July 2020
Beyond Fences Initiative 2.0: Empowering Journalism Students to Become Digital Storytellers

The USAID-funded Justice for All project (JfA) has found new ways to inspire and support university-level journalism students as part of the Beyond Fences 2.0 Initiative despite COVID-19-related restrictions and safety measures.

The Beyond Fences 2.0 Initiative is designed to train journalism students from two regional universities in Elbasan and Shkoder in mobile reporting and filmmaking techniques with the goal of producing content that will be showcased at the Balkan Film and Food Festival. The Initiative seeks to enable the participants to produce professional-grade short documentary films, news stories, podcasts, radio segments, or other multimedia projects that are capable of creating an online movement and motivate social change around issues JfA is supporting. To implement the Beyond Fences 2.0 Initiative, JfA is working with Rana Labs, a digital media agency that develops websites, produces videos, provides digital media trainings, and empowers the future digital story tellers of the world.

JfA and Rana Labs designed a customized program involving three workshops to strengthen the students’ reporting and filmmaking skills and knowledge. The first of three workshops, during which journalism students were introduced to the fundamentals of storytelling and production, story design, storyboarding, and pitching, was held in February and March.

After the second workshop was postponed due to coronavirus-related restrictions, JfA, Rana Labs, and the journalism students were able to continue making progress by quickly adapting to remote working methods. JfA and Rana Labs have used WhatsApp groups to provide direct guidance, respond to technical questions, provide creative support, deliver additional training materials, and create a sense of community. For several of the student groups, the direct access to support and expert guidance through WhatsApp has motivated them to continue producing their films, with several groups now actively working on draft stories.

JfA and Rana Labs also used Zoom to hold two rounds of capacity-building sessions with the journalism students in May and June. During the first round of meetings, the groups were provided with feedback on the first drafts of their storyboards. During the next sessions, the storyboards were finalized and the groups were tasked with producing one-minute videos using film equipment kits provided by JfA, which allowed the students to transform the training they had received into practical skills and results. By the end of June, each group successfully produced and delivered their one-minute video and received tailored feedback from Rana Labs and JfA.

One example of the students’ work is the film Granny Luçe, which was produced by a group of third year journalism students from Luigj Gurakuqi University in Shkodër. The film represents the idea that not all reporting needs to focus on breaking news, and that sharing the everyday lives of community members can serve as a reminder of the commonalities shared by all Albanians.

Through the Beyond Fences 2.0 Initiative, JfA is training young journalists to move beyond reporting that covers only the voices of the most powerful by helping them (re)discover the power of simple voices and communities.

Granny Luçe