We spoke with Carlotta Dotto about “Where to start when reporting about women in tough contexts” in an Insta Live on 2 December 2021. Carlotta is a London-based journalist, a visual editor at CNN and a One World Media alumna. As part of her fellowship, Carlotta reported a multimedia story about rural women in Senegal who are using innovative farming practices to save land in their villages. This story was published by Al Jazeera English and won a One World Media Award in 2021 in the Women Entrepreneurs Reporting category. Below are excerpts from our conversation:
You’ve done a fantastic story as part of your fellowship with One World Media. Where do you start when reporting a multimedia story like this — it has so many moving parts. Talk us through your workflow.
We had a potential commission from Al Jazeera to do a short documentary. So we were looking for one strong main character. But after months of editing, we decided with our editor that a multimedia format was the best way to tell the story. We used short videos with writing, pictures and different elements as well as data to add context to the story.
How did you decide on this solutions-focused angle compared to other options a story like this poses?
When I first heard about what these women were doing, I just found it extremely fascinating. It explored issues that the word is facing today — a migration crisis, climate change, gender disparity. We thought that focusing on how this local community was testing different solutions to tackle these issues would develop a different tone in the public discourse that is less divisive and a more constructive approach to some of these issues. This was also a way of sharing valuable insights that these communities are building.
You were an all-women team working on this piece — what did you need to be sensitive to while reporting? What would you have done differently?
I think being women really helped us to bond with our characters. It was in the most intimate moments when we got to know the women, off camera most times, where they started to share the most with us and tell us their fears, their worries, their hopes for the future.
There was one specific moment where we were lying down with one of the women, basically just waiting because it was after lunch. And she started to tell us about how she didn’t want the same future for her daughter as her, how she would fight to get her a good education instead of a husband.
What do you think needs to change for more mainstream media to see these stories as important and urgent?
We often think issues like this are gender neutral when we’re really using a default male way of describing the problem. Issues like this really don’t tell much about the women’s side of the story. Another very interesting aspect of this story wasn’t just how they were dealing with the lack of men, the migration crisis and the poor condition in the villages but also setting up new technology systems. They weren’t just improving the living conditions of the villages but also creating new job opportunities for the women and giving them different roles from what they’re used to. There was a president, a secretary, in a real reversal from traditional roles. That’s something that needs to be seen more in the media.
What were some of the challenges you came across?
One of the biggest problems was the language. It was a very specific dialect. We had lots of footage where women were cooking or just in the fields and we didn’t have the translation of what they were saying. You cannot construct a story if you don’t have all the elements. It was really difficult to find someone in London that could speak that language.
What impact do you think the story has had or will have?
The story was revelatory, like hitting a nerve, highlighting a lesser known side of the migration crisis, of people escaping from environmental disasters and how relevant that issue is specifically in this part of Senegal. Like UN data predicts, there will be more than 200 million climate migrants by 2050. And the northern Pacific area of Senegal will be one of the most impacted.
Refugee status is still highly problematic and not recognised in the same ways under international law. Our story contributed to raise awareness and press authorities to take action.
Carlotta’s top advice for early-career journalists:
- Focus on what you are really passionate about
- Build a strong portfolio
- Don’t be scared of exploring something new but always be rigorous with reporting
- Your ideas will face pushback, especially if you are a woman. Pursue them anyway
- Be accurate