Progressive journalism on the move

Alumna Flavie Halais is advancing development journalism thanks to prestigious European Journalism Centre grant.
April 6, 2016
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By Alan Jones

Flavie Halais, BA (journ.) 09, has been building an international reputation for first-class entrepreneurial journalism since graduating from Concordia’s Department of Journalism.

She earned a prestigious European Journalism Centre (EJC) development reporting grant, worth €15,000, in 2015. The EJC, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is one of the world’s largest networks of journalists reporting on issues of international development.

Flavie Halais Before earning a BA from Concordia’s Department of Journalism in 2009, Flavie Halais completed a BA in history from Paris 1 University (Sorbonne) in 2005. | Photo credit: Tanha Gomes

Grants are awarded for projects that touch on multiple developmental issues, advance development reporting, and bring the public innovative storytelling on global development.

Halais’s EJC project, “Refugee Economics,” will shed light on refugees living in protracted situations in Uganda and Kenya. The “This is Africa” media platform, hosted by The Financial Times, will publish her story.

We asked Halais about her EJC grant award and the selection process.

The EJC development grants program is very competitive. Can you tell us about the process?

FLAVIE HALAIS: “The grant focus is innovative storytelling on global development that will subsequently be reported, broadcast or published.

There was a two-step process. Firstly, candidates had to submit a description of their project, and based on specific EJC defined criteria, a candidate shortlist was then drawn up. Secondly, those shortlisted candidates had to forward a more detailed description of their proposed projects, and the final winners were chosen from this shortlist.

Also, in December, winners joined a two-day ‘boot camp,’ where they met fellow grantees and learned from top-level media practitioners. They also developed their stories, undertook cross-disciplinary collaboration with designers and coders, and learnt about publication strategies aimed at achieving the best possible public impact.”

What innovative story platform do you see as contributing to being awarded your EJC grant?

FH: “The EJC are very much focused on achieving high story impact, so they wanted to make sure my story was not just going to get published and disappear.

I undertook some training with them last December. They asked from all their grantees that they use some form of analytical tool to measure the story impact.

My story platform was to use social media to build a community of followers so that once my story gets published, there will already be an audience that is interested in it. The purpose of social media is to get your community to engage.

I want to reach two kinds of audiences: one, an audience of refugee experts, researchers and policy makers, the other, an audience of both refugees themselves and members of their host communities. That is exactly what has been happening. There are many people from these groups responding, interacting and engaging with the social media content.”

Can you expand on some of the key issues your project will cover?

FH: “I have already started working on the story, am using Facebook and Twitter to publish certain key facts and information about the economic impact of refugees on their host communities in Uganda and Kenya, and I am reaching audiences in North America and East Africa. This project is about awareness, and there has been some great feedback so far.

Uganda and Kenya have been dealing with a refugee influx and crisis for decades, and what I am trying to do is reshape the balance and media coverage of a refugee issue that is under reported.”

Do you think your reporting makes a difference in people’s lives?

FH: “That is a good question, and it is always a question for journalists and especially for me, because I report a lot on policies in international development. When you write about policies it doesn’t necessarily have a direct or immediate impact. However, I have a passion for the subjects and topics I write about. I would like to think that my reporting brings about positive change.”

What is really important to you in your career as a journalist?

FH: “What is important to me is to put out a good story and to hopefully be helping others in doing so.”

What do you see as some of the key issues for the journalism industry in the future?

FH: “The journalism industry is very competitive. We are now seeing new models emerge. Concordia has recently changed its journalism curriculum to take account of these new models, and I think this will really help students be more prepared for the modern journalism industry after they graduate.

I have returned to the Concordia journalism department and given some workshops in my former professor Linda Kay’s class.

In January, I gave a workshop in personal branding for first-year students. We talked a lot about careers, they had many questions and were anxious to know what their careers might look like after university.

One key issue for journalists is how do you manage to write about the issues that you are passionate about and also make a sustainable living. Another is staying relevant in an industry that is always changing. You have to read a lot about the industry and keep up with current trends.

It is a constant process of learning and relearning, and when I talk to journalism students, what I tell them is that the learning doesn’t stop when you graduate.”

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