How can you shoot a stellar report worthy of circulation on prestigious news stations like CNN or in periodicals like The New Yorker? What criteria does it have to meet in order for it to match up to strong competition? Journalism students from eight countries around the world learned all this and more while attending the Journey: Journalism Bootcamp program.
The intensive journalism course Journey, now organized for the sixth time by the Bakala Foundation, brings together top news journalists from international media and agencies like CNN, The New Yorker, Reuters, Bloomberg and others to the Czech capital ever year. This year, journalism students enjoyed lectures, among others, from Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Entous (The New Yorker), Evan Perez (CNN), and Jessica Bruder from Columbia Journalism School, author of the book Nomadland that was later adapted into an Oscar-winning film of the same name. Czech lecturers were represented by Tomáš Etzler, reporter of CNN and Czech television.
The students were in for a fairly busy program, which featured a combination of lectures, practical workshops, simulated newsroom experience and field reporting, on which they received feedback from experienced lecturers. Nemanja Vidić from Serbia and Denislava Zlatanova from Bulgaria explained how their team handled the field reporting project.
Take One: Refining the Assignment
“The lecturers of the Field Reporting Workshop tasked us with putting together a report on the tourism industry in Prague and the coronavirus pandemic. So first we had to narrow down this relatively broad topic to something we’d be able to shoot an interesting report on in one day. We agreed to focus on shops in Prague’s city center and were interested in how their owners were holding up with the lack of tourists caused by the pandemic. We were mainly interested in the human aspect of the story, that is not just the impact it had on businesses but also how the employees were affected,” describes Denislava Zlatanova.
The team (which aside from Denislava and Nemanja also had two Czech journalists, Pavlína Černá and Věra Dvořáková) presented their idea to their mentors who approved the topic. The four then set off into the field along with the other teams – each to complete their task.
Take Two: Finding Respondents
“We set off with a bout of enthusiasm that quickly fizzled out when we realized the people actually didn’t want to talk to us. Maybe they were shy or even feared for their job. We contacted shop assistants who were afraid to speak to us without the owner’s permission. It was clear to us that we couldn’t film the report without the people’s input,” says Nemanja Vidić, describing a significant complication.
The young reporters eventually succeeded in getting the job done when they told shopkeepers that they were students only just learning how to report. They assured them that their footage was not going to be publicized and that it would serve for study purposes only. It was only then that the respondents began to talk.
“One realizes how difficult it must be for a real reporter because they won’t be able to use this “excuse” in real-life reporting. Even then some shopkeepers didn’t want to give us their name, which can reduce the credibility of the report,” Denislava speculates.
Fortunately, the experienced mentors offered all teams a helping hand during their news report. Top CNN reporter Evan Perez taught them how to confidently speak in front of the camera and how to prepare for live coverage. Petr Josek from the Associated Press, who flew in for the Journey program all the way from Tokyo, Japan where he photographed the Olympic Games, advised how to take interesting photographs for news reports.
Take Three: On the Cutting Room Floor and in a Race Against the Clock
After filming their reports, the young reporters returned to the historic Villa Grébovka, which served as the home base for the entire Journey program, for editing and finalizing their reports.
“We were under a lot of time pressure – we only had a few hours to get the report and edit it. The respondents’ initial reluctance to cooperate with us caused a great delay,” recalls Denislava Zlatanova. “I learned that it’s always good to have a plan B. And that it’s necessary to respect the respondents as personalities and show sincere interest in them. Then they open up more,” says Denislava, who graduated from journalism last year and now focuses mainly on writing texts.
“I reaffirmed the importance of being able to improvise and adapt to the given situation,” adds Nemanja, who works for a local television station in Serbia and already has some experience in reporting and working in front of the camera.
Despite all the problems, their report was a success. The team received praise from the lecturers as well as some valuable advice on how to improve for next time.
Final Take: A Great Experience
The program’s participants agreed that the sixth annual Journey was a success despite the current COVID restrictions. In addition to the friendly atmosphere, they also appreciated new experiences and professional contacts they gained.
“I value the opportunity to learn from world-class journalists. For me, it is a mind-blowing experience to not only learn in such a small classroom setting where every question can be answered, but then also chat over breakfast with journalists I have long admired,” admits Pavlína Černá, a student of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia, adding: “All the fellows bring such unique perspectives from their home countries which is fascinating, especially in countries where freedom of the press is not always a given.”
Nemanja Vidić and Denislava Zlatanova also see the international participation as one of the main benefits of Journey. “I believe we’ll stay in touch with other fellows and possibly collaborate on future cross-border projects. It’s good to know that if I ever need a resource from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, or the USA for my work in the future, I can just pick up the phone and call one of my friends from Journey,” sums up Nemanja.
This year saw record interest in the Journey program. Out of all the applications that were sent in, an expert committee selected 21 participants, who each received a full scholarship from the Bakala Foundation to cover the costs of participating in Journey, including travel expenses, course fees, meals and accommodation.
“Independent journalism is one of the main pillars of a democratic society. That’s why we’ve organized the Journey program for the sixth time so that we can continue to present journalism to young journalists from different angles,” says Václav Pecha, director of the Bakala Foundation. “Students can then more easily decide what direction they want to take in their journalism career, and we are confident that they’ll be better equipped to do truly unbiased and independent journalism,” he adds.