Mentoring Young Investigative Reporters in Bangladesh: My Few Takeaways

Text by Stella Paul
Consultant – Mentor

“I have never done a story on gender before. So, I am unsure how to go about it. There may be many areas where I can go wrong and it makes me feel a little nervous,” said Saurav Rahaman of Maasranga TV – a news broadcast channel in Dhaka. Yet, barely 8 weeks later, Rahman produced a 2-part investigative report, exposing a strong – and disturbing – nexus between climate change and rise in child marriage in Bangladesh’s poorest communities

The report – shot in remote locations of coastal Bangladesh, shows that the reporter understand local gender issues well well and can report this with a lot of finesse. The credit of this transformation – as Rahaman himself confesses – goes to the Bangladesh Mentorship Programme on Investigative Journalism on Gender – a media training program he was part of.

The programme, a partnership between Fojo Media Institute and MRDI Dhaka took off with a training workshop in mid-February. Along with Rahman, there were 12 other journalists from both the writing press (print and digital) and the broadcast media. Young and energetic, they all had one thing in common: none had done an investigative report before. The enthusisam was quite visible as they listened attentively to the speakers and the mentors explain the essentials of investigative journalism and then open up about their own story ideas – first hesitantly and then quite loudly. As a mentor, I found this both challenging and impressive: their lack of experience would require a lot of guiding and reshaping, I felt, but their high level of enthusaism would surely lead them to the finishing line.

Two and half months later, I feel those feelings were totally justified as the majority of the journalists have published/aired their stories following over six weeks of intense investigation. From child marriage and child abuse on the streets of Dhaka to corruption in education and challenges of women commuters – they have investigated a wide range of issues using all the tools they learnt of in the mentorship programme: research, resources, data, statitics, interviews, ethics and senstitivity, adding to the list a great amount of courage.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds: almost all the reporters said their offices were not as supportive as they had expected them to be. Some women reporters termed the lack of support as gender-based bias. Everyone had trouble while conducting interviews. Some saw their contacts disappear or turn less cooperative. Some had to struggle to speak with some government officials. And, everyone juggled with their regular work schedule, assignments and the multiple tasks of the investigative report and the pressure of finishing it within a certain deadline. The combined pressure pushed several to the edges, almost to the point of quitting.

Now, while launching the program, I remember discussing with my fellow mentor Quarratul-Al Tahmina and the colleagues from Fojo Media Institue (Sofia) and MRDI (Fojo’s partners and co-organizers of the mentorship program) that the participants must be encouraged to form a network and work closely with each other as a team.

As a mentor I had also decided to encourage them to speak with each other daily on social media and strike a friendship through a group I created. This networking and their new friendship seemed to be a big help. Those who were struggling found motivation in others who were more focused – Rahman being one of them – to return to the programme, try again and finish their stories. Some even showed a new spirit of competition to better tell a story.

So, as a mentor, my final takeaways from the 3-month long engagement are that one, in a developing country, where independent journalism is still taking its first baby steps, investigative reporting can be much more challenging and riskier than it is elsewhere as the environment and infrastructure are still lacking. Two, the participants who we are training to the stories of gender-bias and gender violence, might be the victims themselves – however subtly – and prepare them for it. And finally, three, an investigative reporter needs more than just technical or academic support; personal motivation, open, regular communcation and a “I-am-always-there” vibe is just as important to help her or him to do a fine job.

The programme that ended has just produced a fine batch of investigative reporters. The challenge now, I feel, is to see that their newly-acquired skills do not lay unused or forgotten.