Global quest uncovers migrant tales

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In Syria, there are “death roads”, with bodies lying all around. Viktorija Getneryte found out about them when journalism students at Coventry University took part in a global news project, only weeks after starting their degree course.

Viktorija (pictured above) interviewed a half-Syrian woman and published her story online (read it here). She wrote:

One of the most terrifying things in Syria is “Death Roads” with no rules. Everyone who comes there can be killed. Dead bodies are lying everywhere. The worst part is that refugees have to cross those roads on purpose to get to the other countries and what kind of man would risk his family members’ lives like that?

Viktorija secured her interview – and promoted it on social media – as part of a global “pop-up newsroom” project on migration, involving seven universities in six countries.

First-year students were signed up to the ambitious project by new lecturer Priya Rajasekar. She had been involved in similar exercises as an associate professor at the Asian College of Journalism in India.

Students publish content online – including video and audio – and then promote it with an agreed hashtag.

At Coventry, Berta Balsyte interviewed photographer Russell Chapman about his experience living in a tent in a refugee camp.

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He also told her about meeting a woman who had just been released from a Syrian prison, where she was held because of her husband’s political views (watch the video). Shia and Sunni women became “like sisters” when they shared a cell for 13 months.

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Journalism student Paige Bradley (above) tracked down an aid worker in refugee camps, and then made contact with a teenager who had fled Libya after her activist aunt was murdered. Read more here.

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Hiba Bukhari and Khanderly Parker used the online tool StoryboardThat to create a comic strip about Coventry’s involvement with refugees.

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Another group had a face-to-face interview with city council leader Ann Lucas in her office:

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Savannah Sengooba blogged about how Islamic students at Coventry University were collecting money, food and clothes to help Syrian women get through the winter.

Jasmine Amara used data mapping tools to create a video explaining the background to the 2015 refugee crisis:

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Priya was delighted by the way students responded to the challenge of finding and publishing stories on the plight of migrants and refugees.

She said: “I thought they did a fabulous job. They seemed to be a very well informed bunch of students who are very passionate about topics like this.

“Some managed to get very difficult interviews. Some explored different media tools.

“A couple of storifies were brilliant and one group did a storyboard that was retweeted by the other universities.”

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The first pop-up newsroom project, on poverty, was a collaboration between five universities. Several have been held since.

“We do several episodes every year,” said Priya.  “We do one around International Womens’ Day and we do others when we find interesting topics.

“It gives students a chance to see things from an international perspective. So when looking at the refugee crisis. the way someone from India might approach the issue is very different from the way someone from the UK might approach it.

“It allows students to explore things more expansively and interact with each other, which is really one of the biggest strengths of digital journalism because it helps you widen the boundaries of your reportage.

“You are looking at people far beyond the boundary of where you are reporting from.”

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Coventry and Newcastle universities joined others in Bulgaria, California, Lebanon, the Netherlands and India for the three-day migration project in November 2015.

Read more on the pop-up newsroom website:

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Simon Pipe is a former print and BBC journalist, now a member of the Journalism teaching team at Coventry University. He also runs an experimental website, St Helena Online, about one of the world's most remote inhabited islands, at www.sthelenaonline.org On Twitter, when he has something to say, he is @simonpipe

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