Notes from the Field: Conversations and Context in Far-Flung Communities

By Zachary Colman | January 09, 2017 | Morocco

Zack Colman, the deputy energy and environment editor at the Christian Science Monitor, traveled to Marrakech in November 2016 as an IRP fellow reporting from the COP22 climate change conference. Here, he reflects on the value of leaving the conference halls and official statements behind for a few days to talk with farmers who had never heard the term “climate change” but had observed decades of its visible effects on their land.


Normally, I wouldn't categorize sleeping on a thin mattress in sub-freezing temperatures with no heat only to wake up with mysterious bug bites on my pelvis as a positive. But my trip to the High Atlas Mountains as part of the International Reporting Project's fellowship in Morocco was an exception. The accommodations were a necessary condition for getting to the country’s real stories.

Simply put, the best part of going to another country for a story is talking to locals. It helps transform whatever empathy reporters have into something more closely resembling sympathy. It adds context, reality and life to the stories that we'd otherwise have to place phone calls to NGOs about. Why play telephone when you can get the story firsthand?

The half-day drive to get up high in the mountains to this remote village was tinvaluable. To actually see and stomp through with the farm-owner the sodden, small patch of farmland that an overflowing river had destroyed lent so much more to the story I am trying to tell about climate change, development and agriculture in rural communities.

The farmer's emotion was palpable. Hard as it was to see a man who was struggling to put into words exactly what was happening to his livelihood, that very interaction is the heart of the story — for many people, the effects of climate change are beyond their control and comprehension. Without seeing it, the conditions he and others like him face are similarly beyond comprehension for reporters like me.

View All Posts By Zachary Colman

Your donation helps continue the IRP's work to inform the public about international issues.

Make A Gift

Are you a Journalist?

Apply for a fellowship trip or a gatekeeper trip