By Ellie Buchdahl

06 July 2017 - 19:22

'The impact of photography is that it speaks to everyone in the same way.' Image (c) Meditations, licensed under CC0 and adapted from the original.
'Remember, even when you are waiting to take your picture, you are working.' Image ©

Meditations, licensed under CC0 and adapted from the original.

What are the secrets to being successful in international news? Ellie Buchdahl spoke to journalists from around the world at the British Council's Future News Worldwide conference.

Renay Knight, 23, is a journalism student from Jamaica.

How do you get people to share their stories?

I have found that when I speak to people in Jamaican patois, I build their trust much more quickly. And then there is the fact that I am also a woman, and that I have dwarfism. It does make things more difficult for me – but it can also be to my advantage.

What news stories would you like to see covered in your country?

Women’s rights. There's been a recent upsurge of violence against women in Jamaica, with women and young girls targeted by sexual predators. Jamaicans rely heavily on public transport, but sex offenders disguise themselves as taxi drivers and bus operators to abduct and murder their victims, who are mainly female.

These are the stories I am interested in telling – but of course, these stories are highly sensitive, and the victims often come from more hard-to-reach parts of society. If you come and speak to them in English, people will often assume that you are from an official authority. They will be much more wary of you, and less likely to share their story.

How do you approach interviews?

I speak to people in local dialect – and I let them ask me the first awkward question, which for me is usually ‘How come you’re so small?’. Then I ask them about themselves – and I just listen.

Everything is about building trust and being honest. Everyone has a story. The secret is just to listen to them.

Why did you want to be a journalist?

Having a disability, being from a less fortunate socio-economic background, and being female all put you in a position where society wants to limit your potential by saying 'you can't'. But journalism is one avenue where you can defy those odds, and influence and change people's perception of the world.

Journalism gives you an opportunity to be an advocate and a philanthropist, in the sense that you can help and motivate people.

Anne McElvoy is a UK broadcaster and journalist for The Economist and London Evening Standard.

What advice would you give student journalists?

Don’t underestimate the power you have to move quietly between the lines and talk to the people no-one else is speaking to. You’ll find the story that no-one else is telling.

When I was an unaccredited student in East Berlin, I could ask people questions under the banner of my doctoral thesis that would be difficult to ask if people knew I was a full-fledged journalist.

Whatever you do, don’t be put off by someone refusing an interview, particularly someone who is in a position of influence.

How do you persuade people to talk to you?

Wheedling is a great skill: wheedling and persistence. Often I start with the polite pitch – ‘Would you consider….?’ Or, ‘we’re looking for an authoritative voice…’ Or I try flattery: ‘I hear you went down a storm today.’

If they don’t respond, I don’t give up. I might send them the request in a different format, or ask for something vague – ‘I’d love to talk about the parameters…’

If they say 'no' outright, I’m faced with the choice to go quiet and leave them alone, or to go nuclear – and going nuclear is always my preferred option. ‘But you did such a good interview with me last year!’. I say something to show them how much I really want that interview, and maybe make them feel a bit bad.

I’ll take every opportunity to keep pushing, telling the person, ‘I need someone to put your side of the argument…’.

It takes a while, of course. But eventually ‘no’ will become ‘unlikely this week’, and then ‘unlikely this week’ will become ‘call me first thing in the morning’.

Tafadzwa Ufumeli, 23, is a photojournalist from Zimbabwe.

How did you get your first big break?

The picture that started my career was of a woman footballer taking a flying kick at the referee’s head. I took it at a women’s football match at Rufaro Stadium in Harare on 5 July 2014.

'One woman aimed a kick at the referee, and I just kept taking photographs.' Image (c) Tafadzwa Ufumeli
'One woman aimed a kick at the referee, and I just kept taking photographs.' Image ©

Tafadzwa Ufumeli

At the time, I was already interested in photography – there are three photojournalists in my family – and I was helping my uncle take pictures for the agency he worked for.

I was just at the match, taking normal sports pictures. The team that lost claimed that the referee was favouring the other team, and things started to get aggressive.

I worried that people would notice me, and thought about putting my camera away and keeping my head down. But then one woman aimed a kick at the referee, and I just kept taking photographs.

The picture was presented in the in a newsroom diary meeting, and from that time I started filing photographs regularly for the paper. I now work as a freelance photojournalist for Newsday, Zimbabwe’s first independent daily newspaper. I report on families who have been evacuated or displaced from Zimbabwean farms. My job, as I see it, is to document life, events and human rights.

What challenges have you encountered?

Often people will ask me to pay to take their picture. People assume if you come along with a big camera and you work for a major newspaper like Newsday, you are paid a lot of money. But I would rather leave the picture than lose my reputation and people’s trust in my work as impartial and true-to-life.

One of my pictures shows an old woman kneeling in front of riot police outside Harare Magistrates' Court. One of the riot police, wearing full riot gear with a stick in one hand, is kicking her into the shield of another member of the police.

How did I take that picture? I waited. There was tear gas and smoke and chaos, and my colleagues had already left, but even though the smoke was in my eyes I just stood with my spot lens and waited and watched the people. Timing is everything. Remember, even when you are waiting to take your picture, you are working.

This picture caught people's attention, and now this woman is being helped by human rights lawyers. The police say these photos are manipulated – but it’s no good, because the impact of photography is that it speaks to everyone in the same way. There are no language barriers, and it’s timeless. I remember every picture that I have taken in my whole life because I know that each one is something that will last forever.

Anne was a speaker at Future News Worldwide, and Renay and Tafadzwa are both participants.

Run by the British Council from 6 to 7 July, Future News Worldwide brings 100 young journalists from more than 40 countries to Edinburgh for two days of intensive learning from leading professionals in the field. Find out how to apply for next year's conference.

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