” we follow six young migrants from Raqqa along the route from Turkey, towards Germany, through the audio, video, photos and tweets by SRG SSR journalist Nicolae Schiau, who embarked on this 6000 km journey with only a laptop and a mobile phone.
Exils is a radio package complemented by social media and mobile video. It won the award for best web production at this year’s Prix Italia and we spoke to Schiau about his experience making "Exils" and what it has taught him.
How did the idea come about?
I had the idea as I was watching coverage from the migrant route and I started asking myself two questions.
The first one was “are these people always walking?” From TV and from the press you always got the same pictures of them walking all the time. Many journalists had already made maps and infographics, but I wanted to be on the inside, to understand how it worked.
Then, I was amazed by always seeing the same image of people at the border, usually a large focus that gave the idea of a kind of invasion.
When I got in touch with a Swiss start-up, Teleport, I offered to be a tester for them, with the aim of creating a sort of Google Street View of the migrant route. Every day I would take out the Sim card from my GoPro and send the footage to the team who edited it with the tweets and other social media posts.
It was not a question of being objective, as that is practically impossible, but I thought that with videos, I could not lie and I could just describe things as they were.
What tools have you used and what advantages did they have?
It was the first time I tried to work only on my mobile phone. I decided I was going to have the same tool that these people use while on the route. It also was the best way to get to interact with them.
You know, this story started with a selfie in Turkey. I saw these kids taking a selfie and I asked if they were about to leave. They said they were heading to Germany and I asked them if I could go along. Throughout the journey, taking a selfie always meant “I accept you” and “I want to take a souvenir with you”. The story ended with another selfie I took with one of them, Nayef, in Calais.
My mobile phone was the best tool to do all that I needed to do – I could go live on air every day, type tweets, take pictures and shoot videos. When I left Switzerland, I was aware of 20 per cent of my cell’s capability, now I think I know 70 per cent.
It would have been impossible to do Exils with traditional tools; in some instances if you go around with a camera and a microphone you pull up a barrier between yourself and everybody else.
What about interaction with the audience?
Using your mobile phone and social platforms, you can reach a new audience, and after all, it is our job as public service broadcasters to give info to as many people as possible.
There was a team in Switzerland helping me and protecting me from haters. However, I tried to focus the story on the six kids I was following. We had agreed from the start that I would not become the protagonist of the story.
Many people wrote to me because, after watching the lives or listening to the radio reports, they wanted to help. I also tried to get back to the haters; for example, I got many hateful comments while in Calais and knowing that they came from people who were sitting comfortably on their couches while a kid spent eight months in Calais trying to reach the United Kingdom was hard.
Nevertheless, we definitely have to interact with the audience and we have to go forward accepting that if we want to reach this audience, then there are certain rules and tools we need to accept.
What have been the challenges, both technically and psychologically speaking?
In hindsight, it has been a great chance and I am very grateful but there has been a lot of pressure. In the beginning, it also came from the fact that many people were questioning what I was going to do, and with only a smartphone. It was hard at first to prove that it was worth it.
Then, while I was there, it was difficult to convey the psychological pressure of refugees. So many of them had no idea where to go. Once in Austria we travelled on a train for seven hours and people were very confused about where they were going next. They were asking me for suggestions and that put me in a very difficult position. Because you are close to them and you want to help them, but when you are a journalist, you can help them only by telling their stories.
What did you learn from this experience?
Being on social media helped me to build my storytelling, that is part of what I learnt. Our job is about humans and stories, and it such an amazing thing when people trust you with their own stories.
I also hope that mobile journalism will get more space; it is not only a matter of mobility, but also of storytelling. Everyone owns a smartphone and can produce something. Our job as journalists is to be there and to tell stories on those platforms.
Finally, a comment on Exils winning the award for best web production.
I am honoured and amazed because I had no idea I would take part in this year’s Prix and then win. I hope that it will encourage people to continue to do mobile journalism. It is not only a question of money – Exils was indeed a very cheap production. I simply hope that people will try to tell stories with their mobile phones without worrying about making something big and complex – sometimes doing simple is also good.