Reporting from a new region can be daunting. Unpacking local and national narratives is not only a multifaceted task, but there are often local journalists who are already covering these critical issues with high degrees of intimacy.
When I started researching stories for the Adelante reporting trip to Medellín, my initial research brought the following issues to my attention: guerillas, ex-FARC members, a violent history, and Comuna 13. While these topics are significant to the region—and incredibly valid story themes—I quickly realized that I did not have enough previous experience with the nuances of Colombian history or enough time to educate myself, to take on any of these narratives. These were not “my” stories.
So, where did this leave me, a visiting photojournalist curious to share stories from Colombia, who also wanted to be mindful of the finite time of the reporting trip and my knowledge limitations? I started back at the beginning, but this time, I researched a topic I already knew well: horses.
At first, I felt unsure about my story ideas. Maybe they wouldn’t be weren’t gritty enough? Perhaps they didn’t have a sufficiently “hard news” focus? But then I realized, that’s not the type of journalist I am, or where I do my best work. The more I researched horses in Colombia, the more I realized that I had found “my” stories. I felt confident to take on topics that I was already fluent in thematically—ranching and agriculture—and simply draw out the particularities of these narratives as expressed in the northwestern Antioquia Department. During the reporting trip, I had the opportunity to report on two equine-related stories, which include working with Quarter Horse breeders and visiting the Rancho Apalache rodeo school.
There is no substitute for local journalism. However, the experience of using personal networks and the Internet to search for story ideas in a country I didn’t know before the reporting trip gave me a fresh perspective. Even as a visiting photojournalist (with help from an incredible team of local fixers!), I can embrace my reporting strengths and background and apply my knowledge to a new region to draw out untold narratives.
And those initial story ideas that I later felt weren’t quite right for me? Well, there were other IWMF fellows in our group highly qualified to work on those subjects. I can’t wait to read their stories!