Thursday, December 24, 2015
Teaching International Freelance Journalism -- Part 1, Geographies
There is a lot to ponder before embarking on an international freelance journalism career. Here are some key questions before you take off. What is your comfort zone? What are your cultural inclinations? Do you speak a foreign language? Do you have any contacts anywhere outside your own country? Is there somewhere you've always wanted to go? How much money do you have? What kind of gear will be in your backpack? How much are you willing to go into debt before making money? These are essential questions to guide your choice.
Note this list was established in early 2016. If I were to go in early 2017 .... I might add Paris, Berlin and Mexico to a potential list of places to go to (if I could find cheap apartments there, as well as Manila, Seoul and Dakar). Given the Trump uncertainties, I might also add Moscow at this point.
My #1 Choice: Turkey
If I were embarking on an international freelance career today, early 2016, I would choose Turkey. Turkey itself is a huge story, with the Kurdish issue, its uncertain future vis a vis the European Union, its increasingly hardline governmental Islamic politics, the crackdown on journalists, bloggers and people power movements, its flood of refugees from Syria, tensions with the governments of Russia and Syria, the list goes on an on. Plus it's a gateway into Syria, or border areas with Syria, teeming with stories, militants, aid workers, freedom fighters, war profiteers, and the like. It also has cheap flights to places throughout the Middle East. Istanbul is also very safe itself, for the most part, very cheap, with delicious food, making it a very interesting entry point into the world of international freelance journalism. Just buy your plane ticket, and don't think twice, you won't regret it.
Like anywhere though there are risks, as this article explains. It's all about the rewards though and if they outweigh the risks.
Backup Choices: India, Northern Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Eastern Europe
My backup choices in terms of freelance journalism and affordability would be basing myself in India (cheap to live in, and stories by the bucketload, safe and never dull), Northern Nigeria (very cheap in certain areas, ability to cover "Boko Haram" extremists from a safe distance, as well as poorly covered Nigerian stories from the most populous country in the fastest growing continent), Brazil (lots of news with Olympics coming up, economic crunch, problems with the government), Indonesia (cheap, delicious food, most populous Muslim nation in the world, growing economy, not well covered), China (lots of stories, still undercovered, possibility to live on the cheap), Eastern Europe (still much cheaper than Western Europe or Russia, lots of stories with refugees, economic problems, painful political transitions). These are just some seed ideas, from many, many out there, in a big, wide world.
Where Not To Go: Competition, Cost, Danger, Not Enough News, Not Your Style
If the city is too expensive, think Lagos, London, Paris, Rome, or teeming with other, much more experienced journalists, it might not be a good idea.
You also have to think about your own style, and whether you will like it there. Some places might be too polluted for you, as this journalist found out in India. .
First and foremost, though, some places might be too dangerous for you, unless you have some cultural connections and prior know-how. Somalia, ISIS territory, Syria, the Sahara desert, Libya, border regions between Ukraine and Russia, Kashmir, Iran, Hezbollah territory in Lebanon, backstreets of Brazil come to mind as places to avoid, at least initially, until you get the necessary survival skills and temperament to make it out alive.
Here's an article showing Yemen, although rich in unexplained news events, may be to dangerous. Here's a recent list of some of the most dangerous countries to report fr.
If you just want to have a good time, and barely break even, you can consider somewhere "without much news" at least in the anglo-saxon realm of things, and which isn't expensive to get going. Think Bolivia, Ecuador, or maybe Mongolia, if you don't mind the cold. There are tons of options in this category. But again you might not be able to go full bore as a journalist in places from which it will be harder to sell stories. You will be able to go full bore in other parts of your life though, including learning new languages, so this type of experience is not to be underestimated either. Just stay safe, stay healthy and try to at least break even, and have enough money for your return trip home.
If you enjoyed this lesson plan, here are all the chapters in My Guide to Teaching International Freelance Journalism.
Part 1, Geographies
Part 2, A Brief History Until Today
Part 3, Before You Go
Part 4, Potential Clients
Part 5, When You First Arrive
Part 6, Surviving the Game
Part 7, Books and Films To Educate and Inspire
Part 8, Perceptions
Part 9, Ethical Considerations
Part 10, Migrations and the Other
Part 11, Going Glocal
Part 12, Musings, Behind the Scenes and Critiques
As I've written on this blog (see chapters below), I started working for English-language media in Turkey and Indonesia, before being able to become a freelancer, supplementing my own low journalism income, by teaching English and playing soccer semi-professionally, and also living very rough.
If you really enjoye my style, I've also previously written on my journey in and out of international reporting, from the very beginning to the very end (for now):
Chapter 1 -- Wanting to Become an International Journalist
Chapter 2 -- Studies, Soccer and Internships
Chapter 3 -- Getting a First Job (with RFI in Paris)
Chapter 4 -- Getting to Indonesia
Chapter 5 -- Surviving a Revolution
Chapter 6 -- Fixers and Fixing
Chapter 7 -- Getting the Dream Job
Chapter 8 -- African Stories