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From journo to NGO

THERE'S increasing demand for people with journalistic skills to work with international NGOs in their projects abroad. LFB's own Pennie Quinton told the February Branch meeting how this sector works, and what to look out for in a contract to work overseas with an NGO.

Pennie has worked for the United Nations Association agency International Service. "Think about the contract when working for an NGO," she advised. You can work in almost any country. There are clear advantages to such jobs, but you need to check on aspects of the contract such as healthcare, and what you are covered for. A lot of health insurance policies will not cover pregnancy, for example.

What sort of work is there for journalists in this field? There are press officer and media coordinator roles, there's a need for video and writing skills, and for native speakers to sort out English websites. There are openings for journalists in research roles, database construction, and in data-gathering and interviewing people. NGOs do a lot of work on finding out - and evidencing - "what is actually wrong with a situation."

Youth, health and poverty are the main areas that NGOs cover. The Middle East and especially the West Bank, Gaza and Yemen have a lot of vacancies right now. Your working environment will be "pretty grim," warns Pennie. Then there are extreme environments of another kind, like Tajikistan. According to one NGO worker posted there, "In the winter it's minus 40 and they have an energy crisis."

Journalists turned NGO workers are under "a different kind of pressure" than in the sort of journalism we're used to. A major downside, which Pennie described as "incredibly frustrating," is that there will be "a lot of political things you see in front of you, which you cannot report on [as] you have an allegiance to your NGO."

With some NGO contracts, it's possible to take your family, and get schools fees and your children's health insurance covered. Paid flights back are another part of the contract that needs scrutiny. You'll be expected to serve a "minimum service period" before the NGO will pay flights back, this could be anything up to two years.

NGOs have to get their money from somewhere, and like any other organisation they have less glamorous roles. Pennie says there's always a chance you could end up working "in the middle of nowhere filling in funding forms". But she concludes that the rewards for NGO work can be considerably more than today's falling rates for mainstream media.

The Bond website has ads for NGO jobs which call for journalistic skills. See also Leeds-based freelance Adam Christie's talk on how he successfully marketed his journalistic skills "beyond the media" to NGOs and charities based in the UK.

Last modified: 28 Feb 2010 - © 2010 contributors
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