Hundreds of frontline journalists have passed through the Thomson Foundation’s prestigious summer course which aims to sharpen reporting skills and teach the latest digital reporting techniques.
Participants undergo a month’s intensive practical training, following by a week’s work placement at a leading UK news organization.
The alumni have used the skills they acquired to report from the world’s most challenging datelines and pass their knowledge to others.
Here are some of their stories.
Pesha Magid has become the trusted voice from Baghdad for many of the world’s broadcasters and newspapers after an outbreak of anti-government protests in 2019.
Working as a freelance, she has spent months on the streets providing coverage for international news organizations unable to send their own journalists to the city.
Mojo a major highlight
Before taking part in the foundation’s 2016 summer course she saw her herself primarily as a print journalist who had “just experimented” with different formats.
But all that changed when the summer course helped her develop her multimedia skills – with mobile journalism (MoJo) a major highlight.
"The course gave me the confidence to branch out into other types of media and experiment with the way I tell stories," she says.
It has been pivotal to the work she has done from Baghdad, making videos and reporting live on the French news channel, France 24, and the US network, PBS. Other organizations she’s worked for include The Independent and Sunday Times in the UK, and The National in the UAE.
Pesha was selected to attend the summer course by her then editor at Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news website.
The organisation had been given funding by the Index on Censorship and Open Society Foundations to send a journalist who would transfer the skills to others.
Pesha also values how the course gave her the opportunity to connect with journalists from around the globe.
"Being able to sit, talk, and learn from them is something I'll always be grateful for," she says. "I really deeply appreciated everything I learned on the course and can thank it for helping launch me to where I am today."
The skills and contacts that Sudanese broadcaster Rania Haroun learned on the foundation’s summer course played a direct role in helping her and others to report the revolution which gripped her country in 2019.
She had just moved to the UK with her family when she had the chance to take part in the 2018 summer course.
Completely new level
Rania says the course was “transformative”, enriching her practical experience as a journalist, as well as introducing her to industry experts.
Her work placement at commercial broadcaster ITV gave her connections which later led to them broadcasting some of the videos she made about the protests in Sudan.
The uprising in Sudan began a few months after the summer course, leading to the fall of Sudan’s long-time president Omar al-Bashir and a change in government.
It was then Rania felt compelled to return home to pass on her knowledge of mobile journalism.
“I had to do something to help the Sudanese people, so I arranged to do some journalism workshops,” she says.
She continues to hold live mobile journalism training sessions on Facebook, making short, compact, sharable videos so they are easily viewable, given the country’s limited internet connectivity.
Rania first came to the notice of the foundation in 2016 when she took part as a local TV journalist in our media capacity building programme in Sudan.
She says while her first Thomson experience “broadened her horizons”, the London summer course took her abilities to deal with issues in her home country to a completely new level.
Image: BBC screenshot Bafta 2020
When Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab began documenting an Aleppo hospital being destroyed by government forces in her hometown, she wanted to show the world the horror of what was happening.
Little could she imagine that her work would one day be nominated for an Oscar.
Keep telling important stories that need to be heard
Filming was “an attempt to create hope and record the story of people who were suffering while death surrounded them.” she says.
“For Sama” takes the form of a love letter to her first child who was born during the brutal siege. The 95-minute documentary, commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK and PBS Frontline in the US, is the result of over 500 hours of her footage.
It tells the story of her 'journey through love, motherhood, war and survival'. The film is Waad’s attempt to explain to her daughter why she chose to stay behind in Aleppo, when others left.
An Oscar nomination is just one of her successes of 2019. “For Sama” picked up a BAFTA for “Best Documentary” and was nominated in three other categories. The film won “Best Documentary” at the Cannes and SXSW film festivals as well as getting a special jury prize at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival.
She’d already picked up an Emmy and a Royal Television Society award for her filming in Aleppo. Her work had been previously seen on UK television’s Channel 4 News where she now works as a producer after moving to London from Syria.
Waad took part in the Thomson Foundation’s London summer course in 2018 and received a special recognition award from the foundation at the Foreign Press Association Awards in 2017, for her coverage of the Syria conflict. She says the ongoing association she has with the foundation is “invaluable”.
“I encourage all my fellow filmmakers and journalists to keep telling important stories that need to be heard,” she says.
K C Saranga returned to Sri Lanka after the summer course and promptly set up “Ada Derana TV Mojo Force” to cover the 2019 presidential elections.
Previously, covering voting across the country had been too expensive but training his colleagues at Ada Derana TV Channel to use smartphones changed this.
Create a credible method for newsrooms to instantly obtain information
“We were able to create a new approach in television news reporting by obtaining information speedily through the mobile journalist network spread throughout Sri Lanka”, he says.
But KC says it wasn’t a one-off. Ada Derana TV now regularly receives news reports made with mobiles from all over the country and used MoJo to cover the South Asian Games in Nepal in December, 2019.
His wider aim was to “create a credible method for newsrooms to instantly obtain information about incidents occurring across the country.”
As well as working with journalists and bloggers, KC is also teaching MoJo and storytelling skills to groups of schoolchildren, university students, government institutions and non-governmental organisations with the aim of events being captured wherever they happen in Sri Lanka.
KC’s first connection with the foundation was as a finalist in our international mobile journalism competition in May 2019 for his report on one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic crises of rural Sri Lanka – the conflict between humans and elephants.
Robin-Lee Francke is no stranger to violence against women. At 26, she has already been pistol-whipped, beaten and shot at in the course of her work as a crime reporter in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town.
Her place on 2019 summer course gave her the chance to highlight violence against South African women on a global platform
Changed the way she sees stories
The Guardian in London published two of articles on the subject during her one-week work placement, which coincided with thousands of women marching on the South African parliament in Cape Town over government inaction.
Back home Robin-Lee is part of an all-female reporting team. Her stories include the safeguarding needs of young people trapped between gangs and the law, and a former drug addict turned addiction counsellor’s drive to reintegrate drug users back into society.
Francke says the Thomson course changed the way she sees stories. She finds it easier to consider subjects from different angles and it has helped her develop a stronger eye for images.
It also helped her realize the extent of her potential as a journalist. “It had me buzzing with excitement every day,” she said.
Months later she was regularly referring to her notes, determined to put into practice what she had learned on the course.
Said Robin-Lee: “If you ask me the experience was way too short. This course is a gem to someone like me.”
As part of every Thomson Foundation summer course journalists produce a multimedia story using the skills they have developed. These are from the class of 2019.
Preserving the endangered languages of Southern Arabia - from Oman to the UK, speaking Mehri in Leeds.
The Weather Affects Study Abroad - why students struggle with Britain's climate.
The Search for Halal Meat in London - A Kuwaiti's guide to eating in London.
Director of Training and Communications
About: Deborah plays a key part in developing and promoting our training programmes and is our specialist on gender in media. Her recent training projects have centred on digital and mobile journalism.