Two months into the second cohort of the Next Generation Journalism (NGIJ) Fellowship Programme, Thelma Dede Amedeku, one of the fellows, shares a story about the impact and her experience in the programme.
Like a book written in chapters, such is life. I began the first chapters of my life, admiring journalists and the impact their stories make on society.
One thing was certain: I wanted to become one, and therefore pursued a diploma at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). However, like the prodigal son, I fled to seek “greener pastures” in the digital marketing space as a content writer but as fate would have it, I found my way back to journalism through the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship( NGIJ 2022), a project of the Media Foundation for West Africa.
On August 1 2022, this new chapter in my life started unfolding – a chapter that challenges me to scale up and clothe myself with courage as I dare to do more. Uncertainty and fear clouded my mind like a plague, but I was determined to make an all-out effort.
Having the opportunity to meet 12 other budding journalists from Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, each with different professional backgrounds, strengths and viewpoints, has been a learning experience on its own.
More often than not, I have put the expression ‘team player’ on my CV for job applications. Yet, with my background in a remote career such as content writing, the exposure to co-workers and a team has been a luxury but for the fellowship.
Through group assignments and activities, I have been able to develop a real sense of the saying that “one hand cannot cover the eye of God” and the essence of teamwork. In addition to being paired in groups, we are also assigned mentors to guide us throughout the fellowship.
Experience sharing sessions
The opportunity to engage in honest conversations with seasoned investigative journalists like Manasseh Azure Awuni, Adwoa Adobea-Owusu, Francisca Enchill, and distinguished media expert Prof.Kwame Karikari in experience sharing sessions where they shared their struggles, successes and gave us deep insights on how to attain success in the field is worth mentioning.
One of the key things my eye has been opened to is that there are few female investigative journalists in the country. While that’s a disadvantage, it can be weaponized to our advantage as it makes us less suspicious. Also, the only guarantee of press freedom is high professional standards.
Another thing I picked up was that investigative journalists do not create or manufacture news, but rather, they follow a trail to uncover evidence.
The investigative journalism; reporting, fact-checking and mobile journalism training workshops we have had so far have been very insightful. Unlike content writing, where the style is to write optimized web content that influences the public to buy into a certain idea, purchase a product or patronize a service, I discovered that investigative journalism is putting facts and evidence together to create a piece.
I learned to my surprise that creativity is allowed when writing an investigative report, contrary to my view that investigative reports were the piecing together of hardcore facts devoid of any artistry.
I have also learned that contrary to popular belief, investigative journalism does not necessarily ride on going undercover. Open methods can also be used to source for evidence and information.
Another outstanding part of the training was the session on mobile journalism. With a device as simple as a smartphone, I am able to tell digital stories by taking and editing photos, videos and audios. Aside from being educative, the session was fun, and thanks to that I’ll be able to professionally create other forms of content aside from writing for my work as a content creator and investigative journalist.
The fact-checking training sessions were all new experiences for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and was opened to a wide range of tools and techniques. We were also given the opportunity to practice by way of assignments. It did not end there; we were taken through the Right to Information law, the need for the law and how to request information.
Right to information request submission
The Right to Information law (RTI) also known as (ACT 989) was not unfamiliar to me; nonetheless, I had never requested information but for the Next Generation Investigative Journalism (NGIJ) fellowship.
The submission of RTI requests was not as easy as writing them. So far, I have had the opportunity to submit RTI requests on three occasions and accompanied my colleagues to submit their requests twice. Had it not been for that, I would never have guessed how much some public servants were scared of a “common sheet of paper”!
The process at some institutions was smooth, but it was a tussle at other institutions. It is either you are asked to re-address the letter to the bureaucratic head of the organization (which is contrary to the law unless it is an internal appeal) or you are given the excuse that there is no information officer in the institution.
At one institution, I was asked to sit and wait for the officer in charge for close to an hour before I was attended to. Although the Right To Information law aims to promote transparency and accountability, the challenge of institutions being uncooperative and frustrating the requesters undermines the law. Regardless, for me, the RTI law is the best way to acquire information, and I will be using it to obtain information for my stories during and after the fellowship to credibly inform the public.
As the popular saying goes “good things do not come easy”. The fellowship has not been a bed of roses for me. One would think that with my background as a writer, it should be easy for me to switch to journalism and investigative journalism for that matter.
However, content writing is dissimilar to investigative journalism. Adapting to the terrain and being able to pitch compelling stories have been my major challenges. In content writing it is easy to think of an idea, perform some keyword searches and write which is very different from investigative journalism where you think outside the box, research extensively and dig deep to produce stories.
Despite these setbacks, I learn every day.
And I have come to the realization that I can overcome my challenges by reading widely, staying on top of the news, believing in myself, and asking for help when I need it.
I am grateful to the Fellowship coordinator, Editor, as well as the NGIJ Team for their endless support and willingness to listen and help.
Having written this chapter of my Fellowship Journey, I will strive to wear the robe of the fearless and let my anchor hold, unshaken by the storms that may come my way so I will chronicle my successes in my next chapter.