Thursday, July 11, 2013

Passion VS Safety ~ Personal journey of a journalist

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Driven by passion to take up journalism as my career, I have embraced new media, because it’s instant to communicate with text, photos, voice and video. It also gives the space as and when I need with credibility. Readers and viewers get back to me with the positive or negative feedback immediately.  As feedback is important, new media provides necessary space for dialogue and debate on various issues.

Sharing challenges and successes

I began to blog after covering the Tsunami in 2005. I have been covering politics, conflict, culture, events, nature, peace, people, tradition, and other subjects, in articles and photos. My blog is non partisan, and promotes ethical journalism, and in English and Tamil. I have become more creative than earlier, while using the new media. For example, I use more photos and change the lay out often to give a different outlook according to each topic I cover.

Initially, I have learned to use new media by experimenting and exploring it. I use Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, Tumbler, Youtube, Storify, Pinterest, Facebook, and so on for my profession. I mostly tweet with photos via my mobile, while covering a protest or an event immediately from the spot, wherever I may be, in Sri Lanka or abroad. The new media has taught me to use the tools creatively, efficiently and effectively.

I have always been using my own name for the articles and photos. I believe it carries more weight, when I publish the articles and photos under my name, rather than having a pseudo name or being anonymous. I want to take the total responsibility of what I post or tweet, therefore, I have decided to use my own name.
I have been attacked verbally in person and through endless emails, if and when I cover Tamil festivals or ex combatants or a non Tamil event or issue such as Muslim Internally Displaced Persons in Puttlam or North or land grabbing in the name of development in a Sinhala area. The people who are involved in the hate speech are certain section of the Tamil Diaspora, pro Government people including some section of the Sinhala Diaspora, some Muslim fundamentalists and some fellow journalists. I continue to cover the sensitive issues, despite the hate speech and I am called by various names and terms such as “Tamil Tiger, Government’s bandwagon, LTTE’s favourite female, Tamil woman converted to Islam and so on. I use new media to cover issues related to human rights, women’s rights, challenges faced by the ex combatants, Internally Displaced Persons in the Vanni, disappearances, returnees from Australia, post war development, minority issues, war widows, political prisoners, disabled persons due to war, high security zones, people affected by the ongoing rapid post war development and so on. I have been both called “terrorist” and “traitor”. 

Passion always wins

For me passion verses safety , because sometimes, when I cover sensitive issues I have to think carefully before tweeting or blogging, especially when I am in the North or East of Sri Lanka while covering conflict related issues. Passion always wins at the end. I also have to be crystal clear, before tweeting or blogging some sensitive news or articles, because those tweets and  blogposts are used as a prime source of information for newsgathering by fellow journalists and human rights activists and  groups locally and internationally, and post the same immediately on various websites, blogs, etc.

Although, my blog says copy rights reserved. I often find my photos and articles are stolen from my blog without permission, and posted or published on various websites, journals, magazines and newspapers, etc. I wrote to many websites and Tamil, Sinhala and English newspapers stating the photos and articles are stolen without prior permission, but so far I have heard from none!

It’s another challenge to use tweet with a photo by using “only” 140 characters alongwith hash tags. I have to be crisp as much as possible. New media has helped me to sharpen my skills. Using new media is an important step in my profession. Technology is changing the nature of journalism. Deadline is now! and “right now!” , ever since I have embraced new media. I constantly use palm held devices such as smart phone (BlackBerry and  iPhone) and iPad, wherever I am, be it in Sri Lanka or Europe or United States of America or Australia or Middle East. I am continuously using the new media.
Slide show during the presentation

As a self-taught photojournalist, I acquired the necessary technical skills. Photojournalism is still a male dominated field in many countries including ours. It’s a continuing challenge to fight for my space and secure it in the field. 

I was challenged by my male colleagues in the field of journalism, that “women cannot be a professional photojournalist, especially women are unable to take photos related military!”. They also told me that, “women are digitally challenged!”.  But, I have proven them wrong, not once, but many times. Now, they are challenged with my passionate presence in the field of journalism. Some of my male colleagues shared that, “they feel threatened, when they see me in the field”, because I use the new media to break the news with photos whether I cover conflict related stories or cultural events or protests. My fellow male colleagues have slowly started to appreciate my passionate work.  Many of them have begun to follow my tweets and blogposts for news updates and the latest happening especially in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Photos on display at the venue of the National Conference

I have to keep myself updated with the tools used in new media, because I have to compete with the traditional media, and a few fellow journalists and photojournalists who use new media for breaking news. I have to publish my articles and photos before the mainstream media do so. New media allows me to practice ethical journalism, as I have been doing in the traditional media many years ago. Many of my colleagues told me, when I began to blog that “nobody will read your blog, because it’s not journalism!”. But, the way I covered numerous issues made many to follow my blog.

New media is a never ending learning process. It has so much potential. I am glad that, I embraced it a few years ago before many of my fellow journalists even thought of using it, and I will continue to explore. New media is adventurous.

(The above presentation was made at the National Conference of South Asian Women in Media (Sri Lanka Chapter), during a session on Women's Engagement with New Media. The conference was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on 28th January 2013.)


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