Journalism In Africa: A Graduate’s Guide

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden captured Malawi life through her blogs and photography – pic: Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden is back from a six-week trip to Malawi, where she was writing for the Irish Times. Here’s her insight into working overseas…

I was fortunate enough to receive the Simon Cumbers Student Media Award for Print Journalism 2013. The fund was set up in honour of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers, who was killed in Saudi Arabia in 2004.

It’s run by Irish Aid and aims to promote better coverage of development issues by the Irish media. Winning applicants receive funding to travel to a developing country and research a specific project, along with the chance to have their story published in a national media outlet.

I wanted to examine the lives of women under the leadership of Malawi’s first female president, Dr. Joyce Banda. When I applied I knew very little about Malawi.

Surrounded by the chaos that is associated with a lot of Africa, it’s a quiet country doesn’t make the news very often. When I told most people I was going, they’d only heard of it through its association with Madonna.

Though I was given funding, I organised everything else myself. In doing so I learnt a few things that would be valuable for someone travelling alone anywhere in search of a story. Here is some of my advice:

Utilise social media

When I found out I was going to Malawi I posted it on my Facebook account. Lots of people feel uncomfortable about broadcasting what they’re up to online, but you’d be surprised by the amount of unexpected acquaintances who will get in touch to help you.

The same goes for Twitter. I had barely used Twitter before I started planning the trip. By following local journalists, academics and politicians I learnt a lot about the country before I travelled there, and again lots of people got in touch with advice.

Contact your contacts

If people give you contacts before you go, don’t feel that you need to have specific questions ready before you get in touch with them.

Knowing so little about what to expect, I sent most people an email simply stating what I was planning on doing, and asking whether they had any advice or suggestions for me.

Plan, but allow for plans falling through

For example, in Malawi there’s a thing called ‘Malawi time’ – which means that people are likely to be late for things and there’s not much you can do about it.

Schedule meetings for early in the morning, so if they don’t work out you can do something else with your day. If you’re travelling to a developing country also be aware that it can be hard to contact people and to plan things before you arrive.

Get in touch with NGOs

They’re used to visitors, and are great for supplying you with stories or answering any other questions, whether they’re about the current political situation or the best place to buy groceries.

Talk to locals

Some of the most interesting things I discovered when I was in Malawi came from conversations with the people who worked in the market, the police, local politicians and local journalists.

If someone offers to show you around and you trust them, accept their offer. That’s how I ended up on a tour of a therapeutic food factory, dancing the olimba in a tiny village up a mountain, and going to dinner with a Department of Finance official.

Stay for as long as you can

One of the things that Malawians complained about was Westerners (journalists, NGOs, researchers) arriving with a preconceived notion of what to expect, and not staying long enough to challenge those preconceptions.

Obviously everyone’s under time and financial constraints, but if you have a chance to stay an extra day or an extra week, take advantage of it.

You can find out more about Sally’s time in Malawi by reading her blog and checking out her photos. You can also follow her on Twitter @sallyhayd. If you want to share your own experiences, get in touch with us @Journograds

Related posts:

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

- price9 - deals5