by Garima Upadhyay
Newspapers sell on stories. Stories sell on people. The more intriguing a person, the more interesting would be their story. It is often this ‘intrigue’, which draws journalists to the craft of storytelling. While many may celebrate the art of journalistic storytelling but it is a conflict situation, which proves the ultimate test for the journalist to test their skill.
Human suffering in a conflict-ridden land can evoke some of the strongest emotions in people, and journalists are not bereft of emotions. Perhaps, emoting through stories is what journalists are reckoned for. As media students, we are taught how to be objective on the job. But, in practice, objectivity is a distant dream. To err is human, and to not be objective, is human too. But, to what measure can a journalist afford to ‘be human’ in a story. To what degree can a journalist emote in their stories from a conflict-torn land?
I was left wondering about these questions as the three-day workshop organised by WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace) on ‘The Role of Media in Conflict and Peace: Exploring Alternatives’ culminated on 28th December, 2014. Like me, other participants (media students from Kashmir and Delhi) were also concerned about the rigours of reporting from conflict zones. The workshop brought together media practitioners from conflict-ridden lands to share their experiences of storytelling. From covering Operation Blue Star and life of Afzal Guru in prison to stories from Kashmir and North East, much was recollected during the three days of the workshop.
Different sessions focussed on different aspects of practicing journalism — they touched upon the question of ethics, commercialisation and new media as new platforms for breaking stories. However, the best part of the workshop was the inventiveness with which journalists were telling stories from these rift-ridden landscapes. Cricketing stories from the valley, seven sisters project from the north east and stories from kafila.org were introductions to us, media students, of innovative ways of reporting on people and their stories.
The workshop focused on helping participants’ develop a different way of seeing things. It was about gaining a new perspective to an existing situation. To help us assess situations better, several sessions were conducted by Akanksha Joshi, an award-winning filmmaker and photographer, where she helped us develop different perspectives to one event. Through different team exercises, we learnt how one situation can be looked at from different ways and assessed differently. The short movie that we made as a part of this exercise will remain the highlight of the workshop. The makings of this short movie helped us break ice with other participants and learn the nuances of working with team members coming from different backgrounds and cultures.
Besides being absolutely enriching three days of learning, from the veterans and other participants, what really stood out were the self-reflection exercises, which were conducted to induct us into the workshop. The christening ceremony where we were all given new names for the workshop, helped in leaving behind a lot of baggage (that comes with a name/ identity), which we realised towards the end of the workshop, is the secret to reporting in a conflict zone. Overall, the three days went beyond discussing the ‘role of media during conflict’ to a discovery of the self.
What do a journey to discovery of self and reporting conflict situations have in common? On the surface of it they may seem absolutely disjointed experiences, but gain common currency in ‘inner peace’! Without a peaceful mind, both are impossible to achieve. This is the mantra I gained out of the workshop.