IWMF interviewed Louisa Reynolds, the tenth recipient of the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship, to hear more about her experiences and what she hopes to gain from the opportunity:
IWMF: What do you hope to get out of this fellowship?
Reynolds: I am very interested in gaining a deeper knowledge and a better understanding of human rights issues
that I’ve already worked on extensively during my journalism career, so I’d be more interested in learning more about these issues from an academic standpoint. Also, in regards to the time that I’ll be spending at the Boston Globe and the New York Times, I’m interested in learning more about data journalism and multimedia.
IWMF: What specifically are you hoping to study during the fellowship?
Reynolds: There are three programs that I’m particularly interested in: A creative writing module… that’s something that I’d love to study because I’m interested in narrative journalism… the gender studies program, and the human rights program.
IWMF: What are specific key issues that you work on or that you’re interested in working on in the future?
Reynolds: I’ve done a lot of work on human rights cases in Guatemala, specifically the trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, which took place last year in Guatemala and is still ongoing. Also, I’ve covered extensively other court cases related to human rights violations committed during the civil war such as the Dos Erres massacre, among others. So that’s something that I’d like to continue working on because it’s a really major issue in Guatemala at the moment. Also, I’ve done a lot of work on femicide and gender violence, and that’s also something that I intend to continue.
IWMF: What makes you interested in writing about human rights?
Reynolds: Living in Guatemala and working here, you realize that it’s such a crucial issue for this country. It’s impossible for a country like Guatemala to heal its wounds, to move forward toward a more inclusive society, a more democratic form of government, without dealing with those issues from the past and without those victims receiving compensation, without the government acknowledging that those human rights violations were committed. Because the terrible thing in Guatemala is we’re not talking about cases from the past but things that are still happening today. Human rights activists in Guatemala continue to be threatened, particularly labor activists or indigenous activists who work on issues such as open-pit mining, for example. We’re not just talking about things that happened like historical events, but things that are still going on today, which is why I think it’s so important.
Reynolds: This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and it’s something that, hopefully with the skills that I gain during this fellowship, it can start to take shape and I can have the technology and the tools that I need to work on this… It’s a question of giving the victims of violence a voice to tell their own stories in their own words using digital media.
IWMF: What motivated you to become a journalist?
Reynolds: Ever since I was a kid, I loved writing… and as far as I can remember, it was what I wanted to do. I did that first work experience at the East Kent Mercury… and I absolutely loved it and then that was it. I knew that that was what I wanted to do. As time went by and after I went to university, then I knew that what I wanted to do was something with an international focus. I had always been interested in Latin American issues, so I studied a Master’s in Latin American studies at the Institute for the Study for the Americas in London. My idea was to come work in Latin America as a correspondent or as a stringer and really immerse myself in all of these issues. That’s why when the opportunity came up for me to come to Guatemala, it just seemed ideal for me.
Reynolds: I’ve always loved storytelling and I think it’s a very powerful way to connect with readers and to make readers feel the human impact of a story. For example, I wrote, in 2012 I published a long-form narrative piece on the Dos Erres massacre… That was really powerful, being able to tell that story, because I interviewed quite a few survivors of the massacre and followed the trials and I tried to weave all those stories together. To me, it’s a very powerful way to reach out to people and to let them feel the human impact of a story like that in a way that possibly other forms of journalism can’t do.
IWMF: What is your process for telling stories?
Reynolds: I think every story has its own process, but I would say for me the basic steps would be… read as much as you can, do a lot of background research, then start contacting people, doing interviews, collecting data when it comes to stories where particular data is important, and start working on information requests. I would say those are the major steps.
IWMF: You’ve been in journalism for eight years… what changes have you seen in media or in journalism in particular since you’ve started?
Reynolds: I would say the biggest changes have been related to technology. Particularly things like the new role of social media and data visualization, development in terms of infographics, the whole data journalism boom. I think all of these are things that are really changing the way we tell stories and the way we present them. It’s a very exciting time for journalism. People have speculated and thought a lot about whether print journalism will disappear, which I hope it doesn’t and I don’t think it will. I just think that things are changing and there’s new ways of doing things. I think one of the exciting possibilities about multimedia is that you can combine narrative journalism with the visuals, with things like video and infographics, and just find more visually attractive ways of telling a story… Also with social media, there’s all these new possibilities in terms of involving your readers in the work that you do.
IWMF: What advice do you have for journalists who are just starting their journey?
Reynolds: I think one of the most important things is to get as much experience as you can, so start as soon as possible. Don’t delay doing internships and work experience. I think the sooner that you can start, the better, because also that way you’ll find out what types of journalism you want to do, what you’re interested in, and you’ll be able to find your niche as a journalist, as it were. Only by being there in a newsroom, you’ll be able to discover if you want to write about consumer issues or human rights or travel.
This interview has been edited for length.