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Listen: The Whole Story - Lessons for “Translating” Reality into Journalism

  • By Sophie Freeman
  • 27th February 2017
What are the challenges of telling someone else’s story when you don’t speak the same language? Listen to two experienced journalists share how they tell other people’s stories and answer the question: what is translated through reporting?

“Reportage is a way to give more empathy and opinion.” George Butler, artist and illustrator

Poland’s top writer of reportage, Witold Szabłowski, and the Guardian‘s favourite reportage illustrator, George Butler, sat down with Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN. They discussed how to tell stories that hold onto the truth of another’s experience.

Both spoke of the tools they use to help draw out stories from people. For George, his tools are a non-threatening piece of paper and the length of time it takes to sit, observe and draw. Witold commented that when he goes to countries where he speaks the language he still takes an interpreter to help people open up.

Reporters and journalists need to tell stories that are happening in other countries and other languages to their own. But what are the challenges of telling someone else’s story when you don’t speak the same language? Does the language we choose to tell a story affect the story itself? How do reporters and journalists choose to frame their story? Can journalistic illustration transcend language?

If you’re interested in what it means to tell a story truthfully, listen now to two experienced journalists share their lessons and thoughts on the art of telling another’s story.


Listen now:


Speakers at this event included:

George Butler is an artist and illustrator specialising in travel and current affairs. In August 2012 George walked from Turkey into Syria and drew the war-damaged town of Azaz. He returned in February 2013 to record the refugees’ stories. In March 2014, George was commissioned by Doctors of the World to record the lives of the Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. He has exhibited widely and won the Editorial and Overall award for illustration at the V&A Illustration Awards and an International Media Award in May 2013.

Jo Glanville (chair) has been the Director of English PEN since 2012, having come from Index on Censorship where she worked as an award-winning editor since 2006. She was a BBC current affairs producer for eight years and appears regularly in the media as a commentator on culture and freedom of expression, including in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the London Review of Books.

Witold Szabłowski is an acclaimed Polish journalist and author. His books include The Assassin from Apricot City (published in English by Stork Press), a collection of reports from Turkey; Our Little Polish People’s Republic, on recreating everyday life under communism, co-written with his wife, Izabela Meyza; and Dancing Bears, on the difficulties of adapting to freedom as experienced by bears rescued from Bulgarian gypsies, and also by humans from seven ex-communist countries. This and his next book, about the chefs who cooked for six infamous dictators, are being published in English by Penguin US. Witold has received the European Parliament Journalism Prize and the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for literary reportage.


This event took place on 6 October 2016 at Free Word Centre and you can view the original listing here.

Free Word’s Translator in Residence programme 2015-16 is supported by the Jan Michalski Foundation.

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