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October 23, 2020

Building a local network of investigative multimedia reporters in Nepal

This guest blog is from Rajneesh Bhandari, a global multimedia journalist and the Chief Editor and CEO at Nepal Investigative Multimedia Journalism Network (NIMJN). NIMJN received an emergency grant from HU this year for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its work to support local journalists in Nepal.

We are amid a pandemic. And the need for locally-led collaborative investigative journalism is more than ever.

The novel coronavirus spread quickly throughout the world and has changed our lives and the way we interact. Like everywhere else, in Nepal too cities were shut down and people confined to their house for months because of the lockdown imposed by the government. Working from home has become the new norm. But as COVID-19 continues to surge, business, hotels, and trekking routes have opened with restriction in place. Dashain one of the greatest festival for Nepalis, however, has lost its charm this year given the pandemic.

Like all other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Nepali media houses and journalists as well. Many newspapers/magazines have shut down; others have canceled their print editions and are going online only. Layoff, salary cuts, delayed payments are some pressing challenges journalists are facing now. This has made it difficult for journalists to take care of their family members while also accomplishing their duties. But even with the limited resources and safety training, journalists are doing their job in the best possible way.

A few years ago, after studying investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking at the Cronkite School of Journalism, I returned to Nepal to produce more compelling stories and to strengthen the capacity of investigative multimedia journalists in Nepal. My focus then onwards has been on building a network of local investigative journalists which I had been planning for almost a decade. For the last one and a half years, we have been devoted to building this network and the journey has been enthralling.

It has ushered me with an opportunity to learn from fellow journalists about the challenges they are facing and the coping mechanisms they have adopted at the local level. The stories they are producing and the new tools and techniques they are experimenting with are equally important and bound to bring a change in the way journalism is being practiced in Nepal. Equally inspiring is the passion and vigor these journalists have for investigative storytelling. So much so that one female participant from eastern Nepal resigned from her job to take part in our investigative storytelling workshop. “I wasn’t given leave from a job, so I left the job,” she told me on the first day of the workshop.

Another female journalist from the capital resigned from her daily newspaper to continue her investigations. “I truly felt like a reporter after going through the workshop and publishing my story,” another participant from a religious minority group said. They reported on accountability and social justice issues relating to labor migration and human trafficking. And their stories were published in major news outlets in Nepal.

With the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing lockdown in Nepal, many of the events have gone virtual, including the journalism training that we are doing for investigative journalists. We are training journalists on safety, fact-checking, stress management, mindfulness, online multimedia tools, and collaborative reporting. We are supporting journalists with safety equipment and grants to cover long-form stories. And the journalists are continuing the work with innovative ideas even during these difficult situations to bring their stories to the public. We are trying to bring innovation in reporting with new tools that already exist or with tools that journalists want to create with the help of developers.

The importance of journalism in developing countries is even more during the pandemic. Our job is not only to inform, aware, inspire the public but also to be a watchdog and question the effectiveness and accountability of the government’s action. These unprecedented times also shoulders us with the responsibility of fighting against ‘infodemic.’

Rajneesh Bhandari is a global multimedia journalist and the Chief Editor and CEO at Nepal Investigative Multimedia Journalism Network.

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