For a year after the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal, students from Bournemouth University, alongside students from India and Nepal were stationed in a news bureau in Kathmandu, reporting on the aftermath of the disaster. Their aim was to challenge traditional crisis journalism by capturing the voices of Nepalese people as they dealt with loss, recovery and life after the earthquake.
The team wanted to chronicle the stories of ordinary people after the quake and record their day-to-day lives. These stories were to act as a reminder to the rest of the world that although life in Nepal continues and is beginning to be rebuilt, challenges still exist and recovering from a crisis is a slow process.
The project was run in partnership with universities in India (Symbiosis International University and Amity University) and Nepal (Kathmandu University and Tribhuvan University). Students from all five universities spent time working in a Kathmandu-based news bureau, which was managed by three graduate students from BU’s journalism programmes. From this base, they travelled to earthquake-affected areas in Nepal, gathering stories from far-flung places, rarely accessible to journalists reporting during a moment of crisis. The team then shared these stories via a dedicated Aftershock Nepal website, Facebook page, Instagram page and Twitter account.
The team continued reporting from Nepal until the first anniversary of the earthquake in April 2016, when they ended the project with two conferences to share the research aspect of their work. This involved presenting the project to different external stakeholders, including journalists and NGO workers and finding out more about the challenges they face in a crisis situation. They also explored the impact of the project on student journalists and what it might mean for crisis reporting in future.
The project was led by BU’s Dr Chindu Sreedharan, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Communication and former journalist.
“Media attention in a crisis situation tends to be very quick, but also goes away quickly. Through Aftershock Nepal, we wanted to look at the bigger picture and tell the stories of ordinary Nepalese people as they dealt with the aftermath,” explains Chindu, “We felt there was a gap in reporting, which we could fill.
“Over a period of many months, we tried to provide the world with a rich and complex picture of what is happening in Nepal through our version of ‘humanitarian journalism.’ The whole point really is that crises are not simple. They are extremely complex and nuanced incidents that happen and carry on happening for a very long period of time. They don’t stop when the news stories stop.
“The students involved in the project had the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in Nepal and travel to far-flung places – places most journalists wouldn’t be able to visit – to gather stories,” says Chindu. “We teach crisis journalism and the theory behind it, but it’s very rare to get an opportunity like this to experience it or to be stationed in a crisis zone. They were able to learn on the ground and get published – not just with us, but externally as well.
“For them, it was fantastic. They were able to put their learning into practice in a real life situation and try out all sorts of different styles of journalism. To date, 18 of their feature articles have been published in mainstream Indian press, including the Huffington Post India.
“The students have worked incredibly hard over the course of a year and I am incredibly proud of what they have produced.”
Naomi Mihara an MA Multimedia Journalism graduate, spent two months in Nepal as reporter, desk editor and video producer as part of the project.
“When Chindu, one of my journalism tutors, told me about the project, I was immediately excited about it. As a journalism student with a particular interest in reporting from developing countries, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring together my interests and practical experience,” says Naomi.
“Equally appealing to me was the fact that the project was collaborative in nature, bringing together students from Nepal, India and the UK, and that "social" and "solutions" journalism – using journalism as a way of trying to solve social problems or highlight possible solutions – was a key part of it.
“Before heading to Nepal, I worked primarily on social media, trying to grow Aftershock Nepal's following on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I then spent two months in Nepal as a reporter, editor and video producer, working with two reporters from India to research and produce news and long-form stories on a number of different topics about the aftermath of the earthquake. These included the fuel crisis (which was at its peak when I arrived in September), and a clowning workshop that used laughter as an alternative way to help earthquake hit communities heal. I also travelled to a remote village that had been badly affected and spent the night in a temporary shelter for the 'six month anniversary' of the quake.
“I hope that Aftershock Nepal made a positive impact on the communities that we interacted with. Unfortunately, especially in the case of post-crisis reporting, the mainstream media often does not have the capacity or the willingness to cover real human stories in a sensitive and in-depth way. I feel that, by telling people's personal stories, we were able to offer them some kind of outlet and a way to be heard by the outside world. From the feedback we received from the residents of the village we reported from for the six month anniversary, they were extremely pleased with the coverage and the spotlight that we shone on their difficult situation.
“Aftershock Nepal was an unforgettable, and humbling, experience for me. Not only did I have the privilege of meeting – and telling the stories of – some truly inspiring people, I also worked with some wonderful colleagues from India, Nepal and the UK and was able to develop my practical skills in multimedia reporting. The skills I developed in online journalism have served me well in my current job as a digital producer in a media company. Aftershock Nepal was a unique and rare opportunity to report from the aftermath of a crisis, and I enjoyed having the freedom to focus on the stories that most interested me.”
“No media came here. Aftershock Nepal was the first one to come and write about my pain.” – Indra Parajuli, earthquake survivor.
“I am so happy with Aftershock Nepal. It was hugely helpful for everyone here. When the earthquake hit, the news media came. But they did not come after that. If the media comes, it encourages rebuilding. If they come and see, that's good news.” – Pastor Kumar Pokharel, earthquake survivor.
“Our students not only got a platform, but an international one, participating with a multi-country team led by no-nonsense experts.” – Sudhamshu Dayal, Assistant Professor at Kathmandu University.
“It made me confident to record people’s stories. Their stories are also my stories. It developed my ability to express people’s pain in words.” – Madira Dulal, student reporter.
“The media here were not doing a proper job in showing human suffering. I learnt how to be sensitive in interviews, because these people have suffered a lot.” – Preeti Karna, student reporter.
…on international media
“Aftershock Nepal is a superb single-event news website that showcases what collaboration and sustained focus on an issue can achieve. Long after the fleeting international media left, the student journalists at Aftershock Nepal chronicled the long-term effects and rebuilding efforts. They published touching narratives. We were pleased to be able to feature their excellent work.” – Sruthijith K K, Editor, Huffington Post India.
“When one looks at the coverage put out by Aftershock Nepal, it’s hard to believe this was churned out by students.” – Saisuresh Sivaswamy, Editor, Rediff.com.