IJNet expands despite rising authoritarianism in countries around the world
Members of the first Middle East and North Africa (MENA) mentoring center in 2014. Courtesy of IJNet.
By Les Neuhaus
Les Neuhaus is a former foreign correspondent, having covered events across East and Central Africa, and the Middle East. He now works as a freelance reporter from his home in the Tampa Bay area. Follow him on Twitter @LesNeuhaus.
There have been several media-dedicated websites and organizations that cater specifically to journalists looking for jobs, training, career advice and more.
A few that come to mind are The Poynter Institute, Media Bistro and Journalism Jobs. But one has carved a niche out of the international spectrum over the last 18 years, becoming a go-to website for professional and citizen journalists working around the world.
The International Journalists’ Network, or IJNet.org, operates as a multi-language website that is produced and published by the Washington, D.C. based International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and is funded by the Knight Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy, according to the website’s English-language editor, Samantha Berkhead.
Other than English, the website publishes its content in six other languages: Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. The site constantly posts advertisements for various international internships, workshops, contests, fellowships and scholarships.
“We’re pretty broad in the topics we cover,” Berkhead told Images and Voice of Hope from Washington. “And all of it comes down to being a comprehensive resource for journalists who might not have the advantage of a journalism school near them or whatever the case may be.”
Currently, IJNet has 33 freelancers contributing to the Arabic-language side of the house, while another nine contribute throughout the Americas, including the U.S., Berkhead said.
The goal has been to expand, broadening their geographic reach to find writers who can help tell more stories from less-reported corners of the world. They hope to add French to their repertoire of language expansion in the future, as there have been numerous requests from readers, Berkhead said, but current resources don’t support such an expansion at this time. Large swathes of Francophone-speaking nations in West Africa and the Caribbean could utilize such a service.
“I think having more people writing for us from around the world will naturally help improve our content,” Berkhead said. “The fact that we’re based in the U.S. made our content more American centric, but we’ve tried to move away from that. For example, the number one country where our readership comes from is Brazil. It’s more than double our U.S. readership. … So I think we’ve been successful in broadening our scope.”
Berkhead credited the Brazil department editor, Renata Johnson, for her unflagging efforts to put out content that is useful to readers in the market since 2011.
“Brazil has a large population of about 210 million people, of which about 65 percent are internet users,” Johnson, who has been working for IJNet since 2003, said. “So we start out with great market potential. We took advantage of the growth of social media in Brazil, especially Facebook. Brazilian people are social by nature. … In the past couple of years, Brazil has been going through a deep economic crisis, which means its people are in dire need of opportunities. And here we are, offering resources and opportunities for journalists to improve their craft and get ahead in their career.”
IJNet takes advantage of technology, too, posting various video training seminars on the website and facilitating live chats between experts in the journalism field and budding reporters abroad. They don’t cover breaking news, but they do analysis of news events, especially through citizen journalists.
Recent content on the website highlighting this type of focus includes a data literacy conference in Sierra Leone, advice on interviewing refugees fleeing conflict and a story on producing news for Latino audiences.
This summer IJNet is launching its third virtual mentoring center for media startups in the Middle East and North Africa – applications are due by May 31. Participants must invest about five hours per week in the project and finalists will be invited to Amman, Jordan for a training “boot camp.”
Sharon Moshavi, the vice president for new initiatives at ICFJ, said that as a nonprofit IJNet does a lot with very few resources.
“Now what we’re doing is making a push around the world to see what kind of tool kits journalists can use from IJNet,” Moshavi said. “A big section of that is through our Knight International Media Innovators blog … But we’re looking to expand our contributors, too.”
And as IJNet expands, it needs to be connected to the contributors even more.
With rising authoritarianism in countries around the world, countries like Ethiopia, Burundi, Russia and Thailand are experiencing declining media freedoms, a trend seen across continents, Berkhead said. Even Europe as a continent is experiencing a deterioration in press freedom.
“And there’s a rise in untrained journalists right now, which makes for a dangerous environment,” she said. “It’s just not safe enough for an outsider to come in and I think that makes IJNet’s purpose more important to local journalists [who need] to be better trained.”
Editor’s note: Les Neuhaus is a freelance writer for IJNET.