A trip to Düsseldorf reminded me how vulnerable our sense of truth is and how travelling can solve this issue, if we open up. Here is what I learned during the German-Turkish Journalists‘ Bursary.

Blog Sarah Thust Hun SenNearly fifty years ago, the American journalist Bob Woodward uncovered the Watergate scandal in Washington. He wasn’t alone, but he said a smart sentence: „The central dilemma in journalism is that you don’t know what you don’t know.“ Let that sink in. Fellow journalists, how do you feel now?

Some of us become journalists, because they want to make a change. Others see themselves as „advocate“ for the poor, or they define journalism as the Fourth Estate. In Germany, this is rarely the case. Many journalists here try to report the truth – as unbiased as possible (e.g. here Deutschlandradio). But oftentimes it is extremely difficult to find the truth, especially if it comes to reporting about foreign countries.

„Make Lab not War“ sign in Düsseldorf
„Make Lab Not War“ sign in a Laotian restaurant in Düsseldorf. © Facebook/Luang Prabang

This is also the way I feel about journalism. Obviously, I would like to live in a „better“ world. But I also think that journalism should never be driven by a political ideology / agenda. No, I think journalism should lift the veil and show the audience what is hidden underneath. I am going even further: We should neither judge nor comment on what is hidden under the veil. An interview with a serial killer? Tell what you learned about him and explain why you know it (give it the context needed, but find proven context, don’t speculate or create artificial „drama“, find experts who are qualified to talk) – and then let your smart readers decide, judge or whatsoever. They will make their own choices.

Never stop asking questions and ditch common sense, because you don’t know

I am not saying this is easy. If you are working in a German office and someone asks you to write a „quick“ article about the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, you will feel lost. „We’d like to publish in three hours“, your boss says. You will have some doubts – and the risk of making mistakes is high, if you are not familiar with these countries.

This is why – in this situation – I will scan two Dozen articles that I found via Google from as many sources as possible. This can take up to an hour. Another thing that helps is having friends from that area, who can give you an idea about what I call the „substance“ of the region. Meaning: Who are the people living there? Where are the ongoing conflicts coming from? Who is really qualified to talk about the situation. And the most important thing: Whether it’s the UN, the WWF or any other major organization – be aware of their interests and always question what they say.

IJP meeting in Düsseldorf: A good journalist has to get lost (in facts)

A bunch of Turkish and German journalists are visiting Düsseldorf to help each other with their stories.
A bunch of journalists from Germany and Turkey are visiting Düsseldorf to help each other with their stories. © Johannes Rau Bursary/IJP

We tend to forget that our perception of the world is biased. The way we see, taste and hear things is built to protect us from an overwhelming reality. A fellowship in Düsseldorf with half a dozen Turkish journalists reminded me, how vulnerable our sense of truth is and how travelling can solve this issue – if we are open.

When I arrived in Düsseldorf, I didn’t expect much nor was I prepared for the stories I wanted to write during the coming two months. It came fully unexpected when I received the Johannes Rau Bursary. These three days were full of talks, discussions and learnings. We quickly understood, that there were facts we didn’t know about. This alone was somehow crazy.

From Istanbul to Germany: Most journalists continued their trip to Berlin, but not all

In my opinion, the most important lesson of that weekend was that only traveling helps to get the full picture of a country. Bonn, Wolfsburg, Freiburg and Berlin were on the list of the journalists from Turkey. I can already say: We can expect amazing and compelling stories within this project. Thanks for the chance to discover!

Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, die Hauptstadt von Nordrhein-Westfalen. © Kyle / Pexels

These stories are coming soon ...

Fridays for Future: How young people in Turkey prepare for climate change

Turkey is facing floods, hailstorms, and sudden changes in temperature as it is among the most affected countries by global warming. In April, students organized their first digital strike to draw attention to the climate crisis.

The Movement in Turkey rarely makes headlines abroad. But some young people are alarmed about what might happen if their country does not adjust policies. The activists demand that Turkey adopts the Paris Agreement, becomes carbon-free by 2030 and declares a climate emergency.

In July, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of a new electric-car factory. But beyond that – what else does the country do to react to climate change? The Government’s recent plans to tap gas from the Black Sea are against the demands of the Fridays For Future movement. How do the young activists think about it?

Friend or foe? What Syrian refugees say about Turkey

Turkey is home to the highest number of Syrian refugees in the world. Since tensions between Turkey and the EU are increasing, the pressure on Syrian refugees rose as well. Many people experience discrimination in Turkey and a lot of families are living below the poverty line. But how do they think about their situation?

To many, arriving in Turkey was a matter of survival. The number of Syrians in Turkey is estimated at over 3.5 million people, according to Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration. Initially, it was mostly political activist youth who fled to Turkey, experts say. They escaped from torture, imprisonment, and persecution. Some continued their way to European countries and others stayed.

Pictures in international news mostly focus on the Misery at camps and anonymous crowds waiting at borders. But each human being has a different story to tell – and these stories must be heard.

Work in Progress ...

Think tank Johannes Rau bursary
Think tank Johannes Rau bursary. © IJP

Impressions from Düsseldorf