From 4-8 May, 2021, the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) – with support from Laudes Foundation – held an online training for a select group of Indian journalists. The programme offered journalists an opportunity to build expertise in reporting on human trafficking and forced labour in India – with an emphasis on producing high-impact stories for widespread dissemination, as well as the ethics of reporting on modern slavery. Below is a reflection from one of the participants following their completion of the programme.
It has always infuriated me that some human beings consider themselves superior to others, viewing those most vulnerable as mere objects to be traded. Developing countries such as India continue to be seen as resources for cheap or free labour, where people’s vulnerabilities and trust are exploited to the extreme so that others can make a profit. I wanted to draw more attention to this issue, which is why I applied for the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s 'Reporting on Trafficking and Slavery' course. I also wanted to learn how to tread with the utmost sensitivity when interviewing survivors, and to explore the angles that get left out when we read short news items mostly relating to ‘raid and rescue’.
There was an additional reason for applying to the course during this time. It was taking place when India was going through its worst phase of the COVID-19 crisis. Our hospitals were rapidly running out of oxygen and full to capacity, and we were losing people every day. It became really important to mentally focus on something else for a few hours each day, to get together with a community of fellow journalists, and to feel a shared sense of purpose.
At first, I was unsure what the online experience would be like. I wondered if it would exacerbate the screen fatigue, and whether we would be able to concentrate for so long each day. But the training was designed in such a way that if we could make the effort to show up and participate, the rest was easy. Instead of a single, long-winded lecture, the training had a variety of learning formats, including discussions, quizzes, guest speakers, videos, polls, and breakout rooms. We learnt a lot, but it did not feel overwhelming. It was the first time I attended one of TRF’s journalism trainings online, and it didn’t seem any less educational.
One of my favourite parts were the myth-busting quizzes, which addressed all the common misconceptions that are often associated with human trafficking and modern slavery. These myths can sometimes creep into journalists’ reporting, causing more harm than good. It was also useful to hear from activists about what aspects of trafficking the media can, and should, pay more attention to. Listening to a survivor of human trafficking was also an incredibly moving experience; her efforts to reclaim her life and agency also pointed to the need for more solutions-oriented journalism.
Due credit must go to our trainer, Kavita Chandran, who carried everything on her shoulders in a seemingly effortless fashion. Even though she was not in India, she facilitated the entire training with such empathy, compassion, and sensitive awareness of what we were going through during the devastating second wave. This enabled us to bring our ‘best selves’ to the programme, without stressing about it. We could look forward to the training as a time for collective learning, rather than as a burdensome task we had signed up for.
The other thing I love about TRF’s workshops is that each one takes us through the basic principles of journalism, especially those that relate to ethics. That’s why each training is ideal for journalists at any stage of their careers. It is often assumed that journalists already know the ground rules - but rules change, and ethics differ. During the grind of everyday reporting, it is crucial that we pause every once in a while and revisit our guiding principles to ensure that we stay on the right track.
I am eager to start reporting on trafficking and slavery, and to put to use all that I learnt during the training. As a freelancer and someone who works alone, the story grant and the mentoring were indispensable, as I often yearn for editorial guidance. This is especially the case when reporting on this topic, given how sensitive the subject is. To have someone to look at my drafts, and keep asking the right questions of me, makes me much more confident about publishing a story on this beat.
I am a literature student who never went to a journalism school. But with every TRF workshop, my learning, my alumni network, and the number of excellent mentors I have access to only keeps growing.