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Journalist of the month: Jessica Buchleitner

Journalist of the month: Jessica Buchleitner

Ashley Nguyen | May 29, 2015

Each month, IJNet features an international journalist who exemplifies the profession and has used the site to further his or her career. If you would like to be featured, email a short bio and a paragraph about how you have used IJNet here.

About seven years ago, journalist of the month Jessica Buchleitner set out on a journey that would take her through the cultures and lives of 50 different women across Africa, Asia and parts of Eastern and Southern Europe. 

Everyday news lacked the first-person narratives Buchleitner wanted to hear, so she searched for women who were willing to share their stories about overcoming obstacles of all kinds. What resulted from Buchleitner's travels and interviews is the anthology, "50 Women, Book One." The compilation features a wide range of stories from women worldwide who have dealt with gender-based violence, cultural struggles in their countries, immigration issues and living in communities affected by armed conflict.

"The stories are very real, raw and inspiring as the women have shown courage in the face of insurmountable odds," Buchleitner told IJNet. She is working on the second book, "50 Women, Book Two," which is slated for a summer release. This time, she will focus on women's stories from the Americas and Western Europe.

Buchleitner began her work in journalism as a reporter for the Western Edition Newspaper/HP Journal, a community publication in San Francisco. There, she covered city news, philanthropy and community development. Now, she is a freelance journalist for the Women News Network, a nonprofit organization that shares stories with human rights advocacy groups worldwide.

How has IJNet helped you?

[IJNet has made] me aware of fellowships and grant opportunities out there. There are so many, and it’s nice to have that all in one place. I have applied for a few and IJNet makes it very easy to do that. I even forward opportunities to my colleagues when I see one that best fits them and the scope of their work.

I read articles on IJNet daily to get updates and tips on how to better hone my skills. IJNet has access to so many tools, tips and tricks that can help enhance you professionally. One frontier I want to improve on is video editing. I recently watched a series of videos by David Burns about shooting and editing with tips that can make a difference between amateur and professional looking video.

You seem like you’re an activist and a journalist. Did you start off as a journalist first? When did activism come into play, and do you think nowadays, there even needs to be a line between the two?

I started off as a journalist and have written about various topics from finance, business and science to the women's news realm. After uncovering so much as a journalist, I wanted a way to get more involved in women's issues and influence change. I am currently on the Board of Directors of the Women's Intercultural Network, an NGO consultative to the United Nations.  

There is much debate, especially with the advent of current technology, about how to separate journalism and activism. I think it comes down to the concept of free speech, as journalism and activism are so embedded in this concept. When you look at some of the major historical movements in the United States, such as the anti-Vietnam War movement, Civil Rights and even back to the 1800s when abolitionists were publishing their own newspapers, journalism and activism have stood side by side in many ways.

What separates journalism from activism is objectivity. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth and its loyalty is to citizens by providing them the necessary information to navigate society. However, I think this is where the line can get blurry or confusing, especially since journalists are supposed to remain independent from those they cover and activists always get involved.

News is about facts. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so the audience can make their own assessment of the information. I think as long as the journalist remains objective, the line is defined.

Describe one of your favorite reporting experiences. Which piece of work did it result in?

Sometimes matters of diplomacy can create rifts in your reporting when communicating with sources on the international stage. One interview feature I was working on was about [bride kidnapping in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia]. I ended up in a bit of a bind because one of the lead sources experienced some grave diplomatic issues due to her work in the region shortly after I conducted the interview. We had to go to great lengths to protect her identity and any of her affiliations, but I still managed to salvage the interview and turn it into an informative piece. Sometimes such challenges arise. They are serious so you have to be resourceful yet cautious, [and] still make do with what the situation presents.

What advice would you give aspiring journalists?

Learn as much technology as you can. Learn to code, learn to interpret and analyze data, learn about social media metrics and how to further news engagement via social media, learn how to shoot and edit video — learn, learn, learn and never stop. You will always be on a constant journey so get used to learning new things.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Main image courtesy of Jessica Buchleitner.

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