Aftershock Nepal is a Bournemouth University-led journalistic intervention into the humanitarian crisis in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake there. A practice-led research project, it was launched in August 2015. Here BU academics Dr Chindu Sreedharan and Dr Einar Thorsen talk about the project and its current status.
How did the project come about?
Chindu: This was a project informed by our previous research into conflict journalism. News coverage of crises are often quite short, short-term. Mostly, the media focus on the ‘excitement’ of the disaster and quickly move on: there’s limited effort to identify solutions or report on the complexities on the ground, and, all too often, the voices of the ordinary people are inadequately captured. This is where we thought AN could make a difference. The idea was to present ‘human’ stories—and through a mosaic of such individual stories, through voices that would otherwise not be heard, we wanted to tell the world the larger story of the rebuilding of Nepal. This would be through multimedia journalism, in line with the best practices in crisis reporting.
Einar: What this offered us — both as journalism educators and scholars interested in crisis reporting — was an opportunity to understand and document the complexities of reporting from a post-disaster society.
Tell us a bit more on how you went about the project. How did you cover Nepal?
Einar: We collaborated with four universities for the project. Kathmandu University (KU) and Tribhuvan University (TU) in Nepal, and Symbiosis International University (SIU) and Amity University (AU) in India. Together, we produced sustained coverage of how ordinary Nepalis were coping with life after the disaster — life after the quake, that was our tag line.
Chindu: In addition, we worked closely with three mainstream Indian news organisations—Huffington Post India, Rediff.com and Open Magazine—to further the reach of the reportage from its student journalists. Many of the stories students produced were published by the professional news organisations.
Where did you publish? How challenging was it to produce the kind of coverage that you are speaking about with students?
Chindu: We launched a single-issue web site called Aftershock Nepal to showcase our stories. In addition, we published on social media channels, particularly on FB. And of course, our media partners also used some of the stories that we produced.
We had students based in an earthquake zone and an editorial team spread over three countries — newsgathering was by a Kathmandu-based team, coordinated by BU graduates based in Nepal on a rotational basis, while a team in India and UK took care of production/publishing. So the project threw up significant challenges: health and safety, language and cultural barriers, and editorial logistics (including persistent power outages, a fuel strike that paralysed Nepal, and severe connectivity issues).
Einar: Before we began, we conducted crisis journalism workshops in Kathmandu for participants, in England, India and Nepal. We also recruited BU students with hostile environment training to lead reporting trips, besides working with local journalists and NGOs. Nepali students collaborated with BU and Indian students to circumvent language and cultural barriers, and students made imaginative use of iPads/mobile phones, power banks and public WiFi areas to file stories on time.
What did the project achieve? What is the current status?
Chindu: The project for eight months till the first anniversary of the earthquake on April 25, 2016. In all, 38 students and 7 staff members across three nations collaborated and got to know firsthand the issues and challenges of crisis reporting.
AN reporters interviewed 150-plus earthquake survivors, publishing 92 crisis stories, including in-depth features and photo-essays. Nineteen of these stories were published by the three Indian media collaborators, resulting in professional bylines for our students. All 45 participants drew significantly from AN in terms of crisis journalism experience, project management and leadership.
Einar: The second part of the project is now in its final phase, where we are looking to understand the difference that AN has engendered and also document the challenges and issues faced by reporters in a post-disaster society, what it takes to cover a crisis over a length of time—and, most importantly, what it has meant for journalists, survivors, and other stakeholders engaged in reconstruction. We will publish early findings in a research report in the next few months, with scholarly publications to follow later in the year.