Jesse Hardman

Intro from Jay Allison: Jesse Hardman has been to Transom before, premiering his delicate piece about his father's Parkinson's Disease. Lately he's been traveling, setting up radio programs in the developing world. Right now, he's in Sri Lanka, doing... well, this is his short answer: "I drive around in a white Toyota van with four or five Sri Lankan reporters along the perimeter of the war zone here. I am in charge of both training these reporters and helping them produce a weekly newspaper and radio show. In the van we have one Sinhalese Buddhist, one Muslim, one Tamil Hindu, and one Tamil Catholic." Jesse has prepared a remarkable description of what he's doing, how, and why. He has included photos and audio and he's prepared to talk with all of you about making radio under these conditions. Highly recommended.

Download “Lifeline Radio” Manifesto (PDF)

Lifeline Radio

A Brief History of International Media Development

The goal of international media development organizations is to improve access to information and open media policies globally. Some of the best-known organizations in this field include Internews, the BBC Trust, Developing Radio Partners, Journalists for Human Rights, IREX, UNESCO, Reuters AlertNet, Search for a Common Ground and the International Center for Journalists all work in media development in places like Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The idea behind much of this work is that access to information, like shelter, food, and water, is a human right. People have the right to know what is happening in their countries and communities, in an open, unbiased manner.

The most recent example of this important work is the earthquake in Haiti. With that country’s infrastructure devastated, locals were left without the basics, including information. Aid agencies helped the radio stations that survived the disaster expand their capacity for reaching displaced and suffering Haitians with important news and details about their situation.

Many of these development agencies are currently figuring out how to use media to play a companion role in areas like disaster prevention, management, health issues and democracy. When the 2004 tsunami hit countries like Indonesia and Sri Lanka, media focused NGO’s jumped into action creating channels of media for locals to know what was happening and where they could get necessary resources and help.

Now important issues like AIDS, global warming, and even constitutional rights are getting a makeover by media organizations looking to educate journalists on covering these issues, and then find ways to get this essential information to the larger public.

A World Apart

World Press Freedom
World Press Freedom

Beginning around Christmas of 2007 I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka as part of a new humanitarian information initiative. Basically I was asked to train and work with a team of local reporters who would create a radio show and newspaper that covered the increasingly desperate war displaced population in Sri Lanka, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands. I had originally intended to be in Sri Lanka for six months, the duration of the initial funding. Little did I know, after six months, we were just getting started. Almost a year and a half after I first set down in Sri Lanka, I was forced to leave, just before the conclusion of the devastating 25-year long civil war.

The following synopsis of my time in Sri Lanka was written in April of 2008. The civil war between the Sri Lankan Government and the terrorist organization LTTE(Tamil Tigers) ended in May of 2009. An estimated 70,000 Sri Lankans remain displaced almost a year after the completion of the war.

A Brief History of My Time in Sri Lanka

Map of Sri Lanka
Map of Sri Lanka

To give you a bit of a primer on the nuances of my current assignment, let me explain Sri Lanka a little. First of all, it hosts one of the longest surviving cultures in the world, the majority Sinhalese population (around 70%). The Sinhalese have their own language, Sinhala, are mostly Buddhist, and live predominantly in the Center and South of the country. The Tamil population, one of two main minorities, lives in Sri Lanka’s North, East and Central region and is a mixture of Catholic and Hindu. Tamils share a language and some culture with Southern India. Then you have a large Muslim community that also speak Tamil, but are not referred to as Tamils. All of these groups have their regions of geographic influence, and varying degrees of conflict and frustration with one another, and often internally as well. Throw hundreds of years of Dutch, British and Portuguese colonial rule in the mix and you have yourself a doozy of a country.

In 2004 the devastating tsunami hit Sri Lanka’s coasts, killing an estimated 30 thousand residents. Three years later, post-tsunami development and reconstruction is still going on. A peace agreement ended in January, and the now 25-year long civil war between Tamil extremists who want a separate homeland in the north and the Sri Lankan government is back on. Despair is on the rise here as the economy takes a dive, people’s security is compromised, hundreds of thousands are displaced, and more and more locals seek to get out, both legally and illegally.

Internews Team
Internews Team

What Am I Doing Here?

Reporting
Reporting

The short answer, I drive around in a white Toyota van with four or five Sri Lankan reporters along the perimeter of the war zone here. I am in charge of both training these reporters and helping them produce a weekly newspaper and radio show. In the van we have one Sinhalese Buddhist, one Muslim, one Tamil Hindu, and one Tamil Catholic. Everybody speaks some English, which makes my life here possible, but there is a pretty substantial gap between what is said and what is understood. We also have a rotating cast of characters that join us as we travel from one coast to the other recording interviews and producing reports. Our project mandate is to increase coverage of issues related to the massive humanitarian disaster that is Sri Lanka’s North and East regions. Between the tsunami and the civil war, hundreds of thousands of mostly Tamil and Muslim people have lost their homes, their jobs, their possessions, and their most basic necessities. They are categorized as internally displaced peoples (IDPs), populations who usually live in temporary shelters (corrugated sheet metal), and who have been waiting to return home for anywhere from six months to eighteen years. There are also resettled communities (those who have been able to return, although not necessarily to their original homes), and returnees (those who fled the fighting to places like India, only to come back to Sri Lanka). Hundreds of international and local NGOs, including us, are here trying to help these people solve their problems.

IDP Camp
IDP Camp

We are trying to contribute to this recovery by producing a newspaper and radio programs in Tamil and some Sinhala, which are accessible to the displaced and resettled so they can learn how to right their ship. We tell them what agencies are offering programs that might help them, how to do basic things like get new documents if they lost theirs, and where they can get job training to make some income. The radio program is broadcast nationally through a Tamil language station, and also on a couple of regional Muslim stations. We also publish a newspaper which is delivered as part of a Sunday supplement and brought directly to some IDP camps.

Reporting
Reporting

Our reality is that as we travel from region to region visiting displaced camps, NGO’s and government leaders, we are still getting a grasp on this tragedy. More than anything we learn that people feel forgotten, lost and desperate to be heard. Recording interviews with them is a pretty emotional exercise, there is hope that if we can just get their voice out there, maybe things will change a little. Part of my job is to teach my reporters how to take these emotional situations and turn them into well-organized, thoughtful assessments of what is really happening here. What can people learn from this voice? How will it improve their situation? How can they come away from our paper or radio show feeling empowered?

Logistics

If you think editing and producing quality radio is a challenge in your native tongue, try doing it in two languages that are completely different, neither of which you remotely speak, and a third, Sri Lankan English, that is as murky as it sounds. Many of my days here are fairly reminiscent of Bill Murray’s travails in the film “Lost in Translation.” I have to understand through broken English translation what is being said in Tamil and Sinhala, in an attempt to make sure the stories are not only good, but also won’t get us in any hot water with the government. What might sound good in English does not work in Sinhala or Tamil, or might take twice as long to say (there are more than 300 characters in the Tamil language).

For equipment we have H4 Zoom recorders, Adobe Audition for editing, and a serviceable studio for voicing our program. Very little field reporting is done by the mainstream press in the country, so we are novel in that we travel to the stories and use equipment to record sound and first person accounts of what is happening.

Internews IDP Camp
Internews IDP Camp

Our radio program is one half hour, and it’s a mix of our brand of humanitarian news with what’s popular and comfortable here. As we’ve honed our program, it’s become quite clear that four-minute radio features, while common for me, are not how people listen to information here. Part of development work is figuring out how things work in whatever country you are in, and what kind of foundational elements are missing, and marrying the two. Our show is now a wonderful mix of radio dramas, interviews, PSA’s, short features, some headlines, and songs about things like landmine awareness. Our main national broadcast happens over the course of two hours, on Saturday mornings, airing in between Bollywood music hits. If that isn’t good radio I don’t know what is. NPR should rethink its programming structure.

Life In The Trenches

Reporter
Reporter
Reporter
Reporter

As an outsider I often feel one step away from completely losing it here. Things are so foreign and confusing to me that I can’t even begin to sort them out in my mind. What do you do when an army captain tells you he doesn’t want you in his country, and an IDP elderly woman asks you to save her, and educated people like a Sinhalese doctor and a Tamil professor tell you war is the only option. But my discomforts pale in comparison to what my staff goes through. My reporters feel frustrated to see people suffering, they struggle to take an objective approach to this devastating reality, and they look to their different faiths to make it through the day. Our ever sensitive driver, a devote Muslim often feels overwhelming melancholy. His frustration meets his faith with a softly spoken “God is with us.”

Here are some thoughts from the Lifeline Team.

Download
Listen to “Lifeline Team 1”
Download
Listen to “Lifeline Team 2”

More from the Road

Peru
Peru

This is not my first go round in the realm of media development. Last year I was a Knight International Journalism fellow in Peru, a year long posting managed by the International Center for Journalists. I was hosted by a Peruvian journalism school in Lima, and taught radio classes during the week. On the weekends I traveled to different parts of Peru to do workshops with rural reporters.

I also organized and produced a few different public projects, including a live radio show (Radio Canchita), kind of like if A Prairie Home Companion was broadcast in Spanish from a bar, a Spanish language “This I Believe” (Yo Creo), and a very organic version of Story Corps (Relatos del Peru), which was me, a card table, a laptop, two mics and a banner.

Peru
Peru
Download
Listen to “Radio Canchita”
Download
Listen to “Yo Creo”
Download
Listen to “Relatos del Peru”

What I’ve Learned

I think the most compelling thing I have discovered in my journeys the last few years is that I have as much (probably more) to learn than to teach. Touching down in Peru I kind of had this “media missionary” mentality: I was going to right some wrongs and help develop a backwards culture of journalism. Naive, stupid, you betcha, that was me. What I know now is that this work is so much more complicated then I will ever fathom. You cannot walk into a room full of Peruvian journalists, many of them senior reporters, and tell them that what they have been doing for decades is wrong, even if, based on what you believe are non negotiable standards, it is. When I’m out and about in the world, the truths I hold on to and bring with me to share, they are still valid. But there are lots of truths out here, and you have to be open to seeing and embracing all of them. At the end of the day, if you believe that information indeed plays a role in peoples self agency, in their ability to live meaningful lives, there is no more rewarding work than this.

In conclusion, I wanted to invite any questions people might have about media development work. How do you edit in a language you don’t speak? How do you work within the limits of government censorship? How do you protect journalists whose lives are at risk? How do you change a culture of media that has lost its way? Those are a few I’m happy to elaborate on, but feel free to ask your own. Fire Away!

Jesse Hardman

About
Jesse Hardman

Jesse Hardman is a reporter with more than thirteen years experience. His work has been featured on National Public Radio, This American Life, Marketplace and a host of other public radio programs. Hardman has a Master's degree from Harvard University where he researched free press and journalism development. He has served as a Knight International Journalism Fellow in Lima, Peru, training professional reporters and teaching journalism at the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences(UPC). Jesse spent the last year and a half working in Sri Lanka where he trained local reporters as a field coordinator for a humanitarian information project called Lifeline.

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  • Jesse Hardman

    6.09.08

    Reply
    vannakum, a`yubowan

    This is an invite for all those interested to link up with my colleagues here in Sri Lanka through Talk. They would be excited to engage with you on any questions you might have regarding their work and life here. I’ll let Arthy, Vyasa, and Ramanan take it from here.

    As I write this we are busy putting out the latest fire here. Last night the police confiscated thousands of radios we purchased to give to displaced families. They said we were going to give them to the bad guys. Just another day in Sri Lanka.

    Thanks for your interest.

    Jesse

  • GLEN

    6.10.08

    Reply
    Fantastic

    Fantastic… This is the opportunity I have been looking for, for a long time. I am currently based in Taiwan as a freelance radio Journalist. I would love to get across to mainland China and do some media/studio training there. So this leads me to my questions: What qualifications do you have that attracted you to orgs such as those you have worked for? What is the application process? How do you fund yourself personally?

    Thanks for your answers… G

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.10.08

    Reply
    ideas

    Hey Glen…
    When I was in Chicago reporting I started teaching journalism at an all girls Catholic school on Chicago’s South Side. Trial by fire.

    From there I just kept developing my interest in training people how to do good, interesting journalism. I went to Chile and spent a month at a journalism school there, sitting in on classes and working with administrators on some ideas. That was volunteer, but it gave me some experience.

    Lucky for you there are now lots of people and projects related to this sort of thing.
    I would compile a list of NGO’s working in China and see if they do any sort of media work.

    I’d also do some research on universities in China that offer some sort of media studies program. You might be able to find one interested in this sort of work. With the recent earthquake, there might be a window to talk to people there about how information got out to help victims, and what role the media played in the recovery. There might be a niche for you there.

    I’m guessing that sort of thing is fairly sensitive there…but that might mean there are opportunities for people like you to help out.

    As far as getting paid. You might have to get creative, at least temporarily, unless you find a University or NGO willing to pay you for your ideas and skills.

    At the end of the manifest I put a list of organizations doing this sort of work. Take a look, maybe some work in China.

    Good luck

  • Melissa Allison

    6.11.08

    Reply
    Two Questions

    OK- How *do* you edit in a language (or two) that you don’t speak?

    And for Arthy, Vyasa, and Ramanan:

    If I wanted to do the kind of work Jesse is doing, what would be the most helpful skills/attributes I could contribute to the team? Is there a common mistake/misunderstanding made by outsiders trying to produce media?

    Thanks very much for your thoughts.
    Melissa

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.12.08

    Reply
    Working with Mr. Jesse

    Hello…My name is Mr. Upul. I work for Mr. Jesse at Lifeline.
    My personal comments.
    As a senior field journalist. I’m in a wonderful period in my media life. Because in my media life I did always television media…the radio media is a dream for me. Before I didn’t understand how to make the radio programs. When I come here to work with Jesse, I learned around one year course in four months. Most helpful thing…especially editing techniques, and also how to create a good story.
    Sometimes with different cultures, we have problem to understand…We are not always thinking the same thing.
    One time in Vavuniya military checkpoint, the police people asked me many questions about the foreigner, why they foreigner is acting free and happy(playing with a soccer ball) in a serious place like a checkpoint. The police got angry with me. They don’t understand the foreigners, the foreigners don’t understand the serious part of a checkpoint.
    I like the radio…it has made me very happy as a journalist, telling stories.

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.13.08

    Reply
    A few notes

    Sorry for the lack of responses so far…life is busy here.
    We spent the week rescuing radios from the hands of the police. Irony reigned as some of the local government papers wrote short articles about a "Norwegian" NGO that was trying to smuggle batteries. The articles never mentioned giving radios to displaced people.

    Of course we were never called for comment or to clarify anything. There’s a lot of animosity against Norwegians here as they tried to foster the most recent peace process. So referring to us as Norwegian was derogatory. Yes, the world is upside down here. Buddhists are violent, Norwegians are hated, and journalism NGO’s are undone by local journalists.

    Editing in a foreign language takes a lot of translating. You also have to pick your battles. What makes sense in English structurally doesn’t in the local languages, so sometimes you have to let them nuance what is being said.

    I listen to all the stories, and what I’ve realized is you can tell a good radio story from a bad one regardless of the language. You really focus on the basics. A good voice cut stands out because its passionate, which you can ascertain without understanding the language.

    This will sound pedestrian, but I also can tell quality if the reporter’s narrations go too long.
    Reading a script instead of telling a story is a universal sound.

    So I get the basic facts and structure, and then I listen for the universal key things, emotion in the voice cuts and short, paced storytelling in the narrations.

    Lastly…we recently posted footage of a live radio show we did in front of a displacement camp on Youtube.
    You can enjoy it here…

  • sarah reynolds

    6.16.08

    Reply

    For the reporters:

    How did you come to work with Internews? Were you journalists before or were you moved as listeners to change the path of media in Sri Lanka?

    Can people in the community find your program on their own and recognize it as a different kind of news? Or is it difficult to get people to have any faith in "the news" at all?

    And specifically to Ramanan – you mentioned that there is no truth in the news in Sri Lanka. Have you been able to stay true to the stories despite the governmental pressure?

    Jesse:

    In your posting you mentioned that radios were confiscated. How are people still willing to talk on tape when there is this much government interference?

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share this great work.

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.20.08

    Reply
    Thanks for writing

    Hey Sarah…thanks for the questions. We have been on the East Coast of Sri Lanka, Batticaloa, all week, which means no email access. Ramanan
    and co. were excited to get your questions and will respond.

    The radios are now thankfully back in our hands, and headed for distribution to displaced families soon. We are distributing them along with another NGO that gives families kerosene for cooking and lighting once a month.

    Your question about how do we get people to talk to us is a good one. I’m often surprised by how many people talk to us.
    We had a discussion this week after trying to do a voxpop in Batticaloa about public discourse. A recent election brought ethnic violence between Muslims and Tamils, and when we asked about it, people responded with either fear or anger.
    What we’ve found is that if you ask enough people you manage.

    Mostly my reporters said that locals were tired of being asked about how they feel regarding the ongoing violence and struggle. Nothing has changed in nearly twenty years, and despite the press coming around and broadcasting some of the problems, nobody has responded. So…why bother talking to the press anymore.

    When we ask about the bigger issues, like the war, being displaced, military restrictions on movement, etc.., people are often reluctant to talk. We don’t use names sometimes, to be careful, or photos in our paper of certain people.

    But I would say more than half of the time people are not afraid to speak and say what is on their mind. Part of it is that what do they have to lose anymore, how could life get any worse.

    When we visit IDP camps we often go with a partner NGO that is already working there. They make a formal introduction of who we are and what we are doing(many of these camps are now receiving our newspaper for free), and they help us gain the confidence of the people before we ask any questions.

    We’ve flown under the radar of the government for the most part, which is both helpful and also dangerous. It is better to be transparent here, although being transparent also means you might get so tied up in government red tape that you might never get anything done. So it’s a balance.

    I was taken into custody with one of my staff a few months ago at a checkpoint. It appeared the army had knowledge of us to some degree,(we overheard them say the word journalists, although we never identify ourselves as such) and were not happy we had visited a small IDP camp that receives our newspaper. Currently we are not allowed to go back to that part of the country. But the funny thing is, we passed through a much larger more difficult checkpoint earlier the same week, where they handled our equipment and passed it through with only basic inquiry. So, it’s a real crapshoot here, and that’s what makes it hard. You never know who is going to mess with you.

    I’ll also add in conclusion, the US embassy and USAID(our funders), have been really helpful in our trials and tribulations here. They are big supporters of what we are doing, and free press in general, and that really helps. This sounds like an advertisement, I realize, but as the US’s image abroad comes into questions frequently, what I’ve seen from it’s people out here are some very thoughtful and meaningful approaches to helping out.

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.20.08

    Reply
    Thanks for writing

    Hey Sarah…thanks for the questions. We have been on the East Coast of Sri Lanka, Batticaloa, all week, which means no email access. Ramanan
    and co. were excited to get your questions and will respond.

    The radios are now thankfully back in our hands, and headed for distribution to displaced families soon. We are distributing them along with another NGO that gives families kerosene for cooking and lighting once a month.

    Your question about how do we get people to talk to us is a good one. I’m often surprised by how many people talk to us.
    We had a discussion this week after trying to do a voxpop in Batticaloa about public discourse. A recent election brought ethnic violence between Muslims and Tamils, and when we asked about it, people responded with either fear or anger.
    What we’ve found is that if you ask enough people you manage.

    Mostly my reporters said that locals were tired of being asked about how they feel regarding the ongoing violence and struggle. Nothing has changed in nearly twenty years, and despite the press coming around and broadcasting some of the problems, nobody has responded. So…why bother talking to the press anymore.

    When we ask about the bigger issues, like the war, being displaced, military restrictions on movement, etc.., people are often reluctant to talk. We don’t use names sometimes, to be careful, or photos in our paper of certain people.

    But I would say more than half of the time people are not afraid to speak and say what is on their mind. Part of it is that what do they have to lose anymore, how could life get any worse.

    When we visit IDP camps we often go with a partner NGO that is already working there. They make a formal introduction of who we are and what we are doing(many of these camps are now receiving our newspaper for free), and they help us gain the confidence of the people before we ask any questions.

    We’ve flown under the radar of the government for the most part, which is both helpful and also dangerous. It is better to be transparent here, although being transparent also means you might get so tied up in government red tape that you might never get anything done. So it’s a balance.

    I was taken into custody with one of my staff a few months ago at a checkpoint. It appeared the army had knowledge of us to some degree,(we overheard them say the word journalists, although we never identify ourselves as such) and were not happy we had visited a small IDP camp that receives our newspaper. Currently we are not allowed to go back to that part of the country. But the funny thing is, we passed through a much larger more difficult checkpoint earlier the same week, where they handled our equipment and passed it through with only basic inquiry. So, it’s a real crapshoot here, and that’s what makes it hard. You never know who is going to mess with you.

    I’ll also add in conclusion, the US embassy and USAID(our funders), have been really helpful in our trials and tribulations here. They are big supporters of what we are doing, and free press in general, and that really helps. This sounds like an advertisement, I realize, but as the US’s image abroad comes into question frequently, what I’ve seen from it’s staff out here are some very thoughtful and meaningful approaches to helping out.

  • Julie Schindall

    6.27.08

    Reply
    news mediums — print, radio, tv, web

    Hello Jesse,

    What a tremendous project! This sounds so exciting.

    I was wondering your view on the use of different means for distributing news in the developing world. In developed countries we have print, radio, tv, and the web. Based on your experiences, what are the main means for putting out the news in the developing world? What medium is the most effective? What is the future for web journalism in the developing world?

    Thanks a lot, best of luck to you and your reporters!

    Julie

  • Jay Allison

    6.27.08

    Reply
    and, speaking of the Web

    Jesse, are there any web resources that would be helpful in this situation, anything that’s not already available? I’m wondering if Transom could help in any way.

    Also, do you have any thoughts about how sympathetic US-based radio producers/journalists could be tapped to assist with grassroots projects like this one?

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.28.08

    Reply
    Hey Julie

    Great question…
    It’s widely said that radio is still king outside the Western World. I think there is definitely truth to that, but I also see a lot of indicators of other media being just as important.

    You have to distinguish between media in the major cities and the rural areas. In the major cities you have everything, usually internet as well. Radio is definitely what keeps major cities pumping, as the streets are full of cabs and three wheelers listening throughout the day. But the news is very city-centric, and the rural areas are not covered with any real adequacy, which is a little strange as the cities are often filling up with migrants.

    In the rural areas you see a hybrid of the city news, as most major radio, print and tv networks are owned by city based companies, and some attempts to provide local content through small broadcasters and publishers.

    An example:

    Last year I was in the Peruvian Amazon, a town called Iquitos, and there were 8 local TV channels. Local business people decided to fund very rudimentary TV to reach the local public, which obviously suggests that most locals have TV. Most of the channels have their local news programs, and many of them had cultural programming as well. Most of the newspaper writers or radio news people in Iquitos also had their own tv programs.

    In Sri Lanka the Tamil population lives for its cable channels from India. They love the dramas and movies and so many find ways to access cable.
    In the rural regions some of the cable providers splice in some local information in between Bollywood content.

    One of the reasons the newspaper my team is publishing is popular is because it tells stories from the rural regions where nobody generally does any reporting. People like to hear about experiences that are familiar to them. Apparently newspapers are passed along, especially in the displacement camps, from neighbor to neighbor. Newspapers and their information get recycled over and over.

    So…I think there is a lot of potential for development of decentralized media. Setting up networks where news not only comes out of the cities but also into the major media outlets from the rural areas. You have this massive population shift going on around the world, where people are heading to cities, and these people still care deeply about their home regions and want news related to where they came from. I think there is a huge opportunity to convince media in developing countries to do a better job of covering the whole country. It can be pitched as an economic gain, their audiences are rural focused, even if they live in the city.

    Part of the issue that needs solving in this equation is dedicating money and resources to rural media so they can be professional. My office in Sri Lanka has opened three Media Houses in rural areas that serve as places where local journalists can go and use computers, fax machine, etc. to do their work. Phase two would be to get them paid better for their stories so they would feel rewarded and more dedicated to journalism.

    Internet is something that I’m still trying to figure out as far as this work goes. In the larger sense, people don’t have the money or education to access it. But…it can be used to reach a smaller group of people who in turn have access to those populations.

    There’s a site in Sri Lanka, http://www.groundviews.org/ that brings in mostly intellectuals and their commentaries on what is happening. Its good and interesting, but its not something that is going to be accessed by the larger public.
    What it could do, and I suspect proposes to do, is chip away at the elite who are computer literate and have internet, a group that could help change the current state of affairs. Somebody mentioned to me recently that the site played a role in the UN deciding to vote against having Sri Lanka stay a member of its Human Rights council.

    Peru was interesting as there is a huge internet cafe culture, and by cafe, I mean small shops with a few old reject machines from the US or China. But they fill up…so even in the Amazon or mountains there is some amount of internet literacy. But I’m not convinced it has really been tapped in terms of news or information. It seemed to be mostly a social networking tool.

    Sri Lanka is pretty void of internet outside of Colombo.

    On the reporter front, I think there is potential to develop networks where rural journalists are filing through the internet, to blogs, etc., and papers or radio are picking up their news. That could be developed. But you have to get in and both get them internet access and teach them how to use the web.

    In the South of Sri Lanka our media house struggles a little because few of the journalists know how to type in their own language, Sinhala. It’s apparently a little complicated.

    The future of Web Journalism in the developing world? That’s a big one.

    On the high end, I’m guessing you know about Global Voices…a great site that draws in content from writers and reporters around the world.
    I think that’s a nice example of what is going on in different countries from great writers.

    I think the future of web journalism is based on getting people access to computers and internet, and showing them how to use it. I’d start there. It’s a big assumption that everyone can use or understand a computer, even journalists.
    Then, you need an audience. It’s no good to produce the content if nobody’s reading it, especially the people you want to reach.

    To build a consumer base for the information being produced, you have to develop access and a culture of use. There was an issue in parts of Peru where women felt culturally uncomfortable going into internet cafes. One womens organization developed cafes for just women, where they could feel comfortable.
    You also have to show people how to use it as an information tool. Yes they pass news through their chatting, but its not the same as reading and learning something new.

  • Jesse Hardman

    6.29.08

    Reply
    forgot to add

    More than the internet, sms or text messaging news is gaining momentum these days. Sri Lankans subscribe to a service that updates them on everything from cricket scores to bomb blasts. Even people in rural areas are big on sms. We have supported news texts in the past in Sri Lanka, and are thinking again how we can utilize this popular format. I know in Africa cell phones are being used in capacity building as well. It’s an interesting technology to explore for news content I think.

  • Sydney Lewis

    7.02.08

    Reply
    constraints

    Jesse,

    Thank you so much for all of this. It sounds like you’re learning tons. And that you’re dealing with a level of censorship you didn’t come close to in Peru. Hearing your journalist associates describe their value as information sharers cobbled by their inability to put the information in a context, hold it up in another light, so to speak, was powerful. Though I know this is stretching it, to me much of mainstream media here often feels much the same.

    Ramanan’s comment: “There is no room for truth” is a haunting, Orwell-evoking comment.

    Ramanan and Vyasa: Do you feel any hope of change? Will you stay in this field despite the frustrations of constrained communication?

    Arthy: What if any difficulties in being a woman journalist do you find?

    Omer: I have no question, but can imagine that people do feel better talking with you….you have a welcoming kindness in your voice.

    Jesse: Talk a little about how you do protect journalists at risk, and what having this kind of responsibility does to your head.

    Stay well, all…

  • Samantha Broun

    7.02.08

    Reply
    What happens next?

    I’m curious about what’s next for you, Jesse and for the reporters.

    Jesse, I know this is a temporary placement for you. How much longer are you there? Will you train someone to take your place? Do you select your replacement? Or does someone else? What qualities should he/she possess? What do you hope to do next?

    For the reporters, is this a full-time, permanent job for you? What would you like to do next – even within Internews – to stretch yourself as a journalist?

    I admire the work all of you are doing.

  • Jesse Hardman

    7.03.08

    Reply
    Message from Internews Sri Lanka reporter Arthy

    Arthy…
    I have learned many things. How to interview, how to move with the people, connect with them, I know my country better after traveling with Jesse.
    From seeing the North and East I have seen my country is very difficult…people are suffering very much.

    I used to work at newspapers, I stayed in one place, doing my reporting from computer. Now I go to places, talk to the people, investigate what is happening first hand.
    I can find out the truth better. What’s happening. Other media just say what is happening. We see the actual situation.

    I have lots of contacts now, I can talk with them, and do better research. If I go back to newspaper working, I can find out real stories.

    One reason media doesn’t do much reporting is the security problems.

    The working with foreigner, I learned many things. I learned new things. Jesse has many experience. He’s been many places, met many people better than me, so he applies those experiences to teaching me.

    Challenges working with Jesse is language is difficult. His pronunciation different than Sri Lankans.
    Jesse point of view is little different, not like Sri Lankans. Thinking pattern is different, how means, here people are sensitive. For example, we are afraid for criticism. It hurts. Editing is difficult because we take it personally.
    I worked many editors, and many journalists, many people hurt me.

    I think this is a new life for me. Earlier I never talking with people. I’m very shy. Now I can do a little bit. I can go forward.

  • Jesse Hardman

    7.03.08

    Reply
    Protecting Journalists

    Sydney…protecting these guys is a little tricky. I can’t say I deserve any credit for keeping them safe, but there are a few things that help.

    Very basic…the fact that I am with them when we travel keeps them safe. A white face in the front seat means they will not be arrested or beaten up, so far anyways. Sometimes I struggle with the idea that I’m a human passport, that my main function is just getting them places. But I have to stop and remember that is a valuable task. My presence allows them space to actually do their job.

    My presence doesn’t always mean a free pass however. Arthy and I were arrested a few months ago. We were visiting an IDP camp that receives our newspaper. A routine army checkpoint turned into the Spanish inquisition, and four hours later we were finally released. Nothing was ever explained to us, but it was clear they viewed us as journalists, despite our "humanitarian information specialists" title. The army was not interested in talking to me, or hearing my explanation. I was told afterwards that if I was not present, that Arthy, our driver, and others could have disappeared into the police system. You can be held up to 3 months apparently without charges, part of the government’s anti-terrorism legislation.(sound familiar?)

    It’s a tough balance.

    Right now Omer and one of my other reporters are in a jail cell because they didn’t have the right paperwork for their new apartment, and the police and army did a joint "operation" in their neighborhood last night. Basically they go out looking for mostly Tamils and nail them on paperwork, ID cards, etc..
    If you are Tamil you can’t go where you want, do what you want, etc.. It’s verging on apartheid.
    You could be visiting your grandmother and fall asleep on her couch, and if the police happen to visit in the nighttime, you’d go to jail for not being in your registered residence.

    You mentioned Orwell Sydney…no coincidence he spent a lot of time in Burma before writing Animal Farm and 1984.

    So…what does all of this do to my head? It’s stressful, and sad. Mostly I’m sad that I’m now accustomed to a system that makes no sense.
    My office manager raised his voice in the police station today when I asked some questions, saying, "This isn’t the US Jesse, it doesn’t work that way." My crew is starting to crack a little as of late with all of these pressures. Even Omer, usually Cool Hand Luke, almost socked me at a checkpoint after being ridiculed by the police. He can’t vent his anger on the police…I was a more viable and forgiving target.

    As we speak, I’m off to visit Omer in jail again. He has to stay the night. It was his birthday yesterday.
    I’m going to try and bring him some cake.

  • Joe_Kovacs

    7.03.08

    Reply
    Memories of Sri Lanka

    Jesse, thanks for sharing your experiences online. We spoke briefly, you and I, a couple weeks ago on the phone as you were helping my wife prepare for her international reporting assignment in Peru.

    As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Sri Lanka in 1997-98, I experienced a country that somehow captured my soul: its beauty, its generosity and humor within its people that manages to somehow survive the brutality of a long civil war. After having high hopes that the Norwegian-brokered agreement might lead to lasting peace several years ago, I now wonder how things can ever change for the better. I admire you for your dedication to working with local reporters to help them get the word out the desperate situation of so many people ravaged by the effects of the civil war. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Arthy

    7.04.08

    Reply
    From Vyasa…Internews Senior Reporter

    Vyasa…

    Media is full of excitement and changes,it will always have challenges in different forms,now it is in the peak stage this will be like that for some time and a turning point will come.

    In Srilanka we may have to give the matters in indirect matters ,not taping with politicians and war issues but if we expand the thinking in different angle possible to survive,

    As you know in Srilanka Journalism is not considered as a profession ,that is also another major issue which needs to be resolved

    News in Srilanka at present is only reporting what has been approved by authorities, media owners do not want to take much risk ,but some news papers are exempted .

    Programmes produced by internews is of different structure and people can understand the difference.

    Having faith in news is different here it is only whether news is been given it full,or some facts are hidden ,people know information’s are missing but that too differs community to community.

    Singhlese feels news is ok, Tamil feel facts and information’s are suppressed

    Than government pressure, editors know what should be published that will not harm the smooth functioning of media

  • Arthy

    7.06.08

    Reply
    what is next

    As I am somewhat of a newcomer to the whole development scene, what I am learning is projects like mine ebb and flow, mostly with funding.
    USAID, our funders, generally fund things for six months, sometimes a year. In those six months you have to meet certain benchmarks and do a very thorough job of showing progress, and then apply for more funding so you can keep going. Our six months are up, but we are told we will most likely get more funding. Crossing our fingers.
    The idea is always to become obsolete. To turn over what you are doing to local people that you train. So that is my personal goal. I think these guys are doing a great job, and slowly I have been able to turn more responsibility over to them. The issue, sometimes, is that it is hard for them to see themselves capable of managing and running something like this themselves. The whole colonial history here is predicated on locals Following a system, not running one. So that is particularly tough.
    Some of my team are also very skeptical of having other locals manage them. They worry that it will fall apart.
    I have a friend who was here last year in the East. She ran a media house for 11 months and then left, turning it over to some of her staff.
    They have largely struggled to keep it together, and constantly inquire to me when she might come back and make things good again. That is pretty disheartening, especially because they are capable of doing it themselves, they just don’t think so.
    My hope is that these guys take what they have learned from me and others, and insert themselves back into mainstream media, where they can change the culture from within.
    This is wishful thinking I am told. That they are safer here at Internews, where there is an environment that encourages their good reporting. That outside of here they will be squashed and stifled.
    I think the answer is that we have to change not only journalistic practice, but also media culture, and consumer culture too. It’s a tall order, but working on all three might make this kind of change possible.
    I struggle with how long I would stay somewhere like this. I think it’s healthy to do what you can, put it in local hands and get out. But I also acknowledge that it will take a lot longer to really implement something that might stick.
    So ultimately it becomes a personal decision.
    It’s a tough one.

  • Arthy

    7.06.08

    Reply
    Great questions

    Jay, thanks for the ideas.
    I am trying to get my staff to engage more with this Talk space for the Transom article. They are really busy, and I think a little reluctant to write in English. But they are reading peoples questions, and are extremely interested in what outsiders think about what they are doing. It’s really hard for them to fathom what is outside of this place, some have visited other countries(mainly India), but most haven’t. Living on a small island, especially one in a war, makes their world very insular.
    I think linking up, through the web, journalists in similar situations, would be a really interesting, and perhaps useful exercise. I know various organizations try this…but I get the feeling mainly the journalists with a good grasp of english participate.
    Perhaps there is a way for them to record short thoughts on their work, like the ones I posted. That might be more comfortable than writing.
    That could be an interesting conversation to have. A space where journalists from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. can share their thoughts, and maybe help each other out.

    As for US based radio people interested in this type of project. I think getting the word out, passing the link on to people, talking about it on public radio programs, would help.
    This place is off the map, not on peoples radars, and that is part of what makes this human rights mess possible. The government knows people aren’t really going to do anything about it. They know some NGO groups will cry foul, but that nobody will really stop local leaders from doing what they want to.

    The more this stuff is talked about in the US and other influential countries the better. The more international articles are printed, or radio programs that discuss this, the better. Because locally, here, you can’t talk about it.
    I’ve been trying to document some of reality here with journalists on my blog…www.jwalktheworld.wordpress.com.
    We had one of our affiliate journalism teachers beaten last week by a gang, in broad daylight. We now lock the entrance gate to our office.

    I would love somebody in the US to talk about this. Get people interested.
    Thanks Jay,

    Jesse

  • Jesse Hardman

    7.09.08

    Reply
    Ramanan

    From Producer/Reporter Ramanan

    If I wanted to do the kind of work Jesse is doing, what would be the most helpful skills/attributes I could contribute to the team? Is there a common mistake/misunderstanding made by outsiders trying to produce media?”

    Media is common for everyone. If you are a person who can think out of the box then you can succeed. In Sri Lanka we have lots of media and one single trend this is the big issue here .If you can think some think different is most important for the team. Outsider or Insider is not a matter to produce a story important thing is how you understand the story and approach it. I believe you have lots of experience in different working condition so you can share your experience to make goods stories.

    Ramanan’s comment: “There is no room for truth” is a haunting, Orwell-evoking comment. Ramanan: Do you feel any hope of change? Will you stay in this field despite the frustrations of constrained communication?

    No hope at all for a change in this country. I have to stay in the field for my survival in this country. I have been working as journalist since 1998 and it is impossible to find another job in different field so like it or not I have to stick with this job.

    Have you been able to stay true to the stories despite the governmental pressure?

    No It is up to the editor who control the content before broadcast. They have restriction and they know the limitation of the stories. It is very difficult to publish the real factor.

  • sternjon

    8.13.08

    Reply
    Literary Agency Inquiry

    Mr. Hardman:

    Hello. My name is Claire and I work for the Irene Goodman Literary Agency in New York. We learned about your work on Transom and are really impressed with your mission and your voice.

    We’d love to talk to you to see if you’re interested in a non-fiction book about your experiences and projects. You can contact us at queries@irenegoodman.com, ATTN: CLAIRE when you get a chance if you are interested.

    Thanks and keep up the wonderful work!

    Claire Johnson
    The Irene Goodman Literary Agency
    80 5th Avenue
    Suite 1101
    New York, NY 10011

  • Ronan Kelly

    8.31.08

    Reply
    Dramas

    Hello Jesse and crew. Could you tell us something of the dramas you feature?
    (As you may know drama/storytelling/poetry has been useful in Ireland in negotiating social and political tensions; from 16th. century poetry to 20th. century TV soaps).

    Ronan Kelly, RTE Radio, Ireland

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