Years ago, while home in her native Kazakhstan, Mila Sanina received a phone call. The voice on the other end of the line told her that he knew where her mother worked and advised her against publishing her journalistic pieces. Sanina nearly gave up reporting after that.
As Sanina found, journalism is not always perceived in the same way in each and every country. Reporters have the duty, sometimes perilous, sometimes disparaged, of functioning as the primary fonts of information for the public. However, the interviewees, the human sources, may be placed in a situation even worse than the writers of their stories simply for speaking out. Journalists therefore are also handed the duty of understanding the cultures and climates of their subjects’ worlds.
Jim Kelly, a professor at Carlow University, is especially cognizant of this as his field is communications. He advises reporters to “do all that you can to make yourself aware [of other cultures] but recognize that [the interviewees] are the experts on their own countries.”
Kelly also realizes that journalists, whether consciously or unconsciously, may bring biases to the table and that an effort must be made to recognize one’s own.
Steve Seliy, a documentary filmmaker, has experienced this firsthand in his global travels. Americans, according to Seliy, travel around the world frequenting the usual tourist destinations, their biases riding along with them. Seliy is self-admittedly guilty of this. “I had a view of Africa in my head that was not the Africa I saw,” said Seliy of his work in Rwanda.
In order for reporters to avoid generalized expectations such as these, they must strive to put themselves in their subjects’ shoes. In doing so, they are better able to connect with those of different cultures on a fundamentally human level and understand the tiny details of their lives. A story that breaks the mold of traditional reporting can be discovered from an approach such as this.
Listening intently, asking open-ended questions and desiring to understand the views of the subjects are also hallmarks of interviewing people of differing cultures.