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Brigitte Alfter, Nieman Reports Spring 2011

Brigitte Alfter, Nieman Reports Spring 2011

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Published by: Brigitte Alfter on Mar 26, 2011
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Nieman HomeCurrent IssueArchiveProfessor’s CornerAbout Us Nieman Reports: Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard
The Challenge of Cross-Border Reporting in Europe
‘Through networking, journalists contribute their part in shaping this European public sphere by investigating and illuminating its common issues.’
By Brigitte Alfter Under this banner, theEuropean Fund for Investigative Journalismfeatured reportingthat it financed in Ireland and Latvia on human trafficking.They are poor women who come mostly from Latvia, a country on the easternmostborder of the European Union. What they hope to find in Ireland is a better life forthemselves and their families. Instead, they experience abuse and threats, and soonthey are powerless and trapped. The assaults against them are committed bymembers of organized crime groups who lured the women—with the promise of $1,300 to $2,600—into sham marriages to obtain E.U. residence permits for men,many of whom are from the Indian subcontinent. The rules and loopholes that enablethe women to be brought here were decided in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, andBrussels, the headquarters of the E.U.Aleksandra Jolkina, a young and committed Latvian journalist, had been researchingthis topic in Latvia since 2007 when she worked for the daily newspaper Diena ("TheDay"). Likewise, Jamie Smyth, a social affairs reporter who is the former Europeancorrespondent for the Dublin-based Irish Times, had been working on the samestory. Last summer, with assistance from theEuropean Fund for InvestigativeJournalism, Smyth and Jolkina joined forces to stitch together the beguiling chain of supply and demand. "Working together enabled both of us to identify contacts ineach other's countries that would have been difficult or impossible to source whileworking on our own," Smyth has observed.In October after Smyth traveled to Latvia for Jolkina's assistance with reporting, TheIrish Times published a series of three stories about sham marriages. In turn, Jolkinawent to Ireland to report on the story from angles she hadn't been able to cover fromLatvia. By working together to connect the two ends of the Latvian women's journey,Jolkina and Smyth produced stories that made big headlinesin Ireland and werenoticed throughout Europe. Early this year, Jolkina's book on the subject waspublished in Latvia.
Side 1 af 3Nieman Reports | The Challenge of Cross-Border Reporting in Europe26-03-2011http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitemprint.aspx?id=102600
RELATED LINKResources forInvestigativeReporters
 The chain of human trafficking involved two countries on opposite sides of the E.U.;yet the enabling legislation, decided at the E.U. level, affected all E.U. countries. Thiscircumstance is quite typical today when it comes to stories about social affairs andpublic policy in Europe. As such, networking among journalists is essential to fulfillingtheir role as watchdogs. Yet, especially when travel, multiple languages, and variousadministrative entities are involved, working as a team can mean additional costs.Jolkina and Smyth managed to cover travel and other costs through the grant theyreceived from the European Fund for Investigative Journalism.This is a project I've been building up since 2008 with assistance from the Belgianjournalism foundation,the Pascal Decroos Fund. It has provided research grants tojournalists in Belgium for more than a decade.I learned of the Decroos fund when I worked in Brussels as a European affairscorrespondent for a Danish newspaper. In Brussels, many of the journalists whocomprise the world's second largest corps of correspondents (the largest is inWashington, D.C.) spent much of their time focused on agendas related to theirnative countries, even though the E.U. has developed into a quasi-federal body. Icame to believe that if reporters want to play an effective watchdog role inoverseeing what happens in Brussels then we need to produce better journalism. Andto do this requires finding ways to cooperate with journalists from other countries onreporting important cross-border stories.The fact that E.U. countries have 23 official languages and several non-officiallanguages can appear to present obstacles. Yet the many languages and mediacultures enable journalists to draw on their research competencies, joining togetherin cooperative, not competitive, ways. Knowledge about common issues can becompared and contrasted as a way to move forward with a vexing topic. No newnetworks of sources have to be created; reporters can share resources to mutualbenefit. Through such partnerships journalists can obtain high-level research thatthey can shape into stories told in their native languages and fit into their mediatradition.By investigating and illuminating issues common to E.U. countries, these journalistsdo their part in creating a vital and vibrant European public sphere, which issomething politicians, philosophers, political analysts, and media commentators havesaid for decades is lacking. Through networking, journalists contribute their part inshaping this European public sphere by investigating and illuminating its commonissues.When journalists have cooperated on stories, the impact of their work has beenstrong. One of the more significant projects that I have been involved with wasFarmsubsidy.org. Each year the E.U. distributes more than $70 billion to subsidizefarmers. Inspired by the success in 2004 of two Danish colleagues who madefreedom of information requests about subsidies in Denmark, I asked that theEuropean Commission provide me with information about all of those who benefitedfrom the E.U.'s farm subsidy program. Only with that material in hand could wemake a thorough analysis. My request was denied.
The Need to Cooperate
Side 2 af 3Nieman Reports | The Challenge of Cross-Border Reporting in Europe26-03-2011http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitemprint.aspx?id=102600

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