Have I got news for you? Pop-Up Newsroom tackles international stories about refugees and human rights

The Pop-Up Newsroom, a global reporting event, organised and facilitated by Newcastle University students and staff, took place last week. The theme that the budding news reporters fearlessly tackled was refugees and human rights.

Students from the International Multimedia MA and volunteers from other courses took part in the three-day-long project. Using their smartphones, students roam the streets and collect opinions, interviews, vox pops, and various forms of visual media. Their materials are afterwards added to the interactive Twitter feed which is then broadcasted on the Pop-Up News website.

This year, Newcastle is joined by another newsroom popping up on the UK map as Coventry University has taken part in the project as well. The Pop-Up Newsroom’s international partners include universities from California in the US, Chennai in India, Utrecht in the Netherlands, Lebanon and Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.

David Baines, Senior Lecturer in the Media, Culture and Heritage department, is the leader of the UK side of the Pop-Up project. He spoke exclusively to The Courier about this year’s achievements and reporting theme:

“The theme emerged from concerns that were there for all of us, I think, during this past year. A quarter of the population of Lebanon is now refugees and it’s difficult for everyone involved there. What we’ve seen is that a lot of people are very welcoming, and some of them, who experience those various difficulties are less so.”

David believes that the Pop-Up Newsroom will tell the stories of refugees and asylum seekers in a way rarely seen in mainstream media: “We see the problem through the particular lens of popular media. What the Pop-Up is very good at doing is bringing in voices from the street. This involves the word of people who work with refugees a lot and refugees themselves. We only ever see the emotive pictures of refugees and asylum seekers but we very rarely get the chance to actually hear their voices.”

This year’s Pop-Up Newsroom is slightly different than the ones before it. While the project in previous years took place over the weekend, this time, in order to make interview sources more accessible, it took place over the week.

“We tried to piece it around people’s timetables during the week,” David said on the challenges of working around teaching time. “It had its advantages, being able to meet people who wouldn’t be available during the weekend, normally. That way we got to work with NERS (North of England Refugee Service) and the Discovery Museum, who currently have an exhibition on migration and another temporary one on refugees. So that has been fantastic. But on the other hand, it’s been very difficult. Students couldn’t physically meet up and compare their notes, so it’s all been very digital. And they’ve been dashing backwards and forwards between lectures, Despite that they’ve done really well and the coverage has been absolutely fantastic.”

David estimates that around 120 students from different universities took part in this year’s project. One of them was International Multimedia Journalism student Imogen Scott-Chambers.

“Pop-Up Newsroom was a fantastic and unique experience,” she said. “It was amazing to think that all over the world journalism students were asking important questions about some of the biggest issues in society today, migration and human rights.”

At the time of speaking to us, Imogen was on her way to the Tyneside Cinema. She and her team were eager to interview visitors just leaving the movie theatre after having seen newest blockbuster Sufragette. Imogen and the others were asking them about the important issue of women’s rights and how they’ve developed over the years.

“One of my personal favourite experiences from the 3 days was taking a trip to the Tyneside Irish Centre on Thursday afternoon to speak with members of the afternoon club,” Imogen said. “They told us their very personal and inspirational family stories about migrating to England from Ireland. So many families saw the sadness in migration as many are doing now and it was so interesting to look at the comparisons between the past and the present.”

Pop-Up News’ impact is hugely international, with Universities from opposite sides of the world taking part in the project. One of the participants, Kalina Stamatova from the American University in Bulgaria, spoke to The Courier about her experiences:

“I have to say it was very well-organized and I’d like to thank the Journalism and Mass Communications department and our Multimedia Journalism Professor Devadas Rajaram for creating such an opportunity for us. I must admit, I faced some challenges deciding what I’d like to talk about and exactly what medium would best fit my story ideas. Social media journalism is new to me because I generally don’t perceive social networks as places to get information from; basically, they often lack credibility – and I think that is a problem contemporary journalists face often.

“The biggest challenge for me was fitting one news piece in one tweet and I must admit I failed miserably – I’m way too wordy!”

David Baines explained how the nature of journalism is now changing rapidly with the rise of technology and social media.

“When you use your smartphone, you get a different kind of story,” David pointed out. “People with the big equipment and the video cameras tend to get different responses. If you’re there with a small insignificant bit of kit that we all have nowadays, a completely different type of article is produced. I was talking to one of my students, who did a placement at Metro Radio, and they all use iPhones now. That enables them to work with people in different ways, reach audiences through different channels. Journalism isn’t just about throwing content at people anymore. Journalists create networks of information flows that create a society and journalists become the majore nodes in that society.”

The next Pop-Up Newsroom will be on International Women’s Day and it will be completely voluntary – anyone can get involved by sending an email to David Baines.

“It’s all about working together with your audience now,” David concluded.

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