Summer 2014 Simon Cumbers Media Fund recipient Fergal Browne travelled to Colombia in late 2014 to report on the women displaced by internal conflict there. The project resulted in a three-article series published in TheJournal.ie. Here, he shares his South American experience and imparts some advice for intending applicants.
Q. Why did you choose Colombia?
A. I chose Colombia because I speak Spanish. I had lived in Argentina before and I had contact with a lot of people who came from Colombia to study in Argentina and I decided that they gave me a lot of good ideas and I felt that this was a story that hadn’t been told and it challenged our typical perception of Colombia being a country about drugs, about football, and it was a really interesting topic that I felt needed to be heard.
Q. What were the most memorable moments from your trip?
A. The first was when I got to travel with the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they brought me in one of their vans that said UN on it. They brought me to a slum, in the south of Bogotá, and showed me their work there. It was really powerful to see, first of all to be exposed to what displaced people in Colombia live in and also to see how people try to help them as well. What was really powerful was the actual testimonies of women themselves. There were a lot of stories with regard to sexual assault towards women who were displaced, and to hear them speak so openly and so passionately about stories from their past and about trying to incite change in Colombia was something really powerful. The testimonies were really good.
Q. Why did you apply for funding from the Simon Cumbers Media Fund?
A. I really wanted this story to be broadcast in Ireland and it’s quite an expensive venture to do international journalism of this kind and I felt that this was a great way to be funded and it was a great possibility for me to do something I wanted to do. I’ve always had an interest in international journalism and this was a great avenue I could explore to do that.
Q.What advice would you give to journalists who are thinking of applying to the Simon Cumbers Media Fund?
A. For those thinking of applying for this round of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund, I’d tell them not to look to the news for stories. I think that Simon Cumbers looks for applications that think outside the box and challenge our perceptions about countries. So countries that are typically in the news from the developing world, their stories have already been covered so look for stories that haven’t been done and look for an angle that is suitable for the funding, something that an Irish audience would be interested in.
Q. What items should journalists pack when travelling to the developing world on assignment?
A. A journalist should always bring a dictaphone because you never know when you might come across a willing interview and just having it there, something to record with, will mean that you will have it afterwards and can always come back to it. Always bring a camera as well as it’s not possible to have a photographer with you at all times. It’s really good if you have your own decent quality camera because you never know you might snap a really good photo that might end up being used as well. You should also bring a contact book, just to make sure you have all the contacts that you want to interview, people that you need to talk to and also basic details like the address where you are staying because you never know, you might have language difficulties, you might struggle to talk to a taxi man so it’s good to just be able to have a little thing to point to, to say “Okay, I need to go here and get me here”. It’s very, very important to have a local phone there. More than likely you won’t have any coverage off your own phone so if you can just purchase a phone on your first day, you’ll use it your entire trip and it won’t be a waste of money.
Q. What foreign media do you check out on a regular basis?
A. I think The Guardian is a really good international development website and also covers international affairs very thoroughly. In terms of other international media, Storyful is very good. Storyful is an Irish company but it has an international perspective and has really good viral videos from worldwide which can really capture a moment which is happening right now. In terms of other things, I love Matter which is journalistic arm of Medium, the blogging site. I also love Al Jazeera’s programmes, things like ‘Inside Story’ are really interesting for international affairs.
Q. What social media platforms do you use most regularly?
A. I think Twitter remains the best social media site for trying to get your news out there. If you are living in a story, in a moment, like for example a protest taking place and you’re tweeting live from it, you’re open to everyone who is going to search for that on Twitter and you open yourself to a massive audience. I think Twitter remains the best social media site to get yourself out there and actually get people watching your content. Check out Fergal’s articles on TheJournal.ie or follow him on Twitter.