Last month International Alert organised a two-day journalist school in Tbilisi for media professionals from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh on the topic of ‘Human stories: How to write about ordinary people’.
The training, which was held from 28–29 March, was organised as part of our joint media project, Unheard Voices, which brings together professionals from across conflict divides to report on the human cost of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict.
Seventeen journalists participated in the training. Many of them had attended previous trainings in 2013 and 2014 and were eager to build upon the skills they have learned from the project so far, while four journalists from Azerbaijan were taking part for the first time.
In February, journalists and experts participating in Unheard Voices met in London to discuss the next steps for the project. One of the things they remarked on was the dire lack of opportunities for journalists in the region to access quality training and engage in meaningful reporting. Training in journalistic skills was therefore identified as one of the key priorities for the final months of the project.
Participants agreed that the focus of the school would be on increasing journalists’ capacity to write about the stories of ordinary people in a way that inspires interest and empathy, thus highlighting the human cost of the conflict – in contrast to the pro-war rhetoric that currently dominates the media in the region.
During the meeting, it was agreed that the articles written during the remainder of the project would centre on the topic of refugees and internally displaced persons. Not only would this provide a unifying theme to the materials, but also focus on stories which emphasise the human side of conflict.
On the first day of the training, each of the journalists presented an example of their work on the topic to date, with the materials making use of varied media, including videos, photostories and articles. This was followed by a discussion of the work and critical feedback from experts on how to improve the outputs. During the session, experts identified interview techniques, composition of photographs and fact-checking as common areas for improvement. The first day then concluded with a masterclass on photostories by trainer Mark Grigorian.
On the second day, the four experts focused on the themes of writing style, interview techniques and fact-checking. The journalists were then divided into small groups and assigned the task of interviewing each other, allowing the participants to utilise and develop the skills discussed within the training. Each group consisted of journalists from different parts of the region, giving them a valuable chance to interact closely with colleagues from across the conflict divide and work together to improve their professional skills.
The material created was diverse in topic and reflected the variety of media with which the journalists work. Some participants created audio and video interviews, one group produced a personal profile photostory, while another created a mini feature made up of seven one-minute interviews on a central theme.
The feedback received from the participants of the training was extremely positive, although everybody lamented the short length of the programme. Many commented that their motivation for attending the training had been to interact with colleagues from across the conflict divide – something that remains almost impossible outside of events such as this. Participants also spoke about the importance of having a forum to make mistakes and receive constructive criticism, helping to avoid repeating the same mistakes in their work.
As well as building on journalistic skills, promoting dialogue and building relationships and collegiality between professionals from all sides of the conflict, the training played an important role in motivating its participants to work together towards the shared objectives of the project: ethical, balanced reporting on the human side of conflict.
This was an especially important outcome, given both the increasing tension in the region and the fact that the project is nearing the end. Despite the difficulties in the context, the journalists remain committed to building on their successes for the future, expanding across new media platforms and engaging new, promising participants.
Unheard Voices is part of the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorny Karabakh (EPNK), funded by the European Union.