Curriculum & Schedule
To commemorate 25 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the changes that swept through Central and Eastern Europe, TOL is launching a collaborative reporting project, based on TOL’s renowned course for aspiring foreign correspondents. This special course will begin with a five-day orientation and instruction in Prague, continue with a week-long reporting project out in the field in one of the countries of the region, and conclude with a week in Prague for additional lectures, story-writing, and feedback from peers and instructors. All participants will be encouraged to complete stories on multiple platforms (print, photo, video).
The reporting assignments will tackle the main issues facing the region through extensive profiles of individuals – from well-known people such as politicians and celebrities to normal citizens such as teachers and health care workers. Through telling their stories, we will illustrate the larger themes that have shaped the post-1989 transition. Participants will be assigned a country based on their top three choices, usually pairing up with another attendee.
Before the course begins, participants will establish contact with the lead instructor and start to frame their stories, choose their destinations, and identify the subjects of their profiles. Crucially, while working on the stories, participants will be collaborating with selected trainees coming from the Visegrad countries. Natives of the profiled countries, these reporters will help arrange interviews and provide translation and, on a case-by-case basis, may also share in the creation of the final product. Participants will thus come to Prague for the course with part of their research already completed and contacts in their target countries.
Once in Prague, attendees will spend the mornings in practical lectures delivered by leading foreign correspondents with the aim of providing a grounding in international reporting and sharing various tips of the trade so participants get the most of their time in the field. In the afternoons, attendees will continue preparing for their reporting assignments, both with the lead instructor and in a group setting, getting feedback from their peers.
After a week-long reporting project and the completion of a first draft, participants will return to Prague for a group debriefing. They will attend additional lectures and work on completing their stories and accompanying multimedia pieces. The capstone of the project will be a group presentation of the stories, followed by detailed feedback from the instructors. The best stories, as judged by TOL editors, will be packaged as a series and rolled out on TOL throughout the spring 2015, and reaching a large international audience across the region. Participants will also be free to publish their stories in other outlets.
Among other things, participants will gain:
- A deep, personal understanding of the transition that has impacted Central and Eastern Europe;
- First-hand, in-depth knowledge of a specific country of the region;
- Valuable insights into profile-writing and story-telling;
- Instruction on how to shoot compelling photos and video to accompany text articles;
- Tips for how to break into foreign reporting and make it a career;
- Methods for getting quickly acclimated in a foreign country;
- Recommendations on how to find the story no one else has;
- Insights into avoiding the common mistakes that even seasoned professionals make;
- And much more!
The project is based on a similar one from 10 years ago: a TOL partnership with the University of California-Berkeley on the occasion of the 15th anniversary. The resulting stories can be viewed here.
The main goals of the initial week are to:
- Fine-tune reporting strategies, whom to interview, where to go to “see” the story and bring it to life; arrange/confirm visits to illuminating “central locations”; identify/contact other experts/analysts/observers who can help connect the dots to the broader issues and trends, both nation-wide and region-wide; discuss questions to ask of all relevant sources, etc.
- Provide intensive training in multimedia tools (audio, video, photo) to allow participants to enhance their stories with multimedia content up to professional standards, and
- Arrange and confirm any last-minute logistics for the trips to target countries.
Sunday, January 4
18:00 – 19:00: Arrivals and registration
19:00 – 21:30: Welcome dinner with fellow participants and faculty
Monday, January 5
9:30 – 12:30: Introduction to Foreign Reporting (Benjamin Cunningham)
- How to recognize potential stories
- How to formulate ideas and tailor pitches
- Finding the right sources and doing research
- Interviewing techniques and framing your story
- On the ground reporting and reacting to the unexpected
- How to organize your material and craft the finished product
14:00 – 17:00 Story Introductions (all coaching faculty) and research
Participants will present brief outlines of their stories for feedback from the group and coaches. The group will brainstorm about further angles to explore – to illustrate the reality on the ground as accurately as possible – and sources for multimedia content.
Tuesday, January 6
9:30 – 12:30: Life as a Foreign Correspondent (Raphael Minder, New York Times)
- “Welcome to a dying trade”, or, how to become a foreign correspondent
- How to find stories (a clue: they are rarely on page one of the local press)
- Dealing with editors at long distance and pitching stories
- Differences between European and American journalism
- Ethics of Journalism, Journalism and the Law, Boundaries of Plagiarism.
14:00 – 17:00: Multimedia Reporting (Nedim Dervisbegovic, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
- What should be included in a multimedia journalist’s toolkit (hardware and software)
- How to evaluate a story and decide what multimedia elements work best
- How to record and edit high-quality video
- How to judge basic visual elements
- Shooting photo essays and soundslides
- Thinking about distribution on the web.
Wednesday, January 7
11:00: Tour of Hospodarske noviny and meeting with Foreign Editor Martin Ehl
We will tour the Czech Republic’s leading business daily and the most modern news complex in the country. Participants will also meet with Foreign Editor Martin Ehl to discuss their stories. One of the leading experts on the region, Martin writes a weekly column on Central Europe, published in Hospodarske noviny and on Transitions Online, as Middle Europa.
14:00 – 17:00: Reporting for Radio (Rob Cameron, BBC)
- Writing for radio, how to be clear and concise, but definitely not boring
- How to structure, script, record, edit, and mix sound-rich audio pieces
- Use of sound, how to liven up your reports and create a sense of place
- Interview techniques, what makes a good radio interview
- Package techniques, how to get the most out of a story and produce great radio
- How to make the most out of stringing for a foreign news organization
- How to get your editors’ attention.
20:00: Evening concert
Thursday, January 8
9:30 – 12:30: Additional story research and individual consultations with Ben.
Departures for target countries (Poland, Hungary, or some parts of the Czech Republic).
Friday January 9 – Thursday January 15
On-the-ground reporting begins, with interviewing and gathering of story-telling video, photo, and audio elements. Ben will be on-call to coach you through any challenges.
Friday January 16
9:00 – 12:00: Story debriefing
Participants will brief their group on their time in the target countries, and discuss story progress.
Saturday, January 17
All day: Story-writing time, multimedia content development.
Sunday, January 18
All day: Story-writing time, multimedia content development.
18:00: Story deadline
Monday, January 19
11:00 – 12:45: Visit to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Working Under Conflict (Nenad Pejic)
- RFE/RL introduction (Larisa Balanovskaya)
- Covering war as a local
- Staying safe as a journalist in a war zone
- The ethical and moral responsibilities associated with covering conflict
- How to report in a time of conflict
- What to do if you do get into trouble
- The debate over “embedded” journalism.
20:00: Drinks in a local micro-brewery
Tuesday, January 20
9:30 – 17:00: In-depth review of stories/multimedia content (Ben, some coaches)
We will spend this day, first with participants/teams presenting their stories to the group, and then meeting for individual consultations with the coaches for final advice and evaluations.
20:00: Farewell dinner
Wednesday, January 21
9:30 – 12:30: Photojournalism (Jan Rybar, award-winning photojournalist)
- The challenges of photojournalism
- How to prepare before you arrive
- Getting people to let you take their picture
- Setting up that perfect shot
- Understanding the key principle: how photos “work”
- How to capture the atmosphere of places
- Combining photos and stories – how to “construct” great shots
- Tips and tricks for making great portraits
- How to make great photos with “simple” cameras (even mobile phones)
- Photography basics – settings, composition, etc
- Post-production basics – small improvements can make a huge difference
Thursday, January 22