Meet the People Behind BIRN: Azem Kurtic

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Azem Kurtic joined BIRN in 2022 as a correspondent from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He started his career in the youth newsroom at Bosnia’s public broadcaster, BHRT, where he covered a range of topics for different radio shows over the course of three years.

Photo: BIRN

Even though he has a degree in physiotherapy, the first time he said “Good evening” in front of a microphone at the local radio station, he realized that journalism was the profession for him.

Since then, and during his work at BIRN, he has had the chance to “nerd over political affairs in Bosnia”, as it is a “really complicated but really interesting system to follow”.

Let’s meet him!

  1. You have a degree in physiotherapy but have been working in media since high school. Tell us something more about your professional path and this switch.

I was lucky enough to get in touch with journalism while in high school and one thing led to another. Journalism and its formats allow me to be creative with a purpose, which I truly liked since the beginning. I was also lucky to have amazing mentors, experienced journalists and producers who were patient enough to transfer their knowledge and experience in different media and different media formats. I must say that I’m a child of the radio and had my beginnings behind the microphone, and still feel the same thrill whenever I sit in front of the mike.

I would love to say that there was some amazing story behind the switch, but just the idea of being outside and among people was much more attractive than the idea of spending 40 years working in a hospital. In hospital, the days quickly become the same, you know you will have six to eight patients each day, some more challenging than the others. In journalism, the day is still young, even in the evening.

  1. During your career, you’ve worked as a producer of festivals and events, documentary films and series, as well as on live TV and radio programmes. How did this experience help your journalistic work?

The first thing I’m very thankful for is an extensive network of contacts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and abroad, which is the result of producing so many different formats. I’m using many of them in my daily journalism. The other thing is the “can do” attitude that I had to develop, and grow with it in the end, as sometimes the requests I had to fulfil in order to finish the shooting asked for a lot of research, calls and sometimes creativity. In the process, I also learned what I call “phone-charm” and how to actually speak to people, even when there is a language barrier. And the third is the knowledge of different formats, which I often combine in my stories.

  1. What turning point made you decide to become a journalist?

It was definitely my first time in front of the microphone at the local radio station. I’m still chasing the thrill of that first “good evening” I said. My decision was confirmed during the February 2014 mass protest in Tuzla, where I was living at the time. The calm protest became violent on the third or fourth day, when the demonstrators set fire to cantonal government buildings in Tuzla, Zenica and Sarajevo, including the Presidency building in the capital. I loved the thrill of covering it. After that, for some time I had this crazy idea of becoming a war reporter, but luckily I realised I was not made for that.

  1. As a Bosnia correspondent, you report daily for Balkan Insight and the Balkan Transitional Justice programme. What was the most challenging thing in your work since joining the BIRN team in 2022?

First thing that comes to my mind is the August 2023 livestreamed femicide, which I had to cover for Balkan Insight. I saw the video of that execution, as it quickly spread. After finishing the news, I remember telling Dusica, our editor, that I needed to go for a walk. It wasn’t the first time that something had an emotional impact on me, but I had never seen something so brutal before.

Second thing that comes to my mind is the 2022 Srebrenica Peace March, which I volunteered to cover without thinking much. I casually woke up one day and went on a 100-kilometre three-day walk, without any physical preparation. As a cherry on top, it was raining two days in a row, and on the second morning, after walking 33 kilometres completely wet, I was woken up at 4:30am because my tent was flooded. I think I never felt more miserable in my entire life.

  1. You cover politics, the rule of law and human rights, transitional justice, corruption and organized crime. What story/stories did you work on during this time that you’re most proud of?

I’m happy to have the chance to nerd over political affairs in Bosnia, as it is a complicated but really interesting system to follow. Probably the most challenging analysis I had to do was one on state-owned property in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a hot topic for years in the country. I spent days trying to understand the laws, regulations, agreements and procedures, and ended up mapping almost all state-owned property in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

My favourite part of the job is the chance to document stories of different people and I truly enjoy writing features. I’m really proud of the Women Picturing Bosnia’s War series, featuring female war photographers telling the stories behind their photos.

  1. What’s your message to some young person thriving to become a journalist in a region?

Buckle up; you’re up for a fun ride!