On Friday March 22, I led a WordPress workshop for journalists taking part in the Refugee Journalism Project at the London College of Communications. With refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world, coming from countries such as Russia, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey and more, the project supports refugee and exiled journalists to re-start their careers in the United Kingdom. I spoke to the Project’s director, Vivienne Francis, to find out more about the RJP and what they have got coming up in the future.
By Carolina Are
Founded in 2016, the Refugee Journalism Project (RJP) offers participants a range of workshops, mentoring and placements. It recognises the journalists it retrains arrive in the UK with an impressive range of skills – many have been editors, correspondents and producers in their own countries – but that they face significant barriers when they attempt to continue their journalism in the UK.
On the day I taught my workshop, to guide the journalists through the ins and outs of WordPress, I was faced with an incredibly varied group with different backgrounds and capabilities, ready to showcase their expertise and experiences through different means.
Some wanted to start a blog to give voice to the voiceless, others already worked and volunteered with charities to raise awareness of and help journalists under threat of censorship or arrest, or were looking to start digital storytelling projects. Just ten minutes with the group confirmed that the way refugees are often portrayed is completely inaccurate – as the Humanitarian News Research Network’s The State of Humanitarian Journalism recently showed. The Project’s Director, Vivienne Francis, tells us more about the RJP here in this Q&A.
How was the Refugee Journalism Project born?
Back in 2013-14 I was doing voluntary work with the Migrant Resource Centre – an organisation that supports refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. MRC delivered a number of really good media-related projects, working with many talented former journalists. However, I wanted to develop a model that helped put their journalism on a more professional footing, brought them into contact with the mainstream media, and supported their employability.
The project was born in 2016 as a collaboration between London College of Communication (LCC), part of University of Arts London, and the Migrant Resource Centre. Since 2018, it has become exclusively based at LCC.
Who’s on the team?
I work on the project on a part-time basis as I combine the role of project director with teaching duties and other projects. Photojournalist Veronica Otero is the project’s part-time project administrator.
To help deliver the project, we collaborate with a number of organisations including Refugee Council, Counterpoint Arts, The Guardian Foundation, Google News Initiatives, and the University of Derby. This lets us draw on a wide range of expertise.
The project is also part of a growing network – which includes former participants, mentors, other journalists and support workers.
What does RJP deliver?
RJP offers four basic areas of activity:
- Industry-focused workshops – for example, Introduction to UK Media Law and Regulation; News Writing; Radio Production; Data Journalism, Social Media.
- Access to a mentor who will work with them on a one-to-one basis. Their experience spans a number of genres and mediums – The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, BBC World Service, Prospect Magazine.
- Participants, depending on their level of experience, will also have the opportunity to go on internships, work placements or to get their work published.
- We offer our participants a wide range of events in order to build their networks and create reporting opportunities. We publish this work on the project blog.
What impact has the project had?
Previous participants – who were part of the first cohort in 2016/17 – have gone on to get paid roles in the industry and freelance work. Others have used the project to help support their entrepreneurial ventures, or to set themselves up as experts. It is about supporting the participants with their individual goals, so for example, we are just as proud of the person who got a contract with the BBC as we are with the person who had an article published in English for the first time.
The aspect I am perhaps most proud of is being able to gather together these individuals as valued professionals. Through the asylum process, many have become disconnected to their identities as experienced, educated, and valued professionals. This process has an obvious knock on effect on their self-esteem. Through the project, we are able to play a small part in rebuilding this.
Prior to joining the project, one particular Syrian participant had sent off more than 100 applications to media roles, however the project team found him an internship with an investigative organization, where he now works full-time as a data researcher, and described the project as offering “a life changing opportunity”.
The project also has an important role to play in the lives of our undergraduate and postgraduate students as a vehicle for intercultural learning. James Cropper, a Journalism graduate said:
“The chance to collaborate with such a diverse group of people has been an invaluable experience. With each participant came a slightly different style of journalism influenced by the culture that they brought to Britain. These experiences…have added new dimensions into how my own journalism career will be formed in the future”.
Some of LCC’s MA students have been working collaboratively with participants on media projects that challenge what it is to be a migrant or refugee. Some of this work will be exhibited at forthcoming exhibition Visible Justice.
The project also has a positive impact on the mentors. Patrick Kingsley, a reporter for The New York Times who mentored participants told us:
“I’m meant to help Jamil and Ziad understand more about journalism, about writing, and about reporting… I expect I have learnt just as much from them as they have from me – if not more.”
What does the RJP have coming up in the future?
It is important for the project to have a public-facing side in order to get involved in the discourse around representation and integration in the media and society. We are currently planning an event on 26th October 2019 which will bring together our core participants, journalists, policy-makers, academics, editorial leaders and the public.
*All pictures courtesy of Veronica Otero and the RJP.