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Thomson Foundation's summer course - the alumni shaping media


Hundreds of frontline journalists have passed through the Thomson Foundation's prestigious summer course which aims to sharpen reporting skills and teach the latest digital reporting techniques.

Participants undergo a month's intensive practical training, following by a week's work placement at a leading UK news organization.

The alumni have used the skills they acquired to report from the world's most challenging datelines and pass their knowledge to others.

Here are some of their stories.

Pesha Magid

Pesha Magid has become the trusted voice from Baghdad for many of the world's broadcasters and newspapers after an outbreak of anti-government protests in 2019.

Working as a freelance, she has spent months on the streets providing coverage for international news organizations unable to send their own journalists to the city.

Mojo a major highlight

Before taking part in the foundation's 2016 summer course she saw her herself primarily as a print journalist who had just experimented with different formats.

But all that changed when the summer course helped her develop her multimedia skills - with mobile journalism (MoJo) a major highlight.

The course gave me the confidence to branch out into other types of media and experiment with the way I tell stories, she says.

It has been pivotal to the work she has done from Baghdad, making videos and reporting live on the French news channel, France 24, and the US network, PBS. Other organizations she's worked for include The Independent and Sunday Times in the UK, and The National in the UAE.

Pesha was selected to attend the summer course by her then editor at Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news website.

The organisation had been given funding by the Index on Censorship and Open Society Foundations to send a journalist who would transfer the skills to others.

Pesha also values how the course gave her the opportunity to connect with journalists from around the globe.

Being able to sit, talk, and learn from them is something Ill always be grateful for, she says. I really deeply appreciated everything I learned on the course and can thank it for helping launch me to where I am today.

Rania Haroun

The skills and contacts that Sudanese broadcaster Rania Haroun learned on the foundation's summer course played a direct role in helping her and others to report the revolution which gripped her country in 2019.

She had just moved to the UK with her family when she had the chance to take part in the 2018 summer course.

Completely new level

Rania says the course was transformative , enriching her practical experience as a journalist, as well as introducing her to industry experts.

Her work placement at commercial broadcaster ITV gave her connections which later led to them broadcasting some of the videos she made about the protests in Sudan.

The uprising in Sudan began a few months after the summer course, leading to the fall of Sudan's long-time president Omar al-Bashir and a change in government.

It was then Rania felt compelled to return home to pass on her knowledge of mobile journalism.

I had to do something to help the Sudanese people, so I arranged to do some journalism workshops, she says.

She continues to hold live mobile journalism training sessions on Facebook, making short, compact, sharable videos so they are easily viewable, given the country's limited internet connectivity.

Rania first came to the notice of the foundation in 2016 when she took part as a local TV journalist in our media capacity building programme in Sudan.

She says while her first Thomson experience broadened her horizons , the London summer course took her abilities to deal with issues in her home country to a completely new level.

Waad Al-Kateab

Image: BBC screenshot Bafta 2020

When Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab began documenting an Aleppo hospital being destroyed by government forces in her hometown, she wanted to show the world the horror of what was happening.

Little could she imagine that her work would one day be nominated for an Oscar.

Keep telling important stories that need to be heard

Filming was an attempt to create hope and record the story of people who were suffering while death surrounded them. she says.

For Sama takes the form of a love letter to her first child who was born during the brutal siege. The 95-minute documentary, commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK and PBS Frontline in the US, is the result of over 500 hours of her footage.

It tells the story of her journey through love, motherhood, war and survival. The film is Waad's attempt to explain to her daughter why she chose to stay behind in Aleppo, when others left.

An Oscar nomination is just one of her successes of 2019. For Sama picked up a BAFTA for Best Documentary and was nominated in three other categories. The film won Best Documentary at the Cannes and SXSW film festivals as well as getting a special jury prize at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival.

She'd already picked up an Emmy and a Royal Television Society award for her filming in Aleppo. Her work had been previously seen on UK television's Channel 4 News where she now works as a producer after moving to London from Syria.

Waad took part in the Thomson Foundation's London summer course in 2018 and received a special recognition award from the foundation at the Foreign Press Association Awards in 2017, for her coverage of the Syria conflict. She says the ongoing association she has with the foundation is invaluable .

I encourage all my fellow filmmakers and journalists to keep telling important stories that need to be heard, she says.

KC Saranga

K C Saranga returned to Sri Lanka after the summer course and promptly set up Ada Derana TV Mojo Force to cover the 2019 presidential elections.

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