Aspiring journalists learn the craft of storytelling abroad
The brainchild of two young Flemish journalists, the Caravan’s Journal is a two-week programme that trains future reporters to cover breaking stories wherever they may be
Today, 15 young Flemish journalism students, one Dane and two Greeks are about to get a quick introduction to the economic and humanitarian crises that are affecting Greece.
The first speaker gives the students a run-through of the refugee crisis, which struck the country particularly hard last year and is far from over. A refugee activist describes his experience in the camps, where some 54,000 people are living today.
Laptops and notebooks fill the table, and the young audience are keen to jot down as much information as possible. When the discussion shifts to the state of the Greek media, notorious for its biased reporting and overt political agenda, you can sense their astonishment.
The workshops are the brainchild of journalist Kasper Goethals and photographer Johannes De Bruycker, graduates of Artevelde University College in Ghent who felt dissatisfied with the state of journalism and decided to do things differently.
And so the Caravan’s Journal was born, partly from a longing for travel, partly from a desire to exchange knowledge and experiences. The aim is to bring together passionate young storytellers with experts in the field. The project is also evolving into a collective network that carries out journalistic productions across different countries.
After just a few workshops, one of the participants, Sofyan El Bouchtili, a student of digital storytelling at the (REC) Academy in Ghent, is impressed with what he’s learned. “I prepared myself and did some homework on the country, but the information we get in these courses makes me realise just how much the Belgian media omits in their reporting on what is happening here in Greece.”
The location, he says, was an extra draw. “You find stories here that you would never find back home. Greece is a particularly interesting place, a country hit by two crises at once.”
Stories are as old as mankind. We’re living in turbulent times and only one thing is certain – stories will keep on coming
Over the course of two weeks, the participants will get to know Greece while improving their storytelling skills. “It’s a mix of passing on information on the situation in Greece and learning from professionals who have years of experience in journalism and storytelling,” says Goethals. “Apart from that, the participants have to work on their own ideas and stories.”
Today, the focus is on the refugee crisis. Tomorrow, Elina Makri, the founder of Oikomedia, an international network of journalists, will talk about cross-border co-operation. Over the weekend, Flemish documentary filmmaker Johan Grimonprez will screen his latest work and hold a talk on ecology and mass media. These lectures are taking place on the island of Andros.
Next week, the Caravan’s Journal moves to the Impact Hub, a creative centre for young professionals, where the participants will get to work on their own stories and learn from the people behind media sites Vice Greece and Athens Live.
Eye on Myanmar
The decision to come to Greece was made at the beginning of this year, when the refugee crisis was already in full swing. “At the same time, the country is struggling with the economic crisis,” says Goethals. “The dual crisis confronts our participants with situations that make headlines across the world. It also forces them to think about how to report their experiences with a dose of empathy. We want them to engage in the different situations and to be closer to people.”
The participants are aged between 20 and 35, and are journalism students or young professionals hoping to launch a career in the media. Goethals calls them storytellers. “It’s an all-encompassing definition,” he says. “We also have academics, photographers and illustrators here. This allows us to transcend the different disciplines in bringing the stories to the public.”
The dual crisis confronts our participants with situations that make headlines across the world
Last year, the Caravan’s Journal pitched tents in Myanmar. Testing a new concept in a transitioning country is arguably a bold decision. “I’ve always had a deep affection for Myanmar,” says De Bruycker. “After our first excursion there, we decided to go for it. We worked with an organisation from the Netherlands that organises similar trips and it turned out to be a fantastic and demanding experience.”
The programme took place a month before the country’s first democratic elections, so the participants had to be extra careful. “But they were able to observe the transition from up close,” says Bruycker. “Many of them ended up publishing stories for Flemish and international publications, and some still work together. It was the start of a network.”
For De Bruycker, the Caravan’s Journal is a culmination of his passions. Even in high school, he would organise festivals and events. “But I was looking for something more serious,” he explains. “I studied journalism, but didn’t find what I was looking for.”
After an internship with the international photo agency Noor and a trip abroad, the idea took hold to combine his love for travel and storytelling with the desire to set up collaborations and educate others.
Future of journalism
Like Goethals and De Bruycker, the participants say they strongly believe in the value of journalism and storytelling. How do they feel about the future of the industry? “Content is crucial, and will remain so,” says De Bruycker. “Stories are as old as mankind. We’re living in turbulent times and only one thing is certain – stories will keep on coming. It’s up to us to go after them and tell them to others. How we will do this changes at a moment’s notice.”
El Bouchtili shares this optimistic outlook, but doesn’t feel his education has prepared him well enough for the demands ahead. “All too often I have the feeling that we are only taught to function in the setting of an editorial office,” he says. “Here we get a taste of how to work on the outside. Kasper and Johannes really push for creative ways of working together, to safeguard durable and independent journalism.”
Bernd Fink, another participant, expresses a similar sentiment. “Here we learn to work together and to evaluate each other,” he says. “We learn not only how to make a story, but also how to pitch it.”
As a student, he adds, he found himself craving a more international perspective and independent work. “The Caravan’s Journal gives us the tools to get to know a country in depth in a very short period of time. I also like the idea of a caravan – it might stop somewhere temporarily, but it always goes back on the road. I believe the future of journalism will be less static than it is today, something that this project embraces fully.”
There will be more editions like those in Greece and Myanmar, De Bruycker says. “Events like this transform individuals into a network of shared experiences. In that way, the Caravan’s Journal can grow into a platform for journalistic collaboration.”
He hopes the Caravan will eventually become an international collective that travels to the most important places in the world, chasing stories and sharing them with a wider audience. “I strongly believe this is a way to keep journalism alive.”
Photo: Kasper Goethals