Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Turkey

Freelancing in Istanbul: the breakthrough – by Samantha North

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For this newbie freelance journalist in Istanbul, July 1 was a day of celebration in more ways than one.

Istanbul

Istanbul

It was the day I received a much-awaited delight by mail. My residence permit, (ikamet in Turkish), the document that has been the bane of my Turkey life for the last two months. This, at last, makes me a fully legal foreign resident of this country.

But that was not the only good news. July 1 was also the day I got published by a UK national newspaper. It was the day I felt like I’d finally arrived in journalism.

Ironically, it was the bane of my life that produced the winning story. I wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph about the difficulties expats have been experiencing in Turkey as they struggle to obtain residency.

The ikamet situation seemed too serious to go unreported. Expats, including myself, were unable to leave Turkey while waiting for their permits to arrive. Any situation where expats are stranded in a country through no fault of their own, but due simply to poor bureaucracy, surely merits reporting.

During my own limbo period in Istanbul I saw numerous foreign travel opportunities slip through my grasp, including one which would have been my first ever visit to the United States. This left me feeling frustrated and on edge.

I got in touch with other expats on various forums and Facebook groups, searching for a solution to this problem. I discovered that an awful lot of people were in the same boat, many of them Brits like me.

That’s when the idea of pitching to the Telegraph came to mind. This kind of issue would be a perfect fit for their Expat section.

A fellow freelancer gave me the editor’s email address, and I pitched the idea to her. I had no clue what to expect.

But a couple of days later, she replied with enthusiasm, asking me to go ahead with the story.

I spent the next couple of weeks trawling through the Turkey forums, interviewing expats by Skype and Facebook, trying to wheedle out the truth from among the many rumours and red herrings.

It was a challenging story to write, mainly because the truth was so hard to pin down. The Turkish residency rules literally seemed to change on a daily basis.

My first version of the story came back from the Telegraph asking for a lot of edits. So I chased further information, verified as many things as possible, and added extra quotes. The Telegraph’s standards are high, and it was a great learning process for me.

Finally, the piece was watertight and ready to go.

On the day it was published, my story was most-viewed on the Expat section. It was shared all over the Turkey online forums and Facebook pages. I received plenty of comments and, so far, no abuse. There’ll be enough of the latter, no doubt, once I get something published in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section…That’s one of my next goals.

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Read Samantha North’s previous guest post: Why I moved to Istanbul

Samantha North is a British freelance journalist based in Istanbul. She specialises in city branding, and also writes about travel, culture and expat issues for Time Out Istanbul and the Daily Telegraph. Her website is samanthanorth.com and her Twitter handle is @placesbrands. 

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Why I moved to Istanbul – by Samantha North

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It was a wet and windy Saturday afternoon in Istanbul. Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), Istanbul’s main tourist artery, was crammed with people waving colourful flags, shouting and chanting.

Samantha North (pictured) tries freelancing in Turkey.

Samantha North (pictured) tries freelancing in Turkey.

The police hovered close by with their riot shields and tear gas guns. Looming behind were the giant vehicles used in Gezi Park to water cannon protesters out of the way like rubble.

But this time everything stayed peaceful. The good-humoured crowd were yelling in Ukrainian and Russian for Putin’s exit from Crimea. They sang songs and posed for photos.

Some of them paused in their chanting for interviews with Turkish media. All the time the rain was lashing down on the crowds with their rumpled umbrellas.

Spending the weekend in the middle of a political protest is probably not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for me, a freelance journalist new to Istanbul, it was a timely reminder of why I’d moved here in the first place.

One might question why any newbie foreign journalist would move to a country notorious for jailing others in the same profession. Indeed, a recent Al Jazeera feature described Turkey as the “world’s biggest prison for media” – right up there with well-known offenders Iran and China.

Recent announcements from the government suggest that the the situation is only going to get worse. Parliament’s passing of a bill to tighten internet control has become the latest cause for concern.

From last month onwards, the authorities can now take down any ‘unsuitable’ website, without warning. There has even been talk of banning Facebook and YouTube, under claims of ‘immorality and espionage’. Clearly, this sets a worrying precedent and has sent many Turks back to the streets in protest.

Street protests are becoming a regular feature in Turkey these days. In fact they are becoming an integral part of the country’s national image. But protesting as a way to express discontent and cause social change appears to have lost much of the impact it had during last year’s Gezi events. It also seems to have little effect on government policy-making.

So why would a journalist head to a place like this? It’s pretty obvious really. Turkey is a key geopolitical player in the Middle East. It’s safe, stable and foreigner-friendly; especially when compared with neighbours like Iraq and Syria.

Those places are accessible from Turkey if the foreign journalist feels so inclined (I don’t, yet…). Iran is close by, as is Israel. Even the Crimean peninsula, where Russia’s latest power play is currently unfolding is just a short hop over the Black Sea. There are plenty of stories to be dug up by the bold and imaginative foreign journalist.

For a Brit, one big advantage is being an English speaker. If you’re a good writer and have some ability in editing, work with Turkish publications is out there. Opportunities can usually be found by doing a bit of strategic networking. And don’t forget to network with other journalists in town, especially the really experienced ones.

In a future post I’ll go into more depth about getting started in Turkey. It’s still very early days for me and my lofty dreams of writing for the Guardian, Independent and Daily Telegraph are yet to be made reality. But I’ve just started freelancing regularly for an international print magazine…so more news on that to follow.

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Read Samantha North’s follow up: Freelancing in Istanbul: the breakthrough

Samantha North is a British freelance journalist currently based in Istanbul, where she writes for Time Out magazine. She is founder and editor of the website PlacesBrands, which specializes in issues concerning soft power, public diplomacy and country branding. Samantha has lived in Qatar, Belgium and China over the past eight years, before moving to Istanbul in February 2014. Her website is samanthanorth.com