How to use WhatsApp to create a multimedia crossborder story from a conflict zone? The Case of #RojavaDiary

Preset #4

What happened?

On October 6, 2019, US President Donald Trump announced that US troops would withdraw from Northern Syria. Three days later, on October 9, Turkey launched an offensive called “Operation Peace Spring” on the Turkish-Syrian border aiming to expel from its border the Syrian Kurdish militia called People’s Protection Units (YPG) and establishing a “safe zone” to resettle some refugees. US troops had relied on the Kurds to defeat ISIS. However, Turkey considers YPG a terrorist group due to its ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey’s inclusion displaced 300,000 people and killed over 100 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization.

What did we do?

  • Following the Turkish offensive, in October 2019, we started preparing a diary from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, working together with a Kurdish Syrian journalist in the field, Massoud Hamid. 
  • We used WhatsApp as a reporting tool. The chat application facilitated immediacy and speed sending materials when it came to communicating with Massoud. 
  • During over two months we produced 22 episodes consisting of bilingual video-casts in English and Polish and an interactive article combining all the materials.

Methodology and steps

  • Contacting the local journalist

Just after the Turkish incursion, we contacted a local journalist, who had previously worked with a member of Outriders and knew the field well. He could offer a more intimate and closer view of the events.

  • Tools – WhatsApp

We discussed the project and the way of communication. We chose WhatsApp to facilitate the immediacy and speed when sending materials from anywhere.

  • People involved – a group of WhatsApp

We created a group of WhatsApp with four journalists (three members of Outriders, Jakub Górnicki, Marcin Suder and Lola García-Ajofrín) and a Syria-based journalist, Massoud Hamid) and a translator. Three of us were based in Poland, one person in Syria and one person in Southern Asia.

  • Development

Firstly, we discussed over Whatsapp the topics that we would like to include and places that we would like to visit. Secondly, once the topic of the day was decided, Massoud worked on it and sent pictures, videos, interviews and observations using voice and text messages by WhatsApp. In some occasions, with extended interviews, videos were filmed by a camera and sent by WeTransfer using a computer. However, a mobile phone and Whatsapp app were the main tools for reporting and communication. 

  • Translation

As a cross-border team, translation was one of the key tasks. Massoud conducted the interviews in Kurdish and translated them into French. He sent the information, observations and interviews in French and all the materials were translated from French into English and from English into Polish. We used French as the language of communication. Each episode was written and recorded in English and Polish.

  • Script

Once Massoud sent the interviews, observations and materials, we used all the materials, and we combined them with some details about the background and updates about the events to write the script.

  • Postproduction

For each episode, we made a video combining all the materials, and we recorded the script as a voice-over.

Final result

As a journal, we regularly publish each episode as a videocast due to the immediacy of the events. And once we had all the episodes, we compiled all of them into one interactive.

The result was “Rojava Diary”, a series of bilingual video podcast (in English and Polish) designed as a personal diary with 22 episodes, including interviews with relatives of murdered soldiers; wounded in hospitals; refugee children; residents of Jinwar, the only-women commune of Rojava; a Christmas celebration, several funerals and interviews with ISIS prisoners inside the jail and with widows in Al-Hol.