BFJE and Alumni Initiative Investigations Reach Big Audiences

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Stories by reporters on the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence and alumni of the programme have reached large international audiences in recent months.

An investigation into women from Kosovo who join ISIS, “Few but fanatical” by BFJE alumna Arbana Xharra, had a big impact in online media. The article was published in English, Serbian and Albanian — and the Albanian version alone has been read by more than 20,000 people and republished by most Albanian-language media in Kosovo and Albania. The article was also picked up by international outlets such as the EU Observer, Daily Mail, Al Jazeera Balkans and many others. Arbana spent six months last year working on her investigation. Previously she has reported on religious extremism and its links with non-governmental organisations and terrorist groups, which resulted in her receiving death threats. In 2015, the US Department of State honoured her with a Women of Courage Award.

Mariya Petkova, a BFJE fellow in 2015, investigated the use of Bulgarian arms in the war in Syria for her fellowship story. Her article was highlighted by Wikileaks and reached more than 40,000 readers. Mariya’s research involved extensive travel in Bulgaria and Turkey, taking her as far as the border with Syria. The story was also republished by Middle East Eye. Now a BFJE alumna, Mariya is a freelance journalist covering eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Other 2015 fellowship stories also reached broad audiences, with versions published by The Guardian, the New Statesman, Politico, programme media partners such as Austria’s Der Standard and other international outlets

“Hearts and Minds: The battle for Montenegro’s Mamula Fortress” by Nela Lazarevic was another story from the alumni programme to attract a lot of international attention. The article focused on plans to convert an island fortress used as a prison camp during World War Two into a tourist resort. The story was picked up by CNN, the New Statesman, the Daily Mail, the Independent and other international and local media. Following the attention generated by Nela’s story, state authorities and the project investor pledged that Mamula’s heritage would be respected as part of the development.

In all, thanks to the support of the Erste Foundation and Open Society Foundations, BIRN produced 17 in-depth stories as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence and the Alumni Initiative in 2015. Assisted by a team of local and international editors, 19 journalists tackled sensitive, complex and under-reported topics of regional and international importance.