Pulitzer Prize-Winner Leads BIRN Training in Macedonia

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning US journalist and editor, John Ullmann, was the key trainer at BIRN’s investigative journalism training session in Berovo, eastern Macedonia, at the weekend.

Fourteen Macedonian journalists spent the weekend sharpening their investigative reporting skills and gaining insights into ways of gathering and managing information and writing up their stories.

Thoughts were also shared on journalistic research methods and ethics.

Ullmann praised journalists in countries like Macedonia who pursued their stories despite pressure on them to stop.

“I have nothing but admiration for any journalists anywhere who continue to try to do what’s right against the pressure that exists to keep them from doing it,” Ullmann told BIRN.

“I am sure there are many more journalists who care about the craft of journalism and about doing it right, the best they can, and I just hope they’ll keep at it,” he said.

Ullmann, 68, was the first executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, IRE, an international network of journalists, and started most of its programmes during his six years there, including The IRE Journal, its database, and other projects.

Projects that he supervised have won more than four dozen awards, including the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Two other stories that he worked on were Pulitzer finalists in other categories.

Speaking about the importance of journalism in a democracy, Ullmann said that it was crucial to hold those in power accountable for their actions and to boost public debate on important issues.

“There is not a single example that I am aware of in the world today where democracy works well without a strong free press. And those in power, who have the ability to quash it, must realise that those journalists are playing an important role, even when they do something ‘I don’t like’,” Ullman said.

“I am sure that President Obama probably has a whole list of journalists he would like to ship over here and not have to put up with anymore for the rest of his life,” Ullmann continued.

“But he knows he does not have that kind of power. Nor does he wage economic war on them, nor does he come around and try to get them fired from their jobs, or any kind of thing that sometimes happens in Macedonia,” he said.

As part of the training, journalists also heard a lecture on public information access from German Filkov, the co-founder of the Macedonian NGO Centre for Civil Communications, one of the leading anti-corruption NGOs in the country.

Filkov is an analyst and researcher in anti-corruption work and institutional transparency and has trained more than 250 journalists in investigative journalism and reporting on corruption.

The participants also picked up useful tips on how to pitch a story from Ana Petruseva, BIRN’s Macedonia country director and Balkan Insight’s managing editor.

The training, aimed at empowering Macedonian journalists with key investigative reporting skills, is part of BIRN’s ‘Project for Investigative Journalism and Cooperation Between Media and Civil Society’, part of a USAID programme for strengthening independent media in Macedonia.