“That’s why we’re journalists”
Juba Monitor reporter Opio Jackson whispers to me, “I feel traumatized when I interview people like this.”
Beside us, Albino Ladu sits in a wheelchair, staring straight forward. Beige cloth wraps the stumps of his legs, where they were amputated after he stepped on a landmine. He’s telling us how prosthetic legs helped him regain his life.
We’re visiting a physical rehabilitation centre in Juba, South Sudan, for a feature story on support for people with disabilities.
It’s the first time I’ve gone on assignment with one of the reporters I’ll be working with over the next year as a media trainer for Journalists for Human Rights (JHR).
This type of training is also a first for the Juba Monitor, a daily newspaper with ambitious and talented reporters anxious to learn new ways of covering human rights abuses in their country.
Carolyn facilitating a workshop with journalists in Juba, South Sudan.
My first day, I worried about fitting in. Would they value the training we offer? Could I help despite the many difficulties journalists face?
Reporting in South Sudan is a challenge.
Unpaved roads with deep crevices slow travel between interviews. Government workers sometimes demand official letters before speaking to reporters – or they refuse entirely, saying it’s not their job to deal with the media. Newspapers publishing articles or opinions on contentious issues have been forced closed for a day, sometimes permanently. Reporters investigating controversial stories have been hauled into national security and told to forget their research or face consequences.
I asked the reporters why, despite that, they continue to do the job.
“I want to bring about a positive change,” one said.
“The desire to see people’s issues addressed, most especially those who cannot be heard,” added another.
That first day, I sat in the morning news meeting as journalists and editors scoured the newspaper for errors. They engaged in deep debates about coverage choices and how stories could be pushed forward.
A few weeks later, talk turned to the importance of including voices of those affected by the news – even when their stories are hard to hear. People like Albino Ladu.
After interviewing him, Opio Jackson and I walked back toward the neighbourhood packed with government ministries, where we’d pick a local bus toward the newsroom. We trudged along dusty streets lined with stands selling phone credit and fruit, and past market stalls with button-up shirts and power cords dangling from their walls.
Every person here has a story, we said. Their lives are changed by political decisions. They have a right to access affordable food and clean water. They have a right to live in peace.
“That’s why we’re journalists,” he told me.
– Carolyn Thompson, JHR Trainer, South Sudan