April 13, 2018
Adaptability, determination, intuition: this is what you need
Jina Moore is the East Africa Bureau Chief at the New York Times. She lives in Kenya but she has worked all over the world reporting on issues such prostitutions, human trafficking and human rights violation. At the International Journalism festival she spoke on a panel about the role of women reporters.
You work for the New York Times, the most important newspaper in the world. How did you get there?
My career was not the standard career of a foreign correspondents at the New York Times. Generally you are supposed to start at the local level and than be sent abroad only after years of work at home. I am not that patient. I started working at the New York Times when a lot of things were changing. I worked as a freelance in East Africa for seven years and I was interested in how power enact itself on the people. I was looking especially at stories about women, on how public structures and conflicts interacted with them.
Then I was contacted but BuzzFeed who was building a foreign bureau, they liked my idea of use the women perspective to describe what was going on, describing the women to describe the world. I was hired and I worked for BuzzFeed for about three years and a half. I lived in Kenya but I traveled all over the world.
After the election of Donald Trump I joined the New York Times where I had the chance of doing "traditional reporting" from Africa, thanks to the experience I had gained during the previous years of work abroad. I was lucky with my job, even it followed an accidental trajectory, but this is how journalism works!
On your websites you say that journalism means to "hold powerful to accounts and telling stories about the people around us". I think this are the most difficult things to do right now: powerful people are getting always more powerful, hiding their money and their identities with great ease, and everybody is telling it's own story trough social media, making difficult for a story like this to get attention. Do you think it's possibile to overcome this problems?
I think it is. I come to East Africa ten years ago, Twitter was at the beginning, the blog era was at the highest and the traditional American media were in crises. I arrived in post-war countries, where everything was under re-construction, also the infrastructure of society. Everybody was trying to understand what was going to happen.
I was very interested to explore how powerful people decide to shape the new institutions and how this decisions affected the lives of the common people. The interactions between the two things, especially the problem of the accountability of the powerful people, were very important to me and I have never stopped to inquiry about them.
I think that to keep the two ends together is the proper mission of journalism. This cannot be done just by social media witnessing, because this kind of information lack the vocabulary to describe what is really going on, what is happening in the power structures. Neither policy makers can do it, nor PR people, nor activists or advocates which are focused on their mission.
Journalism is facing new and radical innovations, what do you think is going to happen in this respect?
I think the biggest challenge we are going to face are faked videos on the internet, showing speeches or actions that never really happened. This is going to be a problem both for journalists and citizens. If you want to share a video on a social media you won't be able to tell if you are spreading something true or not.
Journalism will face also the challenge of how to connect with the global audience. This is an old issue but is going to get more complicated since millions of unrepresented people will get access to global information in the following years and journalism will have to decide who represent and how.
Can you tell us three skills that journalists must have?
When I started as a freelance everybody was working with video for the web. Everybody was sure that that was the future of journalism. Then the web video market collapsed and we had to start again from the beginning.
I think that the most important skill is adaptability. You don't have to be an expert but you must be in touch with what is going on around you, especially on the web. You must be ready to get advantage of what is happening.
A good journalist must also speak to everybody and must treat other journalists as sources. When I was a free lancer in Africa I had a lot of problems in keep in touch with what was happening in the US. When I was home I tried to get in touch with journalists as if they were people I had to interview, with the same determination, and this helped me to keep my network and to get a lot of important information.
The most important: follow your intuition on what you love to do, no matter how difficult and strange it is. This will surely lead you somewhere!