For the project on reporting research on dams and development in Northeast India, Relay decided to focus on the fellowship programme component of the Relay approach, and build a series of structured interventions.
The core five month fellowship programme worked with a small but committed group of 6 journalists to build their skills, knowledge, contacts and practical experience to report on the issue of mega-dam construction and its impact on people and the environment in Northeast India. Tailored resource materials, a two day orientation workshop, bespoke field visits, ongoing contact brokering and editorial support from Panos, and reflection reporting were key components that contributed to the success of the programme. In return, journalists improved their reporting skills while critically engaging with research. Some fellows still actively write on the issue of dams and development which resulted in a good audience response (see for example our fellow Nayan Jyoti Das’s experience).
A final roundtable event will be held to share experience and results with a wider group of journalists, researchers, and civil society actors.
Based on learning and reflection from the project team in Northeast India and feedback from beneficiaries, here are some practical recommendations that may be useful for others who want to support journalists to report research on a variety of critical development issues:
- Fellowship programme. Create a structure where fellows can build their knowledge, relationships, skills and portfolio of articles over a longer time period – a minimum of five months is ideal! The extra time will result in a number of important benefits:
- Journalists can build their knowledge over time using resource materials (how-to guides, topic guides), attending orientation workshops, and through experience of investigating the stories with the help of researchers and other experts
- Multiple interactions between journalists and researchers over a longer period will facilitate the development of relationships. Developing lasting relationships takes time!
- Having more time available will give editors more flexibility to publish articles
- Journalists will have more time to sustain and build up on their stories by exploring an issue in-depth and looking for newsworthy angles
- Extra time will allow for reflection reporting, preparing journalists to share their experiences from the fellowship with wider audiences.
- Multiple articles per journalist. Have fellows produce multiple outputs! It will provide them with opportunities to develop a story, get feedback and use this learning to improve their subsequent articles.
- Mentoring and Brokering. Identify one focal person who has the contacts, knowledge, and skills to support fellows, provide advice and feedback on draft stories, and facilitate new relationships with other key stakeholders. This will keep journalists engaged and informed.
- Orientation workshop. Create an event for groups of researchers who want to communicate their findings and journalists interested in gaining a better understanding of the development issues. This event will establish a relationship between different stakeholders, keeping the participants engaged, cooperative and interested.
- Media scan and content analysis. Undertake a media scan early on in the project to log media coverage in target newspapers (or other media) and assess quantity and quality of coverage on the issue. Use this to identify potential fellow journalists. Share the findings of the content analysis and media scan more widely to give an idea of what is happening in the media, what is the quality of reporting on a particular issue, and whether research and voices of the most affected people are being used as a source. This useful tool can help to inform a wider debate.