Getting Started: Hello from the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer fellow 2016/17!

It’s time to do a Tumblr!

As the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow for 2016/17, I’m supposed to make good use of social media to document the experience. That’ll be an adjustment for me. I’ve got almost no experience with Tumblr, I have never touched Instagram, and I rarely tweet.

But that’s bad practice for a journalist… and it’s all going to change! I am currently blogging on Tumblr! Follow me on Instagram and Twitter – @jaceyfortin for both! I am going to become a modern American human.

The social media stuff is partly meant to promote the work of the IWMF, which I’m very happy to do. They do so much to support female journalists, including distributing grants, giving awards, and hosting reporting trips. In fact, last year I participated in one of their fellowships, which took me and four other journalists to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for an incredible two-week trip… hostile environment training included! What a world.

This fellowship, which lasts for seven months, is named for an award-winning Boston Globe correspondent who had made a career of reporting from various countries and on various conflicts – from Bosnia to Rwanda to Afghanistan, and more – but lost her life in a car accident in Iraq in 2003. I only know Elizabeth Neuffer through her past work, but that work is impressive and inspiring, so it’s an honor to be participating in this fellowship in her name.

The program has me living in Boston, where I’ll work with The Boston Globe and take courses at MIT, for the first five months or so. Then a couple months in New York, where I’ll work with The New York Times.

So. I should introduce myself: I’m an American freelance print journalist who has spent the last three years reporting from the Horn of Africa. I lived in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, for three years, with a couple of trips to South Sudan to cover that country’s civil war. I left Addis for good on July 8 and landed in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, just as fresh conflicts erupted in the city. I lived there for two months, stringing for the New York Times, before flying to DC to begin my fellowship.

Coming back to the United States has been weird. Luckily I have lived in both Boston and New York, so I know some people in both cities, am familiar with the streets and the subways, and so on. But it’s still an adjustment, especially traveling straight from South Sudan.

There are random moments of disconnect, like when I opened my phone to Google “how to use a Keurig” and saw a message from a colleague in Juba, wondering whether the popping sounds he’d just heard were gunshots. I was so recently spending time with people displaced by the fighting, who would line up for rations of wheat or sorghum; here, I saw people standing in a long line (a really long line!) for fancy ice cream. And generally, I feel weird about the aggressive air conditioning, the overly-friendly customer service, and all of these well-groomed dogs.

I’ll get used to it quickly enough, I’m sure. That is, once I feel settled. The last two weeks have been…whirlwindy. I first landed in Washington, D.C., where I met the IWMF staff at their HQ, and got tours of Foreign Policy and NPR. Next came Boston (or Cambridge, more accurately) where I checked into my lodging near MIT and met up with the Op-Ed team at the Boston Globe. I’ve never worked in an Op-Ed context before, so this should be an interesting challenge.

But it wasn’t long before I had to go to New York. I’d signed up for a two-day workshop on weapons identification and arms tracing, given by the people of Small Arms Survey and Armament Research Services. I loved it – it was really informative. (Fun facts: It is a mistake to assume that every rifle with a banana clip is in the AK family! “RPG” does not stand for “rocket-propelled grenade,” it stands for “Ruchnoi Protivotankovye Granatamyot”! But maybe don’t quote me on that Russian…)

I spent the next two days meeting with editors at the New York Times. It was amazing visiting their office – I’ve been a stringer for them for over two years, and now I’ve finally met the real people, face to face. And I got a keepsake! If your story makes it onto the front page, as one of mine did on August 5, sometimes they give you the plate that was used to print that page. (Picture a floppy 12″x23″ sheet of gray metal, with green lettering.) That meant a lot.

And of course it was so useful to chat with editors in International, Metro and other sections to get an idea of what changes the paper will undergo in the coming months and years, and how I might fit into the newsroom when this fellowship takes me there around February. If I’m to make the most of this, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

So with all of this traveling and living out of a backpack, I’ve been a little unmoored. But I finally feel like I’m about to settle in and really get to work. Today I stopped by the Globe again, and tomorrow I will meet some of the people at MIT, as well as audit my first class.

And I’ll be keeping you posted on all of it, as it unfolds.

Thanks for reading!
-Jacey Fortin