This is one of a series of blog posts from the second ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are beginning to make their voices heard and expand the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Hagit Bachrach is a video producer at the Council on Foreign Relations.
One of the biggest challenges I face in covering international affairs and foreign policy is the lack of direct access to the people and the regions I report on.
This is hardly uncommon, as many news organizations have been cutting back on foreign bureaus and international coverage for years. One organization working to fill the gap is the International Reporting Project, which has provided hundreds of journalists with access to more than 100 countries through its fellowships and reporting trips.
In February, I had the great fortune of participating in the IRP trip to India to cover child survival and child health issues. For 10 days, we traveled to Mumbai, Nagpur and New Delhi, where we met with representatives of non-governmental organizations, Indian and UNICEF health officials, healthcare providers and many patients who shared their stories and experiences. We saw how biometric scanners are used to track tuberculosis patients in a slum area on the outskirts of Mumbai, and how rag-pickers make their meager wages off the city’s dumpster.
We heard from pregnant women who were just learning the importance of washing their hands when breastfeeding, and from community healthcare providers about the prevalence of sex-selective abortions. This field reporting opportunity provided unparalleled exposure to issues that I normally only have vicarious access to. This access is particularly crucial for multimedia projects, which weave in the sights and sounds that bring a story to life.
Marking a shift in the International Reporting Project’s programming, the participants of the trip were all new media journalists, including bloggers, social media editors and experts with large followings, photographers and videographers, new media commentators and contributors, and media professionals. The organization previously focused primarily on what they called “gatekeeper” trips, exclusively offered to editors from major U.S. media outlets. In the past year, the focus has been on new media, which is playing an increasingly important role in how people consume information in general and news in particular.
When I asked John Schidlovsky, the organization’s founding director, whether he viewed new media journalists as the new “gatekeepers,” thanks to their direct access to audiences, he went even further. “I think you have to discard the term ‘gatekeeper,’” he said. “What new media journalists are doing is really breaking down the gatekeeper function of the old gatekeepers. There are no gates to be kept, the gates are wide open, and no one sees it as their role to be the keeper of the gates anymore.”