How to teach an old profession new tricks

18 Sep 2015   lucyejwoods

Sparkling crystal chandeliers elegantly illuminate the hotel conference room, the twinkling decoration is in stark contrast to the conflict images of reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq, being shown to a roomful of journalists.

The images were presented to a crowd of internationally acclaimed, diligent, local and citizen journalists, just north of the Philippine’s capital, Manila, in Subic Bay’s Best Western Hotel.

Amongst pink ice teas and freshly brewed coffees, a myriad of media attendees, all getting comfortable for the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)’s media seminar for ‘Strengthening Media Capabilities on Journalism Tactics’.

The seminar was to help journalists from around the Philippines and beyond to share skills and discuss daily challenges.

Sponsored by Redondo Peninsula Energy Incorporation, SBMA’s chairman Roberto Garcia opened the conference, reminding the diverse group of about 100 journalists, that they “are the fourth estate, and the most important estate; as you can influence public opinion.”

Jason Gutierrez, a seasoned photojournalist for China Daily and Asia Weekly was the first guest speaker, and the creator of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflict reporting images.

Remininding the audience: “if you want to have a comfortable life…don’t be a journalist,” Gutierrez shared exclusive images of a military funeral, where marines held their heads in their hands weeping for a young fallen soldier. Gutierrez says journalists “are armed” just like the soldiers, “with our cameras.”

The fallen soldier had a school named after him in his local town as a result of meticulous reporting and powerful images.Events and policies “are reactive to what’s happening on the ground” says Gutierrez, recounting that it was only after international news wires reported the 10,000 death toll of the super typhoon Haiyan, that policies reacted positively.

“Officials stop caring when it is not on the front page news, our job as journalists is to remind them what is happening.”

Gutierrez asked the crowd: “who will care if journalists don’t go there?”

Conflict reporting advice

Gutierrez inspired the audience to “strive to look for stories”, advising seeking out NGOs and humanitarian organisations for symbiotic relations, “we rely on each other,” he says.

Talking of risks undertaken by journalists covering conflict zones, war and terrorism, and the growing trend for dwindling resources, especially for freelancers, Gutierrez said that “risks should be shouldered, and training given” by publishers, as well as undertaken by individual reporters depending on the story, asking “would you put your life on the line for a story that you do not believe in?”

To really bring home the realities of reporting in conflict zones in the Philippines, Gutierrez then showed a short YouTube documentary of reporters caught in crossfire in the southern Philippines’ Lamitan Basilan shootings.

Photojournalism and video in the digital age

On photojournalism and the increasing importance of visual story telling abilities, Gutierrez says that “photos did not used to be a must, but now a reporter is a cameraman and photographer.”

“It gives you a certain edge.”

But he also advised reporters “not to just take photos for the sake of it, photos should show the essence of the story.”

Stress management for journalists

Manuel, or “Manny” Mogato, a veteran journalist for newswire Reuters, took to the carpeted stage to talk on high profile press conferences, interview protocols and stress management.

Mogato gave frank advice to the crowd: “if you don’t have access you don’t have a story” and to “develop relationships with sources by being trustworthy, honest and reliable.”

Before getting onto an often-overlooked topic when discussing journalism: mental health.

First aid, relevant technology and legal aid training is required for journalists to deal with the occupational hazard of trauma and stress, says Mogato.

Mogato retold, while covering typhoon Haiyan, a photojournalist he was working with came across three young children digging at the side of the road.

“What are you doing?” the reporters asked.

“Digging graves for our parents” replied the children. The photographer could not take a picture, as he was crying.

Because of frequent, occupational exposure to such events, Mogato promoted open newsrooms where colleagues are encouraged to talk to each other about traumatic experiences, with education and awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with easy and transparent access to support.

Mogato’s own employer, Reuters, allows two weeks of paid holiday anywhere in the world to its reporters after covering conflict zones.

Mogato listed the early warning signs (being hyper or jumpy) of stress and offered the seemingly obvious, but crucial and practical advice, such as sleeping a full 8 hours, eating regularly, exercising and deep breathing with lots of breaks and keeping in touch with friends and family.

Reminding reporters simply to eat and sleep says a lot about the spontaneous 24/7 racing news culture of today, and the requirements expected of journalists, one audience member responded during questiona and answer. Despite the added pressures of time constraints from 24 hour news cycles, and occupational hazards of suffering PTSD, according to a recent study by the Columbia Journalism Review, journalism wages continue to fall.

Multimedia journalism and disruptive technologies

After a filling lunch filled with reporter style anecdotes, stories and business card swapping, Lala Rimando, managing editor for the Philippine’s business magazine, delivered a presentation on multimedia journalism.

Showing an animation video created by Rappler, on “Why are electricity rates in the Philippines the highest in Asia?” Rimando demonstrated how complicated stories can be explained using a variety of media, when multimedia is embraced.

Traditional news mediums that have been disrupted by technology, “can become the disruptors” says Rimando.

Rimando explained how reporters and editors should be well versed in a variety of story telling mediums, and techniques, including (interactive) infographics, data mining and animations, as well as mixing up traditional skills in radio, broadcast, and print.

Rimando advised the audience to allow for fluid storytelling by being open to learning new reporting tools and multimedia devices, so as not to limit reporters creativity to singular mediums.

The conference was a reminder for journalists from all corners of the globe to seek each other out for help and advice. In a world that is in constant, ferocious need for competent reporters, where financial models and technology is always evolving and competition is intense, journalists need all the help they can get.


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