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20 Sep
0

New graduate’s anti-corruption reporting earns Times byline

García says with the fellowship, “I proved to myself that I can report anywhere.”

When Kamala Harris came to Guatemala City in June of last year, Jody García covered the story — particularly the vice president’s comments on corruption and migration — for a small monthly magazine called La Cuerda.

With Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei beside her, Harris said the United States “must root out corruption wherever it exists” to be true to the country’s principles and to reduce people’s desire to migrate.

On Sept. 18, a few weeks after her Alfred Friendly reporting fellowship ended, García had an article published that assessed the Biden administration’s actual impact on corruption and migration in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America — this time for The New York Times.

García and NYT’s Mexico correspondent reported that “Central America has emerged as one of the Biden administration’s biggest foreign policy setbacks. Many nations have slid deeper into authoritarianism and poverty and sent record numbers of migrants to the U.S. southern border, leaving the region’s fragile democracies in the worst state since the Cold War, according to former U.S. diplomats and civil society leaders.”

“In Guatemala, Central America’s most populous nation, Mr. Giammattei has methodically dismantled the last vestiges of independent institutions. One by one, his government has jailed, exiled or silenced the very people the United States said would underpin its efforts to make Guatemala a more fair and ultimately more livable society: independent judges, prosecutors, journalists and human rights activists.” 

“The article was widely read in Guatemala,” García said. “I received tons of comments from people saying, ‘good job, great analysis.’ People are happy that international media like The New York Times is paying attention to what is happening here.”

García is concerned that there could be repercussions, although in the days after publication the government-backed “troll armies” had not targeted her. 

García’s strong reporting on corruption in Guatemala was a primary reason she was selected for a 2022 fellowship sponsored by the TRACE Foundation, a nonprofit that supports investigative journalism and projects that encourage greater commercial transparency.

García worked for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald during her fellowship. She recently contributed to the Times and The Guardian in London, but García said this bylined article, published on the front page of the Sunday international section, required the highest level of reporting she’s ever experienced.

Jody Garcia comments in a video call on her New York Times reporting experience

The two reporters went to Washington and then spent a week in Guatemala City, and ended up interviewing more than 40 people over a month’s time.

“It was super demanding, but I definitely learned a lot,” García said. “In some media in Guatemala there is a tendency to speak to just one side for the story. Here I was reminded how important it is to speak with everyone involved to have a better understanding of what is happening.”

García said the advanced training at the Missouri School of Journalism and an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference during the fellowship prepared her for the rigors of international reporting. 

The interactions with journalists from all over the world gave her a broader perspective and brought her into a supportive network she can tap into if “the harassment gets too strong” and she is forced to leave Guatemala. “There are a lot of (Guatemalan) journalists right now in exile, in Washington, in Costa Rica, in Mexico.”

“It wouldn’t be the end of my career — I can still do the job in other countries,” García said. “The fellowship helped me a lot to realize I have these options. And I have the skills to keep growing, not just in Guatemala. With this fellowship, I proved to myself that I can report anywhere.”

TRACE International President and Founder Alexandra Wrage said, “The TRACE Foundation is proud to have sponsored Jody García’s fellowship with AFPP. High-quality, independent investigative journalism is critical to countering autocracy and corruption worldwide, and we look forward to seeing more of Jody’s successes in the future.”

12 Sep
0

Alum launches fact-checking news platform in Nepal

Deepak Adhikari is a Kathmandu-based freelance journalist and a 2008 Alfred Friendly Fellow. He covers socio-political issues in Nepal including human rights, environment, hydropower, tourism, trafficking and geopolitics. His work has appeared in Time magazine, The Caravan magazine, Al Jazeera English and others. From 2010 to 2014, he served as Nepal correspondent for the global news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

In 2021, he collaborated with two other journalists for a major investigation into tax evasion. Adhikari said the Alfred Friendly fellowship had  “a tremendous impact on my career. The fellowship and my work at the (Pittsburgh) Post-Gazette boosted my confidence. As a result, I started doing ambitious reporting projects.”

In summer 2022, Adhikari founded Nepal Check, which publishes both in English and Nepali languages and can be followed on Twitter and Facebook. This fact checking website authenticates or dismisses claims made by public officials while also providing detailed reports that simplify complex topics. Adhikari explains more about his site and the work that went into creating it.

The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity:

What compelled you and your colleagues to establish a fact-checking platform?

The news media in Nepal is facing a crisis of credibility. Like elsewhere in the world, misinformation and disinformation, lies and propaganda abound in Nepal. Because the reporters mostly publish a politician’s speech without much scrutiny, they are getting away with lies. People tend to believe false claims from public officials if left unchecked.

This is where we come in. We fact-check statements made by politicians, public and elected officials. We provide ratings (true, false, misleading, etc.) at the end of our report. We also hold social media companies to account for mis-and disinformation spreading on their platform. 

The lack of thorough and comprehensive reporting on issues of public interest has created an information void in Nepal. At Nepal Check, we see it as our job to fill the void. We explain critical issues to our readers so that they can understand what’s going on and can make informed decisions. 

Are there fact-checking platforms that had features you emulated? 

Yes, the United States’ pioneering fact-checking platform, factcheck.org, is one of our inspirations. We also try to emulate PolitiFact, which pioneered political fact-checking. South Asia Check, where I worked for two and a half years as the editor, is also an inspiration. We also emulate the political fact-checking by Full Fact in the UK. 

Not everything can be fact-checked. Sometimes, materials from your research on a fact-check can turn into a good explainer piece, which could be on pressing issues that Nepali readers should know about. For explainers, we follow models established by Vox and Indian Express

We follow the code of principles developed by the Poynter-based International Fact-checking Network. 

How will you fund the platform and will it continue after the elections in November?

We are applying for funding from international funders, but for now, it’s mostly a volunteer effort. We do it because we are passionate about it. We have committed our time and expertise toward building a reliable and trustworthy repository of facts. We will continue our endeavor beyond the November elections. Elections or not, we will continue to fight bad information. 

What are the biggest problems facing Nepal now? 

Corruption is one of the major issues facing Nepal. It happens in multiple ways, ranging from bribing a traffic policeman or a low-level officer to receiving huge kickbacks for contracts or licenses. There’s collaborative corruption in Nepal, where all major political parties are working hand in glove with one another to exploit the country’s resources. There’s also impunity and immunity for corruption in Nepal. Related to this is the lack of good governance. The Nepali state has largely failed to deliver on its promises, which has eroded the credibility of state institutions. 

The country imports most of its consumers’ and other goods. The sources of foreign currency, which is required to import essentials, are only a few (remittances and tourism). With dwindling foreign currency reserves, we may face an economic crisis soon. The government, which is keen for its alliance to win the November polls, doesn’t care about these challenges facing the country. Bereft of any prospects or job opportunities at home, thousands of young people leave the country for employment in foreign countries. Ironically, the country lacks skilled human resources while its youth build stadiums in Qatar and pick fruits in the United Kingdom. 

What are a few examples of misinformation and disinformation that Nepalese have read or heard recently?

Nepal Check recently debunked two major instances of election-related misinformation. Bishnu Rimal, a top opposition party leader, shared a series of infographics on his Twitter and Facebook accounts, claiming that the economic indicators (Nepali rupee’s exchange rates with USD, foreign currency reserves, etc) were better under the previous government (led by his party). We debunked his claims here and here

Earlier at South Asia Check, we fact-checked a viral photo of a meeting between the mayor of Kathmandu and the country’s president, which was old but claimed to be recent

Nepalese fellows, including Adhikari (third from left), held a reunion celebration in Kathmandu on Sept. 7 with Alfred Friendly board members Randy Smith (center) and Sri Ramakrishnan (far right)

01 Sep
0

Reporters share fellowship lessons with colleagues in Nepal

Nitu Ghale and Tanka Dhakal talk with investigative journalists in Kathmandu about their fellowship experiences

On their final day of training, the 2022 Fellows gathered at the Missouri School of Journalism’s conference room in the National Press Building in Washington and discussed their plans for sharing lessons learned with colleagues back home.

At the end of August back in Nepal, Tanka Dhakal became the first of the 12 graduates to fulfill the fellowship’s  pay-it-forward requirement with a presentation in his home newsroom.

The following week, Dhakal and 2022 classmate Nitu Ghale of Nepal jointly talked to 25 journalists from around the country in an event organized by the Nepal Investigative Multimedia Journalism Network.

Dhakal works for Deshsanchar, an online news outlet based in the Kathmandu Valley that has a staff of nearly 30 and a daily readership above 100,000. Ghale works for Annapurna Post, a national daily.

In his newsroom south of Kathmandu, Dhakal discussed highlights of what he learned at the journalism school during the first two weeks of the fellowship, including story structure, using audio and video in news reports, fact checking and using data to strengthen reporting. 

Dhakal also recounted a long conversation the Fellows had in their living room in Missouri with James Wright, a deputy editor at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project who has more than 40 years of experience as a reporter and editor. Dhakal went over Wright’s lessons about making successful story pitches to their editors and what to expect in a typical U.S. newsroom.

“He talked to us about now to navigate legal issues like those he had to face because of his reporting and also talked about how to approach sources and how to protect them, and ourselves as well,” Dhakal said.

Dhakal told his Nepalese colleagues about how it felt to work in the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s newsroom in Madison.  One of the stories he produced for the nonprofit startup was an in-depth article about the environmental consequences of logging too close to lakes.

“I talked about how different and similar it was to my newsroom here,” Dhakal wrote in the Class of 2022’s WhatsApp group chat. “I shared my experience about navigating a new newsroom and how I did reporting there.”

Dhakal then talked about what he and his fellowship classmates learned in Denver during the annual training conference organized by Investigative Reporters and Editors.

During the presentation before members of the investigative journalism network, Dhakal and Ghale talked about both their training highlights and their cultural exchange with Fellows from other countries. They also fielded questions about how to apply these lessons to their reporting in Nepal.

NIMJN founder and CEO Rajneesh Bhandari said the presentation will help participants with their reporting skills and “help us do collaboration between journalists and networking among them. We are humbled to have AFPF fellows to our talk series.”

04 Aug
0

Fellows celebrate graduation in Washington

Members of the Class of 2022, from left: Anastasia Valeeva of Russia; Saurav Rahman, Bangladesh; Daniela Castro, Colombia; Parth Nikhil, India; Chencho Dema, Bhutan; Somesh Jha, India; David Mono Danga, South Sudan; Tanka Dhakal, Nepal; Jody Garcia, Guatemala. Not pictured: Gagandeep Singh, India; Nitu Ghale, Nepal, and Indinil Usgoda Arachchi, Sri Lanka

Members of the Class of 2022 completed their fellowship in Washington, D.C., with a final training session and a ceremonial dinner, where they received certificates for completing the program.

At the Missouri School of Journalism offices in the National Press Building, Fellows discussed their plans for sharing key lessons with colleagues back home. They also spent the afternoon of July 31 talking with American University Professor Shawn Bates, an intercultural communication consultant, about reverse culture shock and other challenges they face when returning to their countries.

Anastasia Valeeva describes challenges in reporting about Russia following the full invasion of Ukraine. She worked at The Marshall Project during the fellowship.

Gigi O’Connell from TRACE Foundation, David Reed and Randy Smith with new graduate Jody García. Fellows in following images: Daniela Garcia, Parth Nikhil, David Mono Danga, Anastasia Valeeva, Somesh Jha, Saurav Rahman, Chencho Dema, Tanka Dhakal, and Gagandeep Singh

25 Jul
0

Fellows evaluate investigative reporting conference

The 10 Alfred Friendly Fellows, gathered during a break at the IRE conference in Denver, gave positive reviews of the experience

Ten members of the 2022 class of Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellows learned the latest tools and techniques for innovative journalism at the Investigative Reporters and Editors annual training conference in Denver. The IRE conference in June brought together more than 1,200 journalists from various newsrooms in the U.S. and overseas along with freelancers and educators. The fellows were glad to be reunited for a long weekend, and shared their perspectives on the importance of the training, along with the networking and friendships the conference fostered.

Anastasia Valeeva, Alfred Friendly Fellow from Russia working with The Marshall Project:  

The sessions I attended were mostly on data and my current beat, criminal justice, which included police accountability, gun violence and working with public records. My favorite session would probably be ‘Creative problem-solving for DIY datasets’, where reporters showed a behind-the-scenes walkthrough of collecting the missing data on topics such as civilian casualties in Iraq or political views of incarcerated people. It was powerful, inspiring and moving. 

Also, I attended the mentor breakfast – an amazing event. My mentor, Sandra Fish, an experienced data reporter from Colorado Sun, provided many valuable suggestions and feedback to my current questions. Overall, the word ‘mentor’ was brought up at so many sessions during the conference, that it made me realize just how much mentorship, friendship and supporting networks are valuable in the U.S. journalism industry.

Somesh Jha, OCCRP Fellow from India working with the Los Angeles Times

The conference was a treasure of hidden gems I had always wanted to discover being an investigative journalist for the past nine years. I learned how to make investigative scripts sing by following a simple trick: put the power of the sentence at the end.  It was insightful to be aware of the fact that algorithms are not just complex formulas, but can often be systems intentionally designed by humans to mask discriminatory practices. It is possible to hold even the algorithms to account by probing what inputs went into the making of it.

Learning through osmosis by just being in the presence of the best minds of the investigative journalism fraternity is an experience I will carry on for the rest of my career, with the hope that it will make me a better journalist every day.

Paul Radu (center), an Alfred Friendly alum and co-founder of OCCRP, met with the Fellows at the IRE conference

Saurav Rahman, OCCRP Fellow from Bangladesh working with Kansas City Public Television

 “I’m also an Alfred Friendly fellow; I’m sure, it will be a life-changing experience for you.” This is what Paul Radu told us after I introduced myself to him at the luncheon for international participants of the IRE conference.

He is the director of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and participated in the Alfred Friendly fellowship in 2001. During the program, Radu worked as an intern at the San Antonio Express-News, where he first encountered computer-assisted reporting.

“That time I learned the importance of data and technology in journalism, which led me to shape up my investigative reporting along with all the initiatives I have taken further,” Radu said. “So, all the technological approaches you see now in OCCRP, like Investigate Dashboard or Aleph, are rooted in the Friendly fellowship.”

Apart from plenty of discussions, the main attraction of the conference was the hands-on training and master classes. As an economic journalist, I have been practicing computer-assisted reporting for a long time. However, it was limited to the basics of Excel formulas. This IRE conference taught me the magic of Excel, e.g. sorting, filtering, and pivot tables. Apart from formulas and functions of Google Sheets, these master classes taught me how to import, scrape, and clean up data.

Gagandeep Singh, OCCRP fellow from India, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

My favorite sessions were about the U.S. gun industry and violence, conducted by the Trace Foundation. It delivered shocking facts, including that nearly 111 people die every day due to gun violence. The sessions also put light on inspection reports and violations by the gun store owners. It would certainly help me once I go back home; I will also check inspection reports of the gun stores in my state, Punjab, because I am pretty sure that there would be numerous violations by the gun store owners there too. Similarly, the sessions of the human trafficking was also productive and I will correlate with the human trafficking in Punjab too.  

Chencho Dema, OCCRP fellow, KCUR, an NPR affiliate in Kansas City

One of the best sessions was about interviewing vulnerable sources. It is often difficult to conduct interviews with some sources, especially vulnerable ones. In Bhutan, I never had any special training on how to interview vulnerable sources, but now I feel confident enough to do so. When I covered crime, justice, and corruption cases, I didn’t interview the victims and instead consulted the reports compiled by the authorities. I acquired secondary information, not because I was afraid to talk to them, but because I was not sure what kind of questions to ask in sensitive circumstances. I was not sure if they wanted to be interviewed or how they would react when I introduced myself as a journalist. Because of this, I was not able to write a complete story. After this session, I have gained the confidence and skills to conduct interviews with sources in a variety of vulnerable situations.

Indunil Usgoda Arachchi, OCCRP fellow from Sri Lanka, InvestigateWest

The most interesting session for me was from the Public Records Track. Those sessions brought out many databases, and many story ideas too. Video production for print, digital and audio folks was also among the best sessions.

The IRE Mentorship Networking program was also great. My mentor was Zack Newman KUSA-TV. It was a good opportunity to discuss my journalism career and get advice from him. 

Jody Garcia, Alfred Friendly fellow from Guatemala, the Miami Herald

A data journalism workshop inspired me to find new ways to investigate and analyze information. I also had the opportunity to meet editors interested in learning more about the situation in Guatemala and Central America. Thanks to this conference I also met again with the other fellows in this program, people whom I greatly admire and respect.

Tanka Dhakal, OCCRP Fellow from Nepal, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

IRE22 will definitely be one of the major influential events in my journalism career. Being able to witness celebrations of ground breaking journalistic works and journalists was a highlight for me. My favorite sessions were reporting on trauma, how to be edited, finding investigative stories in environmental beats, reporting about diversity, and international collaborations.

To help Alfred Friendly Fellows in the Class of 2023 experience innovative training, please donate to our nonprofit organization through this link.  Your donation helps Alfred Friendly conduct fellowship programs in the United States for young journalists from countries where press freedom has the potential to grow. 

 

22 Jul
0

Fellowship helps me practice new ways of doing journalism

“Hi, I’m Jody García, a journalist from Guatemala, currently working for Plaza Pública and as a stringer for The New York Times. I’m part of the Alfred Friendly Fellowship Program, sponsored by the University of Missouri School of Journalism. As part of this opportunity, I am doing a three-month internship at the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald where I’m covering the situation of the Central American communities in Miami.”

This is how I have introduced myself to dozens of people over the last two months. Saying it fills me with pride. On April 23, after many months of waiting due to the pandemic, I landed at the airport in Columbia, Missouri. On my phone I had the instructions for the start of this three-month program and my backpack was full of new notebooks to write down the learnings and experiences of this time.

Months before this moment, I had seen the profiles of the other fellows and tried to memorize their faces to be alert to find them during the trip. That’s how I met Indunil Usgoda Arachchi, a Sri Lankan journalist, at the Columbia airport. At that moment I knew that the adventure had begun. Together we found David Reed, the director of this program, with whom we spent months exchanging emails about the fellowship.

Indunil and I were the first to arrive at the house where we would stay for the next ten days. That afternoon we saw the other fellows arrive one by one. By midnight that day there were already eight of us in that house, exhausted from the trip but full of excitement at finally meeting each other.

India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Russia and Guatemala. This program was full of diversity. That allowed me to get to know new cultures and also understand that although with different characteristics, independent journalists face the same threats in different parts of the world.

When our classes started, I learned a lot from the intercultural relations session with Professor Shawn Bates. His lessons helped me to have a more grounded vision of what I could expect during my time in the United States, how to introduce myself and build better relationships with the people around me. 

I had some very deep thoughts about what my job at the Miami Herald newsroom would be like when all of us fellows had a long conversation with James Wright, Deputy Editor in Chief,  South Asia section of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. His advice on how to function in the journalistic world of the United States stayed with me throughout this time.

The classes on fact checking, investigative journalism, data journalism and audiovisual journalism gave me tools that I will continue to practice and apply throughout my career and that will help me find new ways of telling stories. In this part I highlight the cha-cha-cha technique to edit videos in an interesting and attractive way for the audience.

After the training days, I said goodbye to the fellows to start the second part of this opportunity. I traveled to Miami to settle there for three months and work with El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald covering the Central American communities of this city.

Although the newsroom is not open, through video calls, voice calls and emails I was able to feel a warm welcome from the team. One of my first assignments was to tell the story of Central American migrant women who clean luxury buildings in Miami, earning the lowest minimum wage in the United States in this sector.

It was interesting to report this story because usually in Guatemala we read and listen to the stories of migrants when they leave the country and part of their journey as undocumented, but not much is known about what happens when they arrive in the United States.

I was impressed with the story of these migrant women because despite the adverse conditions in which they find themselves, they are fighting for their labor rights, to improve their living conditions and specifically to increase the minimum wage.

Along the same lines, I met Sergio, a 19-year-old Guatemalan who recently arrived in Florida after having crossed Mexico and the border desert with only a backpack and a cell phone, with which he took videos to tell his story on YouTube. Although he is new to this city and lives hidden from the immigration authorities, his case serves to illustrate how the precarious social situation forces young people to flee my country, Guatemala.

This approach to the reality experienced by millions of people in Central America helped me to think of new ways of doing journalism, to find ways to incorporate data and, above all, to collaborate with other media outlets outside the region so that the reports have a greater impact.

It has been a little over two months since I arrived in the United States to be part of this prestigious program and the entire experience has exceeded my expectations. I have learned about new technology to do journalism; I lost my fear of Excel and Google Sheets, and I made new contacts that will allow me to take my coverage beyond the borders of the country.

I am very excited about what awaits me in the last days of the program and I am already very proud to be an Alfred Friendly Fellow.

[Here’s a link to Jody’s most recent article in the Miami Herald, about a corrupt former minister in Guatemala who laundered money in Miami]

OCCRP’s James Wright speaks with Fellows about U.S. newsroom practices (Jody seated in foreground)

01 Jul
0

Indian Fellow finds LA more about homeless than Hollywood

By Parth Nikhil

In my coverage of homelessness for the Los Angeles Times, I was assigned a story that would take me to an abandoned plot of land south of the city. The reporter I was to collaborate with was Doug Smith. 

I looked him up on the internet. Among other things, his bio said he had been covering the city of Los Angeles for 50 years. I read that again. It wasn’t a printing mistake.

On that hot summer afternoon, I reached the reporting site in an Uber. Doug arrived on a  bicycle. A local community leader in his 40s walked up to us, and we introduced ourselves. Upon hearing Doug’s name, he smiled and said to him, “My English teacher used to tell me to read your articles.”

In the context of widespread cynicism around our profession, tailing Doug and keenly observing him at work was inspirational. Here was a man who had been reporting for half a century, and was still charmed by it. 

These are the kind of experiences that help us evolve as reporters. And I was lucky enough to have these experiences because of the Alfred Friendly fellowship. 

I would have been in the U.S. back in September 2021 had it not been for Covid-19. The second wave of the pandemic forced the postponement of the fellowship for another seven months. The delays had gotten frustrating to the extent that I even thought of not pursuing my visa because the U.S. embassy in India kept asking me to come back later.

I shudder to think of what all I would have missed had I not persevered.

I reached the majestic town of Columbia on April 23 after an exhausting 40 hour journey from Mumbai. I distinctly remember thinking of conking off the minute I saw my room. But excitement is infectious. 

I walked into a beautiful historic house in Columbia just before midnight. Four other fellows welcomed me with a beer. Instead of dozing off in my room, we sat out on the porch, getting to know each other, chatting about our work and our ambitions. 

Slowly and steadily, more fellows trickled in, and the cohort was complete. Three from India. Two from Nepal. And one each from Bhutan, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Guatemala and Russia. Our program director, David Reed, had booked two lovely houses next to each other. 

What followed over the next 10 days is something I won’t ever forget.

In spite of the tight schedule of attending lectures and hands-on training, we found time to hang out, cook, barbecue, and shop together. A fellow from Bhutan had her birthday during those days. We surprised her with a cake, sang songs, and danced our hearts out.

The late nights (mostly) didn’t interfere with our early mornings. Though there were times when David had to wait for us with his van to take us to the Missouri School of Journalism.

The campus won us over even before the teachers could. It made me envious of the students studying there. 

We learned things we had not even thought of. Professor Shawn Bates spoke to us about cultural differences, and aspects of behavior that helped me through my time here. I didn’t know Americans give so much importance to a handshake until I attended the lecture. I am still trying to understand why New Yorkers fold their pizza before eating it. But that’s a question for another day.

The sessions at the school ensured I am no longer intimidated by Google spreadsheets. I can see myself working better with data when I go back home. 

A highlight was our conversation with James Wright of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. He talked with us for three and a half hours about journalism and reporting in these challenging times.

If I have one gripe with my time in Columbia, it is that I didn’t have enough of it. 

Before arriving, David told me I’d be working with the LA Times after the training program in Columbia. As a Hollywood-loving Indian, who had never come to the U.S. before, LA definitely sounded sexier than the placements in other cities.

But I spent the first week in LA missing my time in Columbia. And it wasn’t just me. All of us that had scattered to different newsrooms across the country felt lonely. We called each other up way too often and made plans of being together again. We missed David turning up in his van; whether it is to take us to school or to a jazz concert or to see the sunset from a river bluff winery. It must’ve been a wise human being who said: You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.

Gradually, the frequency of the phone calls reduced. We warmed up to our respective new cities. In my case, the editors I started working with helped. Having a roommate from the fellowship program, Somesh Jha, helped. We began mapping our stories, and mapping out destinations to explore in and around LA. 

Living in LA has been a fascinating experience so far. And two months into my time here, the swanky cars, huge highways and Hollywood don’t define the city for me. What does is the pervasive homelessness, my beat at the Times. 

While reporting on the homeless population and housing crisis, I’ve tailed a mobile clinic providing healthcare to people living on the streets, entered a manhole to interview a man living below it, and met PhD students on the verge of drowning in debt. 

One of those stories even made the front page of the Times.

The experiences I have accumulated in these first two months have been invaluable. It has broadened my horizon. 

There is no substitute for traveling abroad. There is no substitute to working with people who know more than you. There is no substitute for interacting with international journalists who have covered diverse issues in their countries.

The Alfred Friendly Fellowship ensures you get it all. 

06 Jun
0

India fellows deliver 1-2 punch at LA Times

After training at the Missouri School of Journalism, the Alfred Friendly fellowship Class of 2022 produced a range of incisive stories during their first month in host newsrooms.

Somesh Jha and Parth Nikhil are reporters from India and fellows from our partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Project. Alfred Friendly Fellows often spend much of their first few weeks observing and learning, but Jha and Nikhil quickly got bylines with explanatory articles for the Los Angeles Times.  

Jha used a question-and-answer format to explain why bitcoin, luna and other cryptocurrencies crashed in May. Nikhil informed California readers about an unseen problem below the beautiful blue water of Lake Tahoe: trash, tons of it that a team of scuba divers is collecting

The Kansas City Media Collective is also getting double barrels from a pair of Alfred Friendly Fellows: Chencho Dema, a reporter from Bhutan working for NPR-affiliate KCUR, and Saurav Rahman, a multimedia journalist from Bangladesh working for KCPT, a PBS station.

Dema, a staffer for Business Bhutan back home, wrote a story for the radio and digital platforms about an outreach effort launched by a local Heart to Heart organization. The group from suburban Kansas City delivered $15 million worth of medical supplies to a warehouse in Slovakia, which will then be transported across the border to help those in Ukraine. 

Rahman, who hosts a popular business show for his TV station in Dhaka, wrote a story and created graphics for the digital platform called Flatland. The article was about the rate of business failures in Kansas and Missouri. Here’s the lead:

Colorful balloons, ribbons, unlimited drinks, food and of course music. There was everything at the ribbon cutting of Pirate’s Bone Burgers second outlet in town on May 12.

On top of all these joyful arrangements, though, was something that could not be seen in a tangible sense – a dream. A dream to grow as much as possible, so that a small initiative on Main Street can happen again in another state, and someday spread the brand beyond the country. 

 

23 May
0

Making memories while learning journalism in America

By Gagandeep Singh

Gagandeep Singh

I have been thrilled to attend the Missouri School of Journalism as an Alfred Friendly Press Partners Fellow.

It was a dream-come-true moment when I landed at JFK Airport on April 24, and by the end of the day I had arrived in Columbia, Missouri. Along with my colleague, Somesh Jha from New Delhi, I was received warmly by the program director, David Reed.

The next day, along with other fellows mainly from South Asian countries, I arrived at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at 9 a.m. sharp. We had a photo session and a detailed introduction to the program and to America. I learned many things about American culture, especially “to always shake hands with full zest.”

Later, we toured the campus and saw “The Columns,” a row of six pillars left over from a 19th Century fire that is the most recognized landmark of the University of Missouri. It was a mesmerizing experience to see them along with another fellow, Tanka Dhakal from Nepal, as the sun set. Meanwhile, the locals took walks with their beautiful pets and new graduates had their photos taken till evening.

I learned about several cultures while staying with my colleagues. Every night we shared our thoughts on various topics, including the state of journalism in our respective countries and our newly learned skills, while comparing our experiences from back home. I found David Mona Danga, who came all the way from South Sudan, to be an especially interesting person. I was shocked to hear his story of being arrested by the Army for his stories.

We cooked food from different countries including Nepal and Bhutan on a regular basis, while my friend and fellow journalist, Parth Nikhil from Mumbai, cooked Indian food. We celebrated the birthday of our colleague from Bhutan, Chencho, with full zeal and danced to traditional songs. I went to my first jazz concert along with other fellows, hosted by Mr. Reed; we had a fabulous evening at the Blue Note Theatre in Columbia.

Every morning I took in the chilly breeze of Columbia, and Mr. Reed took us twice to the Missouri River to experience the sunset; it was a place where a person could feel the essence and beauty of nature. I really missed my Indian food but finally found a restaurant where the chef from my native state of Punjab greeted me and prepared a delicious meal.

A day before my departure from Columbia, I biked to the city and watched a college baseball game at the stadium. Later, I went shopping at a store where I chatted with the shopkeeper about the city. I purchased a Missouri School of Journalism t-shirt as a souvenir and the shopkeeper, as a goodwill gesture, gave me a discount.

I also enjoyed a drive to Kansas City, my first long drive in the U.S., amid rain showers. We visited a radio station to understand their work and spoke with their editors and reporters. Finally, we were hosted by a law firm, where I had an informative chat about the American justice system.

Back in Columbia, I learned many new skills such as data journalism and how to use Excel spreadsheets to build databases and charts. The lectures on data-strengthened investigative reporting were the most informative of the entire course, and will certainly make my work much easier and stronger. I also learned techniques of multimedia reporting, including video and audio recording and photography.

Overall, it was a tremendous learning experience for me. The experience has also brought several changes to my personal life, as I started being punctual for every task. Back home, I was a bit lazy, waking up in the late morning and continuing to chase the time throughout the day. I noticed how Americans tend to stick to their schedules and the importance of proper planning of work — otherwise it would be tough to survive here.

With a heavy heart and a bundle of memories, I said good-bye to the beautiful city of Columbia on May 2, leaving for Pittsburgh where I have joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for further training. While it has only been a few weeks, I still miss my fellow friends a lot and eagerly await catching up with them very soon.

The Alfred Friendly Class of 2022, left to right, Indunil Arachchi of Sri Lanka; Chencho Dema, Bhutan; Nitu Ghale, Nepal; Somesh Jha, India; Parth Nikhil, India; Gagandeep Singh; Tanka Dhakal, Nepal; Jody Garcia, Guatemala

(Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 19)

 

11 May
0

Alfred Friendly brings combined fellowship class into 2022 program

The Fellows visited a Missouri River bistro after classes

Twelve investigative reporters from Central America, South America, South Asia, Eurasia and North Africa started work at U.S. media outlets in May after completing 10 days of intensive basic and advanced training at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Their experience in the 38-year-old fellowship program will improve their ability to produce in-depth reporting on critical issues facing their countries. The fellows are committed to collaborating on cross-border projects and sharing what they learn with colleagues when they return home in August. 

Over the past two years of the pandemic, computer labs, classrooms and newsrooms closed. Alfred Friendly Press Partners had to cut short its fellowship program in the spring of 2020 and postpone the 2021 program.

David Mono Danga of South Sudan attends a class on recording audio. Photo by Anastasia Valeeva 

The training is conducted in-person by professional practice faculty in the world’s premier journalism school. This year, there were numerous hands-on sessions on multimedia reporting and data journalism — ranging from the fundamentals of photography to video editing, from using spreadsheets to data visualization.

There also were sessions on best practices in U.S. newsrooms, fact checking, using the Freedom of Information Act, communications law, web tools and applications, and open source intelligence.

A final seminar at the end of the fellowship will allow them to compare and evaluate their experiences and discuss their impressions of the American media, and to learn and practice presentations to make in their home countries.

The host newsrooms include veteran participants — the Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Miami Herald. Other hosts are new digital outlets, including Investigate West, Wisconsin Watch and The Marshall Project. Also hosting are two members of the Kansas City Media Collective, KCUR and KCPT.  

Primary sponsors for the 2022 Fellows include the Pat and Janna Stueve Foundation and TRACE International, a non-profit organization that supports projects that encourage greater commercial transparency and advance anti-bribery education.

Alfred Friendly Press Partners last year joined with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project to undertake a two-year training regimen for eight journalists that will strengthen investigative reporting in South Asia. Before joining the Alfred Friendly fellowship in April, the OCCRP journalists went through vigorous reporting and security training.

The goal of the project funded by the U.S. State Department in South Asia is to ensure journalists in the region have the capacity to expose corruption, inform citizens, and empower the public to push for greater government accountability and transparency. 

Alfred Friendly is a nonprofit organization formed in 1984 and a sponsor of J1 visas issued by the State Department that allow Fellows to work on the staffs of U.S. newsrooms for three to six months. More than 340 journalists from 80+ countries have graduated from the program and gone on to uplift journalism around the world.

Fellows in the Class of 2022:

  • David Mono Danga, a correspondent for Voice of America and co-founder of an online investigative media platform in South Sudan, which lacks an independent media despite a transitional constitution that guarantees freedom of the press. During the fellowship, Danga will learn how to effectively expose corruption and promote good governance in his country. He is working at Voice of America in Washington.
  • Jody García, a contributor to the New York Times and other international outlets and reporter for Plaza Pública, an investigative newspaper in Guatemala, where the government and media are hobbled by crime and corruption. She is working at the Miami Herald along with Daniela Castro, a Fellow from Bogotá, Colombia whose internship was postponed in 2020. 
  • Anastasia Valeeva of Russia, a data journalist and project coordinator who’s led investigative reports in Kyrgyzstan on subjects such as migration, gender equality, and domestic violence, along with stories on election-tampering and issues related to corruption. She is working for The Marshall Project and her work was recently featured by the Poynter Institute. 

The eight reporters in the OCCRP network from South Asia, where media freedoms and democratic governments are eroding, are:

  • Parth Nikhi, an independent reporter based in Mumbai who writes about social issues in rural India. Nikhil received a grant from the Pulitzer Center to write a series of stories on societal fallout of COVID-19 and the inadequate health infrastructure. He was one of three finalists for the prestigious Martin Adler Prize at the Rory Peck Awards for international freelancers given in November 2021 in London. 
  • Somesh Jha of India, who works with Nikhil at the Los Angeles Times, is a member of The Reporters Collective. The new group of investigative reporters collaborate to produce in-depth multimedia projects in multiple languages that “put the spotlight on those in power.” His four-part investigative series last year for BloombergQuint examined hundreds of documents obtained through the transparency law.
  • Indunil Usgoda Arachchi of Sri Lanka, a reporter and freelancer who’s contributed to international news outlets. Arachchi’s Sinhala-language newspaper is an alternative publication started by an investigative journalist and is training young journalists. She aspires to develop an investigative reporting news outlet focused on crime and corruption in Sri Lanka “to push the government for accountability and transparency.” She is working on the staff of Investigate West, a nonprofit based in Seattle.
  • Saurav Rahman is a senior reporter for Maasranga Television in Bangladesh who also wants to build an independent investigative reporting news outlet. A story he reported for OCCRP as a freelancer revealed the fraudulent activities of shadow banks, and his stories on garment factories exposed dangerous working conditions. Rahman is working for KCPT, part of the Public Broadcasting Service.
  • Chencho Dema, a reporter for Bhutan Today and Business Bhutan and a freelancer for the BBC, The Wire, The Diplomat and other outlets. In 2019 she won the national Women in Politics story of the year award. She said the fellowship will help her produce stories with a greater impact on the community, society and Bhutanese democracy. Dema is working for KCUR, a National Public Radio affiliate.
  • Tanka Dhakal of Nepal, a multimedia reporter for DeshSanchar.com, a digital news outlet in Nepal with an English language version. He’s done in-depth reports on child sexual abuse and children deprived of an elementary school education. Dhakal is working for Wisconsin Watch, an innovative digital startup founded by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Reporting.
  • Nitu Ghale, also from Nepal, is a reporter for Annapurna Post, a national daily. Ghale focuses on the environment, particularly how climate change is affecting her country and region, along with underreported issues such as the water crisis in the middle hill region. She is working at the Columbia Missourian and multimedia newsrooms affiliated with the Missouri School of Journalism.
  • Gagandeep Singh is a multimedia reporter for the Hindustan Times who covers districts in the far north of India. Singh focuses on criminal justice issues. He uncovered financial irregularities in the land acquisition process for government projects and corruption involving government ministers. Singh said corruption is hindering the government’s ability to provide basic services and sees that involving a network of investigative reporters will strengthen his investigative reporting.

Gagan Deep Singh

Indunil Usgoda Arachchi

Parth Nikhil

Tanka Dhakal

Somesh Jha

David Mono Danga

Chencho Dema

Anastasia Valeeva

Saurav Rahman

Saurav Rahman

Nitu Ghale

Nitu Ghale

Jody Garcia

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