Journalists discussing with students at the YJWP workshop at Ecogia. (Photo: Caroline Hunt)

The following article is part of Global Geneva’s new Young Journalists’ and Writers’ Programme funded by the Fondation ALCEA and designed to make young people more aware of the need for quality and trusted journalism. 

“I never realised how complex – and how difficult – journalism can be,” commented a 16-year-old student with a Lake Geneva international school in Switzerland. “You see stories online, but when you see everything a reporter needs to do, you understand why we need information we can trust. And the problems journalists have in collecting the right information.”

As part of Global Geneva’s pilot Young Journalists and Writers Programme (YJWP), some 50 students from seven high schools in the Lake Geneva region took part in a one-day interactive workshop at the Ecogia International Red Cross Training Centre on the outskirts of Versoix. Together with foreign correspondents, film-makers, a sports journalist, a cyber specialist and United Nations spokesperson, they explored the challenges of good reporting, whether covering wars and humanitarian crises, or investigating in the public interest. They also discussed the difficulties of how to discern what is credible – and what is not – in social media.

Providing crucial insight into journalism – and credible information

For many students, this was their first opportunity to have such open discussion with representatives of the Fourth Estate. As Sofia Maggi of La Châtaignerie, one of the International School of Geneva’s (Ecolint) three main campuses, noted: “It really gave me great insight into journalism from all angles and behind the scenes…to understand what a journalist has to do to be effective.”

Students in particular welcomed suggestions of where they could obtain reliable information, such as the BBC, Al Jazeera, New York Times or Guardian websites. “This has helped me understand and interpret fake news and to know which sources we can go to find trusted and useful articles,” added Sophie Howe, another Ecolint student.

While many indicated that they obtained the bulk of their information online based on suggestions by their friends, families and teachers, some also said that they read print media, particularly magazines, at home. But this was primarily because their families subscribed to print publications. “I tend to watch both the BBC and Fox News because even though I don’t believe what Fox says, it’s important to hear what they say, to get a different perspective,” added a student from College du Léman (CDL).

Nick Cumming-Bruce, a veteran reporter with experience in Southeast Asia and the Middle East now writing for the New York Times out of Geneva, said he considered it vital for journalists to help make young people more aware. “It is important for them to know that -as Bob Woodward (of the Washington Post) said, the objective is to find the best version of the truth.”

Another foreign correspondent, Gabriella Sotomayor of Mexico’s Proceso, described what it is like to report in a country where journalists are constantly under threat from mafia drug gangs and political factions. Considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters, she said: “More than one hundred have been killed or been ‘disappeared’ in Mexico since 2000. People need to understand how dangerous it is.”

Peter Kenny, a South African journalist who is vice-president of the Foreign Press Association in Switzerland and Liechtenstein (APES), noted how impressed he was by the quality of questioning and points made by the students. “It is good to see how curious they are and that they really wish to understand,” he said. “These are the sort of readers good journalism needs if it is to survive.” All media participants stressed that unless one engages young people in schools, the future for quality journalism threatens to be bleak.

An interactive break-away session at the YJWP workshop in Ecogia. (Photo: Caroline Hunt)
Caroline Hunt-Matthes, Adjunct Professor and Investigator addressed the core competency for young journalists, notably the ability to “critically think, question data and discern  the credibility of evidence which support purported facts.”

For Luciana Di Domenico of Haut-Lac School above Montreux, it was these types of observations that helped her obtain a better grasp of the role of journalism in society today, particularly at a time when so many groups and individuals seek to manipulate the news. “I found the (interactive) panel discussions and debate with tough questions really useful. It helped us understand what is good and bad about journalism, and what you need to watch out for with fake news.”

Some students pointed out that they found it difficult to know what to believe, and what not to, in social media. This was perhaps their biggest problem. Some said that it was even hard to tell whether videos were real or not. “But the discussions we had really changes one’s perspective, making one aware of what one needs to watch out for…but also the importance of being able to rely on trusted information,” said CDL’s Cayetana Lanchas.

A dangerous profession: Western journalists dressed in Afghan clothing while reporting the war in Afghanistan. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

The role of journalism today remains crucial

Also participating was a UN agency spokesperson, Rupert Colville of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who explained how international organizations seek to work with media. “While circumstances have changed with human rights groups now contributing a lot of the information about what is happening in different places, we need journalists to report. Their role is crucial,” he said.

Focusing on some of the issues raised by both students and panellists, such as which sources to trust and how to report fairly, David Curilla of GEMS World Academy in Etoy noted. “There are so many things that need to be taken into account, such as what is the truth, or how not to endanger people’s lives when reporting wars. But all these issues are linked together…They really showed the problems that journalists can have when trying to report.”

Andy Cohen, an award-winning Geneva-based independent film-maker from New York, also talked about the problems of producing documentaries, particularly under difficult political conditions, such as in China. During the shooting of his 2019 film Ximei about the infection of 300,000 Chinese with HIV/AIDS by tainted blood and the refusal of the authorities to properly help the victims, he noted that the police often forced them to halt filming, so they had to do shoots quickly and in secret. “This sort of training is something that we should have in all schools,” he said about the workshop. “Journalism awareness and how to deal with social media is something kids of any age need to know.”

While commenting on what they had learned during the various interactive sessions, the students offered possible solutions for reaching out more effectively to young people. This includes making the need for quality journalism more relevant to their lives, such as helping them to remain informed about what is happening in the world. “We need to know what to trust on online, and where to get good information,” said one student. Another added: “We look things up on Google, but it’s not easy to know what is what,” explained another. Most noted that they would be prepared to pay for trusted journalism once they left school, but thought that media awareness should be part of basic education.

Others noted that while they obtained their information online often in the form of videos, they were prepared to read as well, including print. While some admitted that they did not read the whole of Global Geneva, whose print version is deliberately high quality and distributed on a sponsored complimentary basis to participating Swiss schools, a number pointed out that they found themselves reading complete articles which they might never do online. “Having articles with really good photographs and cartoons really makes you want to read it,” said one.

Several suggested that journalism and its tools should become part of every school curriculum, “because we are just not getting it,” added one student. Schools, several pointed out, should actively encourage the reading of newspapers and magazines as part of their classwork, but admitted they also preferred a mix of print and visual material, such as ‘inspirational’ videos. “We want to learn how to write well but also how to make videos,” said one. “I don’t want to become a journalist, but I would like to know how to write good articles. Or blogs…I know that it can help me later in life.”

While most of the students attending the workshop came from international (private) schools, the editors found it more difficult to convince Swiss state institutions to participate. One problem, observed one teacher who had sought to enter several students, is that public schools need to follow the prescribed curriculum. They cannot simply allow students to attend an outside workshop, even on a half-school day. “This needs to be planned months in advance,” he said.

Global Geneva, which seeks to make its programme part of the International Baccalaureate CAS initiative as well as social programmes with other forms of secondary schools exams, such as ‘A’ Levels, from next September, 2019 onwards, is currently exploring how to involve Swiss public schools, including possible French and German-language components.

Global Geneva is seeking to develop a world-wide journalism awareness programme aimed at helping young people appreciate trusted journalism, but also how to counter – and be aware of – fake news and other forms of disinformation. Interested high schools and colleges, but also foundations willing to help fund this global initiative should contact: Edward Girardet, editor: editor@global-geneva.com or edgirardet@gmail.com  

Global Geneva also has launched a young journalists and writers contest with travel grants worth 1200, 750 and 500 CHF in prize money. The editors invite students (14-19) in Switzerland to submit English-language articles or essays on any ‘International Geneva’ subject, such as humanitarian action, human rights, climate change, conservation, access to health, innovation, refugees, migrants…Closing date is: 17 May, 2019.

For further information and competition submissions, please contact: editor@global-geneva.com 

Or see for further details: https://www.global-geneva.com/yjww2019/

Most recent print edition of Global Geneva. Click here.

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