Town Hall trainees

VOA training report – Juba, South Sudan, June 11 – 15, 2012

VOA’s South Sudan Project held a reporting training workshop at the Zara Hotel in Juba, South Sudan June 11 – 15, 2012.  Nineteen trainees were on hand, including reporters from VOA’s South Sudan in Focus, and reporters and announcers from the Voice of the People, Radio Miraya and South Sudan Radio. 

VOA trainer Bart Childs, who has conducted workshops for VOA and media organizations and NGO’s all over the world, was the trainer.  John Ogulnik, the Coordinator of the South Sudan Project also attended the session to meet with VOA stringers and help with the training.  In addition, SSIF co-host Charlton Doki and Juba based stringer editor Michael Onyiego attended the workshop contributing their insights as they work closely with the project’s stringers.

The journalists attending the workshop varied from fairly experienced reporters to those who seemed to have very little experience.

Phaedra Gwyn, the Public Affairs Officer at the US embassy in Juba, came to the workshop on the first day to speak with the participants about the role of the media in a young democratic state like South Sudan and to encourage them to continue their work. She took questions and offered an excellent jumping off point to begin the training in earnest.

After an initial assessment of the attendees, it was decided that the training should concentrate heavily on pairing participants off for practical field exercises. The first day the reporters were sent in pairs to interview some of the ubiquitous young Bodaboda (motorcycle taxis) drivers about their work.  They then came back and put together short pieces about the drivers they interviewed.

Ambassador Susan Page

In advance of the training, we worked with the US embassy to have Ambassador Susan Page come to meet the participants, offer some words of encouragement about the importance of the media in a fledgling democracy, and then to take questions from the reporters in an on the record briefing.

Much of our second day was spent in preparation for the briefing with the Ambassador, talking about the most important questions the reporters should ask her.  Ambassador Page arrived and was clearly delighted to speak to the group about their roles and responsibilities as journalists in South Sudan.  She took the time to answer all the questions and made some remarks that were deemed important enough to run on the evening’s South Sudan in Focus (and in the Sudan Tribune).

Making Assumptions

Perhaps the most important exercise of the training was one about separating assumptions from facts.  In this exercise, the attendees were given a bare minimum of facts:

  • a neighborhood house was burning
  • two people were carried out of the house
  • a distraught woman was on the scene/li>
  • a baby’s toy was near the woman

The participants were then told that there was an eyewitness on the scene with whom they could speak (Bart Childs).  In addition, the fire chief (Mike Onyiego) and the police commissioner (John Ogulnik) were available for interviews.  Working in teams the participants interviewed the three people and put together their reports.

This is a popular training exercise which leads to wildly different reports and reveals to the workshop participants what kind of assumptions they make based on just a few facts and observations.  For example,  many of them reported that the two fire victims (it is revealed during the exercise that a man and boy died in the fire, though their relationship is unknown) were father and son, even though no one ever said that, and the woman at the scene is often reported to be the mother, even though she is never identified as the mother.

One final exercise was putting together a feature story, in this case profiles of each other.  Again, the reporters were paired off and they were instructed to interview each other and put together a short profile of their partners. This exercise reveals a variety of different problems, about assumptions, not getting enough information from the subject of the profile, and how to put together a profile that quickly catches the attention of the listener. Training segments were also dedicated to using the equipment properly, audio editing, and use of BGANS units, which allow reporters to file from remote cities and towns without having to rely on unreliable internet connections.

Chris Owens, the Washington, DC based South Sudan in Focus producer, says he noted that audio coming in from the field has been better quality than before the training.  In addition, reporters began using the BGANS units, and were able to file their news pieces on the same day as the event on which they were reporting.   The will help SSIF become even more of a necessary program of listeners in South Sudan and visitors to the projects website.

Participant Comments

 Among the comments from workshop participant’s evaluations:

  • “It (will) help me in writing short, concise stories….”
  • “The information will help me in editing and reporting news.”
  •  “…getting enough details (about the story) even if you may not necessarily use them in the story.”
  • “My work as an editor needs a lot of knowledge about the skills and professional tips offered at the training.”

Participants gave the workshop and the trainer generally excellent marks for his overall knowledge of the material and for communicating well with the trainees.  Some criticisms offered included:

  •  several participants suggested making the workshop more days
  • more concentration on interview techniques
  • “structuring news bulletins”
  • a couple of participants mentioned providing participants with computers and recorders for the training

And finally, this from one participant rating the workshop:   “I just rate this workshop is 99%, because human being is not completely perfect.”