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Anti-parachute journalism: The making of the Rojava Diary

Anytime a conflict erupts global networks us fixers to tell their story or parachute in journalists who don’t know the local context. Outriders did the opposite.

Donald Trump shocked the world when he announced on October 6 that he would pull US soldiers out of North-eastern Syria and allow Turkish forces to enter. The region’s dominant Kurds, America’s allies in the fight against ISIS, steadied themselves for a hostile invasion.

Across the world, the team of Outriders, a Warsaw-based start-up media focused on foreign reporting, jumped into action. They knew they needed to act fast to show people what was about to happen.

In such a situation most international media would either rely on local fixers to feed stories to offices in London or New York, or send in international correspondents. Known as “parachute journalism,” the practice is abhorred by contributors the world over – expensive globe-trotters with little local knowledge or depth come in and “poach” stories from local freelancers who make their living by understanding the complexities of a given place.

Outriders did neither. Their photographer Marcin Suder had previously worked with Massoud Hamid, a local journalist, covering the war in Syria. Suder and Hamid then set up a Whatsapp group with three Outriders members to stay in touch.

They then understood it was the perfect platform for reporting: Lola García-Ajofrín would translate and compile Massoud’s messages from the original French, Karolina Kania would take it into Polish, and finally Jakub Gornicki would turn it into audio videos and podcasts

“Whatsapp is more personal. You describe everything as if you’re talking to your mother”

The result is a series of bilingual videos and podcasts named the “Rojava Diary”. The very idea is to go beyond typical reporting and use this to describe daily life during the Turkish “Peace Spring” operation.

“This is the diary of someone who is there,” García-Ajofrín told The Fix. Hamid would send notes – not the article but rather observations – as well as audio and visuals of what was happening around him. By October 17 the team recorded the first episode and will soon publish their fifth.

“Whatsapp is more personal. You describe everything as if you are talking to your mother: if there is a child crying at a funeral, a street in a city where most of the stores are closed or Russian armour vehicles on the road,” she added.

Utilizing WhatsApp initially wasn’t meant to be the main source – it popped up in the process. Except for the connection and simplicity issues, sending audio-notes to describe what is around makes a narrative more personal.

Massoud recently attended the funeral of a Kurdish policymaker, using WhatsApp to send pictures, videos, and audios with the voice of the speaker or the audience singing “long life the martyrs.”

The idea is closely aligned with the Outriders model, which emphasizes the need for readers to have a sense of location rather than focusing on dry facts and figures.

For the Rojava Diaries, it all hinges on Hamid. “He is from there, he knows the place,” García-Ajofrín said.

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