroll – a situation that seems unthinkable in this modern world of risk assessment and ‘responsible’ practice. A site like World Fixer will introduce you to a range of people out there and we do strive for accountability but by working with someone in a foreign land for the first time there will always be uncertainties. Fortunately journalism has never been a business to shy away from leaps into the unknown so here’s a few tips to mitigate the chances of a bad encounter.

The first is vet. Don’t just take a name off the internet and assume it’ll go well. Check references, speak to them at length and use your instinct. This is obviously important in the case of hostile environment work but equally the success or failure of your trip will hinge to some degree on the information your local provides so it helps to know if it can be trusted.

Secondly, look for the skills he or she might need to assist you properly. Is it more important that they have an encyclopedic contacts book or that they would perform well interviewing contributors in sensitive situations? The right person for the job may not necessarily be the most connected and have a resume that reads like the Pulitzer back catalogue, you would learn more about their suitability by running the project by them and gauging their response. However, an important note here is that in order to understand the way you work and deliver properly it does help to have a decent amount of experience working with foreign journalists. At the least they should understand the importance of accuracy, unbiased reporting and responsible practice.

Thirdly, don’t forget the paperwork. We get numerous complaints from both sides of the fixer-employer equation about malpractice, empty promises and money disputes. Not always, but in many cases, this is due to a breakdown in communication — cultural differences that affect each side’s expectations or simply the fact that nothing ever gets written down. Be as clear and definitive as possible when working with fixers; don’t assume that they work the way you do or will pick up on things you have not clearly stated.

For example, ask up front if a price quoted for a job is all-in, or does it exclude extras like fuel, food, etc.? In many parts of the world this flexibility is normal, but Western employers in particular are accustomed to a quote meaning a final quote, not a flexible one. Get everything in black and white, especially when it comes to this, and confirm that it is understood. It is the quickest way to sour an otherwise great and fulfilling working relationship and is sadly extremely common.

Finally, respect your fixer as one of the team – like in any relationship the more you put in, the more you get out. Ask for their ideas, tell them yours – you never know when they are able to offer the missing link or a story dynamic you might not have thought of. They will have whatever professional knowledge you’ve selected them for but are also educated people with all the social awareness that comes with that.

Respect also means listening to them when it comes to cultural concerns, not only because failure to do so may affect your project without you even knowing but also because any social faux pas, however insignificant to you could land them in trouble when you leave. It is vital to remember that for those covering sensitive situations your presence as a journalist has repercussions – partly in the effects your report may have but also on a human level to the fixer and his association with you. For fixers, the story doesn’t just stop when you leave the country.

World Fixer is a database of media fixers and facilitators, with a membership of nearly 7000 globally they strive to make good fixers easier to find and improve working practices. They believe that giving these dynamic individuals a platform to connect with the industry we can raise standards and create transparency.

Mike Garrod previously worked for twenty years in documentary, current affairs and TV in the UK before setting up World Fixer. Ranging from hostile environment to factual entertainment he’s filmed in over 35 countries and worked with some of the best local professionals out there.
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Supporting Your Female Colleagues Will Help Grow a Stronger Community

When I began my career as a photographer, I could not imagine where I would be today. Two years ago, I planned on moving abroad to Istanbul, Turkey, to live as a freelance photojournalist. Instead, I decided that moving to Detroit, Michigan, was the best possible option for my growth as an independent visual journalist. I wanted to freelance in the United States and needed to be sure that it was right for me before living in a foreign country. Michigan became home and I realized I would be happy as long as I was still a visual storyteller. Moving to Detroit was a process of re-evaluating my world view and myself.

I often challenge myself to go beyond my comfort zone. When I was living, studying and working in Morocco for six months, I was an outsider. Regardless of how I dressed to fit in or how much of the language I learned, I would inevitably be perceived as a white, American female. I did not want to fulfill the “white savior” complex with my work. I wanted to connect with others and wanted those I photographed to feel the same connection. There were many challenges that came from living in a foreign country. For one, I could not look men in the eye while walking down the street. This was due, in part, to their culture, as well as my desire to deter unwanted attention. Despite this, I conducted interviews in French and did not let these barriers stop me. I can be different from those I am photographing, and this should not necessarily put me at a disadvantage. I work to my strengths. I am shaped by my experience as a woman who can sensitively and empathetically connect with people. This makes me the journalist I am today.

As female journalists, we need to work to create change in the journalism and photojournalism industries. There is a need for more diversity and respect, both for women and people of color. There is not an even playing field. Although this is being talked about more frequently, a lot can be learned about how privilege is favored when we are open about our backgrounds. I would not be where I am today without support. I am lucky enough to have found this through college, internships, workshops and studying abroad. All of those experiences were somewhat possible because I could afford them. Now more than ever, it is important to support your fellow female colleagues. Celebrate their wins as you would your own. Find inspiration from others to help you in moments of doubt and worry.

My biggest piece of advice to emerging female journalists is to know that where they are now is not where they will be forever. That may sound obvious. However, some of the best advice I received was to stop comparing myself to others. The more you appreciate your own growth, the stronger you can become. These days, I try to take everything a step at a time. As a young photographer without all the answers, I do not know where I will be next, or what my career holds. Regardless, I will give back to the community that inspires me to not be afraid to ask for help, to work hard and to be myself.

Rachel Woolf is a Detroit-based independent visual journalist. She specializes in documentary photography, videography and portraiture. As a visual storyteller, she works to intimately show aspects of humanity and mortality intersecting with economic and social issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, CNN, US News and World Report, Bloomberg, Education Week, Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. A native Marylander, Rachel now considers Michigan her home. You can follow her work on Instagram and on her Website.

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