BRUSSELS – Journalismfund.eu talked to Arnaud De Decker, a young Belgian journalist who received his first grant as a journalist when he was 21 years old to investigate the situation of Nepalis after the dike breach in 2017. 

De Decker not only received grants from Journalismfund.eu, he was also part of the post-graduate in investigative journalism organised by Thomas More University and Journalismfund.eu. In this interview, De Decker highlighted the role of Journalismfund.eu in favor of investigative journalism in Belgium and Europe. For him, much of his work as a freelance depends on this type of grant that helps to set up cross-border and international investigations.


PC: Hello Arnaud, how old are you, and where are you from? 
AD: I’m 26 years old and I’m from Belgium. 

PC: Tell me about yourself, what is your major? 
AD: I did a Bachelor in Journalism in Brussels, which was three years, my first steps. Then I did a Master in Political Sciences at the VUB, and after that, I did a Post Graduate Course in investigative journalism organised by Journalismfund.eu, this course lasted one year. During my studies, I started working at Bruzz as a freelance some days, and next to that I work on other projects, and that’s why the grants of Fonds Pascal Decroos are really helpful to me because otherwise, it would be difficult to finance all that I do. 

PC: How is it to work as a freelancer, is it difficult to find financial support? How do you organize yourself to look for grants?
AD: The very first thing is that the main drive to do those projects is not money at all. My main drive is my interest, I look for topics that I really believe and think it is important to talk or write about it. So once I find a topic, the motivation needs to be high enough to start working on it, and I tend to not think about finance, that is a bit risky sometimes, but when I’m convinced that the idea is good enough, I try to think of the finance part, and often Fonds Pascal Decroos grant programme has 4 calls during the year, and it is always good to wait with a new project until there is a new deadline coming. If I get the grant it is always very good because then I don’t have to worry too much about the finance, and then I try to sell the work I make to different media. At least I try to recover what I spent on the investigation, and sometimes I try to get some money out of it, but if I get like break-even, it is okay for me. It’s the interest in the project itself that keeps me going. 
PC: I know you published in various international media and not only in Dutch, like al-Jazeera and VICE, how was your experience with these big media?
AD: That was a good experience. Al-Jazeera is the biggest one on an international scale. It means also more exposure, but the fact that such media are interested in the stories that I make it’s always a good gratification, and it shows us that we do good and relevant work. For instance, the story we made for Al-Jazeera was about the drought in Mexico and the fact that Al-Jazeera was interested shows that it has the quality and that the topic is interesting, so that is very rewarding. They have a big audience and it is kind of exciting, more than we publish in local media, I would say. 

PC: Let’s talk about your relation with Journalismfund.eu, you applied to Fonds Pascal Decroos grants, how did you know about them? 
AD: A few years ago, I was doing my internship at MO*Magazine, I was 18 years old, and I remember that every interesting piece that I read especially in MO*Magazine, at the very end they mentioned: “This investigation was supported by Fonds Pascal Decroos or Journalismfund.eu”, so the combination of those good articles and the supporters made me check the websites. I must say that on the websites, the information about applying was clear. My first grant was for a trip to Nepal in Asia (read the story here), it was in 2017 I was 21 years old, and it was my first time applying, I didn’t have any experience, but the website for applications was very clear. Also, I know that the project manager of this grant is very responsive and open to any kind of questions related to applications.  I think it is also one of the only grants in Belgium, accessible, open for everyone, and really supporting investigative journalism. 

Every time when I travel, I speak with journalists from other countries, and I talk about Fonds Pascal Decroos grant programme, they are surprised because they tell me they don’t have that kind of support in their own countries. I must say it’s very beneficial to have this in Flanders. 

PC: Would you recommend this grant to other journalists? And why? 
AD: For sure. Because if you put the time into it and you do your research correctly, you have nothing to lose. 

PC: You were part of the post-graduate course in investigative journalism, when was this, and how did you know about it? 
AD: Good question. When I started studying journalism, I knew I wanted to do investigative journalism. After I finished my master’s in political sciences, I was looking for some academic courses and I saw some social media posts about this Post-Graduate course. I must say that this is one of the only courses that doesn’t require a specific background and it’s very accessible. It was twice a week with journalists who do the empirical work every day, I liked that because they give practical tips, so it was not an academic study which was good since I’m not an academic person. That was the perfect combination because you get the tips and then you had to apply them in the practice, look for interesting topics to research. It was at that time also when my biggest publication came out, it was about the exportation of cars from Brussels to Africa, it was a TV documentary that we made, and this idea was born during that course.

 PC: Do you remember any lecturer who marked your trajectory? 
AD: Yes, Lode Delputte and Pieter Stockmans. Lode is a writer for De Standard and he is covering South and Central America. I remember one guest lecture of him, he was very accessible, also I sent him my first text for review and he was very into the students and accessible. He is the kind of person who will always reply to our emails in a respectful way. Also, Pieter Stockmans, a very good journalist with a background in activism, really believes in the causes, he is very inspirational. But in general, all the lectures were very interesting. After the course, I was motivated again to work on investigative and challenging topics. 

PC: How do you think this course helped you in your trajectory as a journalist?
AD: A  few lecturers were doing exactly what I am doing right now, which is basically trying to set up international projects in foreign countries. And at the beginning, I did it all by myself with no background information, but I must say that a few of the techniques and practical tricks I learned in the course. For instance, searching for a fixer in foreign countries, before I never worked with fixers, but in the course, I learned how this can help you to reach local populations and get them to know better. So all that I learned was like a guideline for me of how to set up a better international investigation. So now I think I’ve improved my tricks and I have more experience at setting up such an investigation thanks to this study. 

PC: Do you think something could be improved in this course? 
AD: Well, it was not a normal year for me and for everyone because it was in 2020, so we had to postpone the beginning of the course because of the pandemic, so a part of the year was missing. One big part was just skipped, so I didn’t have the whole experience. But what was good it’s the fact it was a small group made it very personal, so we got the chance to ask specific questions since we were only 10 people in the room, so it was really accessible. In general, it was a good course, it was as I imagined, they offered what was promised. I would recommend it to other young journalists. 

PC: In general, how do you see the role of Journalismfund.eu for investigative journalism in Europe? 
AD: Well, in Belgium it’s the only financial supporter for journalists at a local scale, I know you have also programs at a European level, but I haven’t applied yet, but I hope to do it soon. In general in Belgium it is a unique support, they give you individual feedback, it is the only grant I know in our country. If Fonds Pascal Decroos grant programme would stop existing I would worry because I would wonder how to continue investigating because this fund is a big part of my work.

Thomson Foundation

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