Meet our Fellows: Vlad Odobescu

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Vlad Odobescu, 38, is a reporter at Scena9 a cultural magazine based in Bucharest. He won multiple awards and fellowships, including the first prize of the Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence in 2013 for his story “How to get Ahead in Romanian Politics”, which was about Romania’s anti-corruption agency repeatedly convicted politicians – but people kept on bringing them back.

Vlad Odobescu

– What was your fellowship story about? Why have you selected this investigation? 

I applied for the fellowship in early 2013, at a time when the Romanian anti-corruption agency was investigating quite a lot of local politicians: mayors, members of parliament, even a former prime minister. The investigations led to many convictions and international praise for this effort at fighting corruption, but that didn’t stop a lot of Romanians from still supporting the officials. At one time I read an article about a protest in Năvodari, a small town on the Black Sea coast, against the arrest of the local mayor, Nicolae Matei, accused in a corruption case. Images showed priests, teachers and children holding placards demanding the mayor’s release. I saw this as a case study on corruption: how power structures are built and how corruption infiltrates communities, deep down. I wanted to go to Navodari and see how that happens.

– Why are long-form investigations /stories important?

This type of journalistic work is essential for understanding complex stories: as a reporter, you need to dive deep into the world you’re about the explore, and that means trying to understand the connections between people, showing a real interest in people’s lives and that you’re not just a visitor who wants to “score” another story. Telling such a story takes time and resources: reading everything that is relevant on the topic, doing dozens of interviews during multiple field research trips, sending information requests and waiting for official answers, all with permanent editorial guidance.

Which fellowship story do you like best and why?

I enjoyed many stories but will only mention one, about the garment industry in Romania and Bulgaria, by Laura Stefanut. It exposed the tough working conditions in which thousands of women in these countries work, an unseen reality for many. This is what the best stories do: they reveal invisible truths about worlds that appear familiar and harmless.

Why would you recommend a colleague to apply for the fellowship?

This fellowship means journalism done right. For me, it was one of the most useful professional experiences I ever had: it fed my appetite for complex stories and taught me how to extract the essentials out of them, in order to tell them properly. As a fellow, you benefit from the guidance of excellent editors and also have the opportunity to learn from great journalists from other countries. And, you’ll have lots of fun doing all of that.

What is your biggest take-away from the fellowship experience?

Among others, this experience taught me how to clarify my purpose for doing the story and define a short working hypothesis. At the same time, it taught me to be ready to adjust when reality (which means field work and interviews) kicks in. This permanent process of adjusting to reality and readiness to tell complex truths is what makes it all worth it, after all.

BIRN and Erste Foundation is offering 10 fellowships for a 10-month professional development programme, culminating in the production of a compelling longform story.

For more details visit the link