Colleague Danielle Paquette and I have the great advantage of being on this reporting trip together. She’s a writer at The Washington Post where I also work as a video journalist. We’re the only pair of colleagues who came together, and it’s been a great benefit to us. In addition to being able to bounce ideas off one another and tag team interviews with our various questions, we’ve also benefitted from an easier time with logistics. Since there are eight fellows here in Rwanda and only four fixers and four drivers, most of the fellows have to coordinate resources with one another. They may have to wait for a fellow to finish up an interview before they can go to their own appointment, and so on. Since Danielle and I are pretty much always in the field at the same place, we don’t have to worry about this coordination. Up until today, we’ve actually had the same fixer and driver every day, which has been a huge benefit to us. We’re doing a narrative-style project that involves getting to know a few characters very well, and it’s hugely helpful for our fixer to be familiar with those individuals as well. They know who it is when they receive a call from the fixer, and the fixer is aware of the sensitivities involved with that specific person. It’s made access easier and therefore we’ve been much more productive than we otherwise might have been.
All that being said, there are also challenges that come with working with a partner, especially one who is working in a different medium. And language barriers only exacerbate those challenges in that everything takes longer and needs are more difficult to explain. For example, as someone who makes short documentary films, I need to be a fly on the wall and immerse myself in the person’s life as much as possible. After doing a big initial interview, most of the rest of the time I need to spend simply observing with the camera, falling into the shadows as much as one with a camera can do. Writers, however, often have very detailed questions they need to ask, which can be disruptive to the process of allowing the subject to forget about you. However, I know when I ask a writer to stop asking so many questions, that also disrupts their own process, so it’s a delicate balance. Luckily Danielle and I have been able to strike that balance in most cases, which has been helpful.
Ultimately, working together also means that we’ll be able to put together a larger, more in-depth package for The Washington Post than we otherwise would have been able to do on our own. It’s great opportunity to do something big and do it well in a place we otherwise would not get to report from.
Of course, it’s also been great to get to know the other fellows and learn from their experiences during our time talking at dinners and elsewhere. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to know so many fierce, intelligent, creative lady journalists. It’s been such an amazing and inspiring experience. Hopefully I’ve been able to share some of my insights with them, as well as contribute to building a stronger, better community of female journalists around the world. – Whitney Shefte