Good Journalism Takes Time: My AWJP Fellowship Experience

When I applied for the Africa Women Journalism Project, I was looking to get back to writing after a brief break. As a part-time freelancer, I saw it as an opportunity to get published. It ended up being way more than just that.

From the moment we had the first call with all the fellows, I could already see that things would be slightly different than I thought; the multi-country aspect meant that as fellows we were able (and encouraged) to come up with story pitches that could be carried out with one another, giving different perspectives on similar issues from two or more of the African countries presented; Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria.

I got to experience this first hand when working with Seun Durojaiye on what open markets in Abuja and Nairobi can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The opportunity to do such trans-national stories is rare, especially among African journalists. 

The process from pitching to publishing was also quite thorough, something that is usually rushed in a normal newsroom situation. Lots of thought went into justifying why the story is important in the first place and then going on to do enough research and interviews to flesh out the story.

This, combined with the training sessions on data journalism and solutions journalism, were the first time I could directly apply and experiment with ideas gained as I learned new concepts that could be applied to my journalistic stories. Rather than having the usual ‘dry’ webinar experience, the ideas shared could be worked on with current stories still in the production process.  

The additional coaching with the country mentors was a unique experience too. I remember a situation where Catherine and I were on a call and she jokingly said that she kept “disturbing” me by asking me several follow up questions about the stories I was working on, but this is exactly what I needed. When things start to get complicated I tend to deal with it by ignoring the situation. This time, I was “forced” to sit down and think through the ideas I had and be challenged about them until the end product came out ten times better than it would have.

Lessons Learned

For the longest time, Journalism has functioned with and celebrated the idea of the ‘lone wolf’ reporter who slaves away at a story for months or even years and comes out with a big revelation or investigative story.  While these situations do happen and can result in Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, not all journalists may have this big moment in their careers. With this fellowship, it occurred to me that the future of journalism is going to be more reliant on combined efforts such as the work of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

This also led me to see the value of shared experiences between journalists from different countries. In a globalised world, there is no way of escaping from the fact that everything is increasingly interconnected. And our experiences are becoming more and more homogenous. As it is with solutions journalism, we can all learn something from each other - both as a story angle and as a general concept. Journalists must break away from the suspicion and jealousy they have and share knowledge. Working with Seun was one such experience where we both brought different strengths to the table and this brought the final product to a higher level.

And most importantly…

Good journalism takes time. The fellowship allowed me to take one month building on one story at a time, for an overall of 6 pieces. Obviously, this affected the quality of the journalism I was able to do, especially in combination with other factors such as the mentors and the training sessions.

There is no getting away from the fact that journalists, particularly online journalists have become factory workers churning out as many articles as possible but the fellowship allowed time out from the usual routine to look at issues more critically and therefore to produce sharper pieces.

Posted by: Soila Kenya