Development fellowship sharpens skills for reporting on aid and development

Six Australian journalists joined an intensive 10-day study tour to Cambodia in March 2015 as part of APJC’s inaugural International Development Journalism Fellowship.

Run in collaboration World Vision Australia and endorsed by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the fellowship aimed to enhance the journalists’ understanding of economic and social development challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

The tour from March 16 to 26 included field visits to a range of aid and development activities across Cambodia, where the group met with representatives of local communities, Cambodian government agencies, international and local NGOs, UN organisations, and private sector supporters of agricultural development.

It followed a three-day masterclass in Melbourne, led by experts in development, NGOs and the media. The class was supported by La Trobe University’s Institute for Human Security and Social Change. Two additional journalists also joined the master class.

“The fellowship provides a unique opportunity for Australian journalists to develop skills for reporting on the international relief and development sector and its increasingly important role in national politics and international relations,” said APJC director John Wallace.

“The fellowship aims to equip the journalists with improved knowledge and understanding of the issues facing developing countries and to enhance their ability to report effectively on development and humanitarian affairs in the region. “

The journalists who joined the study tour are:

  • Christie Cooper, Seven Network
  • Erin Handley, Northern Daily Leader
  • Sonia Kohlbacher, The Australian
  • Lauren Novak, The Advertiser
  • Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, Special Broadcasting Service
  • Sarah Whyte, The Sydney Morning Herald

The master class was also attended by Lisa Martin, of Australian Associated Press, and Janisse Villalon, of The Age.

Fellows dig deep for the real story

Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, a multimedia reporter and video journalist with SBS World News in Sydney, was one of six journalists selected to take part in APJC’s International Development Journalism Fellowship 2015.


On this program I completed a three-day masterclass in Melbourne and a 10-day study tour in Cambodia.

While we were in Cambodia we met with people working in the development sector, communities affected by development issues, local journalists and government representatives. The tour took us from Phnom Penh through to Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and back to the capital.

Going into local communities in the provinces was invaluable. I learned a huge amount about the reality of issues such as poverty, land disputes and human trafficking by talking to people and hearing their stories.

As a group we constantly discussed what we were learning and how our ideas about development were evolving with the trip. We talked a lot about the challenges of reporting on development issues and making these stories accessible to audiences without reinforcing simplistic narratives or old cliches. The lessons I learned on the trip have undoubtedly affected the way I view development and the way I report on development issues.

On the trip I was able to film a number of interviews and when I got back to Australia, I used this footage to put together a series of reports for SBS’s TV, radio and online news platforms. My employer was happy with the content I produced and the stories were received well by our audience.

The fellowship was a great experience professionally and personally. I built a lot of new contacts, learned a great deal about Cambodia and had the privilege of travelling with a great group of inspiring journalists and development experts.

Fellows’ coverage:

Australia enlists Cambodia in drive to deter refugees
Sarah Whyte, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April 2015

Cambodia land disputes: Communities fighting David and Goliath battles
Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, SBS, 7 April 2015

Iraqi family escapes violence for new life in Cambodia amid refugee deal controversy
Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, SBS, 6 April 2015

The sponsor children of Cambodia
Christie Cooper, Channel 7, 5 April 2015

Sex-trafficking survivor: ‘I like making other people beautiful’
Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, SBS, 29 March 2015

Villagers in Cambodia taught to fight back against land grabs
Lauren Novak, The Advertiser, 29 March 2015

Cambodia supports Australia refugee deal on ‘humanitarian grounds’
Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, SBS, 26 March 2015

Peter Dutton defends Nauru hospitals as better than some in Australia as Cambodia deal takes a step forward
Sarah Whyte, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 March 2015

Sex trade and forced labour thrive on Asia’s illegal migrants
Sonia Kohlbacher, The Australian, 23 March 2015

World Vision and other aid agencies reject Australia’s refugee deal with Cambodia
Sarah Whyte, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March 2015

Australia should abandon plan to send refugees to Cambodia, says MP
Lauren Novak, The Advertiser, 22 March 2015