<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 151 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 23, 2004

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Cardiff Calling...

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

My father is always saying how all ghost stories originated in Wales. If this is actually true, when I stepped off the bus in Cardiff -- the capital city of Wales -- for the first time, I knew why. The city was dead. It was only 8 in the evening, but the shops were closed, there were no people on the street. I wasn't looking forward to the month ahead. But the days that actually followed, and the reason I was there, made the trip not only a great opportunity for me as a journalist, but a very memorable one.

Ten young journalists from around the world were chosen (nominated from their respective organisations and selected, in the case of Bangladesh, by the British Council, Dhaka) to attend an international reporting workshop at the Thomson Foundation in Cardiff last month. I was lucky to be one of the representatives from Bangladesh, the other being my colleague from New Age, Mashida, who was, moreover, an old friend.

The Thomson Foundation (TF), founded by Lord Thomson of Fleet in 1962, trains and provides consultancies for journalists, managers, technicians and production staff working in the media around the world. It organises workshops at its UK headquarters in Wales and also sends its staff and specialist freelance consultants abroad to train working journalists in different countries. Even while we were there, two TF consultants had come to Rajshahi to conduct a workshop on investigative reporting.

The month-long course was intensive and covered diverse areas from basic reporting to interview stories, political and business reporting. Our day began with a seemingly absurd problem like, "Sara and Jane were born in the same hour of the same day of the same year but they weren't twins. Why not?" The answer being, because they were triplets -- there was another baby. The problems were a favourite of Mike's, our extremely dedicated course director -- who wouldn't tire of taking our classes from 9:30 in the morning to 5 in the evening though we sometimes did -- and got us thinking early in the morning. We went over the daily papers, giving our own opinions about the coverage of different issues in the British press, shaking our heads over some of the ridiculous tabloids -- the women rolling their eyes and the men trying to get a glimpse of the "Page 3 girl".

Throughout the day, we went over different reporting rules and techniques, particularly those related to our assignment for that week. We would have a whole day to go out and talk to people and our sources for different stories before writing up and handing in our reports. The next day, we would go over all of them on the projector and rework them.

For my own stories, I had to talk to police and bartenders, the editor of a newspaper, local MPs, and had to search the internet for information on the economy of my own country. There was a two-day section on this and we learned a lot about finding information on the net, which was more than any of us knew existed.

There was also a class on defence and security. Besides being taught techniques of war reporting and how to stay safe during it, we were also faced with the question of how much the reader or audience actually needed to be shown. This section was an eye-opener for most of us. We were shown video clips that weren't shown on television, of people being killed, cities being bombed, children dying from starvation, dead bodies burned, charred and rotting. It was enough to make anyone rethink doing journalism in a world so terrible. And though I myself had never been in a war or even seen a dead body, I wondered at how desensitised I had become in that I could sit through that whole section without crying or throwing up.

For many members of the group, however, it wasn't just a video; it was real life. Many of our colleagues, from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya, for example, had actually been in a war. Sylvester had lost two of his fingers in the war in Sierra Leone. Ken, from the same country, still had a shrapnel wound on his wrist.

As sad as it all was, it was also an honour to meet these people who had been through so much and who were there today to learn more in order to succeed in their profession. Komla, a radio broadcaster -- Ghana's journalist of the year. Andrew and Patrick, sub-editor and reporter at The Standard in Kenya. Ansu, the Liberian to whom war was a daily reality. Martin, the flirtatious Guatemalan, who partied every night but was serious in his work and who started every other sentence with "In Guatamala . . .". Violet, an ex-police officer, now working for a government news agency who, being a woman, had had to struggle to be at the TF training.

After classes, we would be at the hotel most of the time (since most of the city was closed), hanging out amongst ourselves. We were taken on a tour of Cardiff -- a beautiful, mountainous and very traditional city -- on our first day of class, and to Bath on another weekend, which was a beautiful trip in itself. I had my birthday in Cardiff and my new friends wished me with a cake, chocolates, cards and hugs. A farewell dinner at the end of the course was a good chance to get more familiar with the very friendly and helpful TF staff who had committed their lives to journalism the world over, as well as our colleagues (some rather drunk at that point!) at the training.

Mashida and I missed our first bus from London to Cardiff and had to wait around at the station for two hours. There were no hotel bookings for us our first night there and we were told the next morning that breakfast was not included in our package, though it actually was. Something or the other in my room, whether the phone, the radio or the hair dryer, always didn't work. The fridge was locked; sometimes the bathtub leaked and the room flooded. I had to watch how much I spent, had to try and eat healthy, wash my clothes in the hotel bath tub, walk to lunch in the grey weather and irritating drizzle. There would be games on most weekends and the roads would be closed, not to mention the fear of being caught in the drunken brawls after games. On a weekend trip to London, Mashida and I almost missed the bus again, trying to get on the train with our bus tickets. At times, there seemed to be no end to things going wrong.

But when the end actually came, it was less happy than expected. There was the thirst to learn even more and the emotion of parting with some great people I'd just met who I might never see again. Along with the sense of professional competence and confidence that I felt I had achieved, these were also feelings I carried with me all the way back home.






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