University course lets immigrant journalists retrain to work in Finland

Composite picture of Sercan Alkan (L) and Eric Lipchis (R) / Credit: News Now Finland

A group of twenty students has started their studies at an innovative university course which takes immigrants who already have a background in journalism, and updates their skills to match the needs of potential new Finnish employers.

It’s thought to be the first course of its kind in Finland, and attracted criticism from some quarters who thought that immigrants might be getting special treatment not available to Finns.

Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki was awarded a government grant of more than €86,000 to run the training, and received dozens of applications from 16 different countries for the one year programme.

“There are immigrants in Finland who have used to work as a journalists in their own country, but they have not successfully managed, for one reason or another, to get work here. It is assumed that we can improve the situation with this training” degree programme director Anne Leppäjärvi told News Now Finland earlier this year as the application process was underway.

File picture of Turkish journalist Secan Alkan / Credit: News Now Finland

Learning the lingo, from Turkey

Turkish immigrant Sercan Alkan has a job taking pictures for a stock photo company, but wants to return to his old profession in journalism.

The 34-year old studied to be a photojournalist in his home country and worked in new.

“In the university you normally study journalism for four years. I was a journalist in a newspaper […] when I worked in Turkey I took photos for news, and it was an interesting field” Alkan says, between classes in Pasila.

“When I saw the [Haaga-Helia] announcement online I wanted to apply immediately. I miss my former job and want to work in Finland as a journalist because I consider it important” he says.

Working in journalism in Turkey, Alkan explains, is very different to Finland. For a start, there’s a genuine risk of arrest or imprisonment.

Reporters Without Borders RSF ranks Turkey 157th out of 180 countries on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Finland ranks 4th on the same list.

“Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists” says RSF in their latest report on the country.

“Spending more than a year in prison before trial is the new norm, and long jail sentences are common, in some cases as long as life imprisonment with no possibility of a pardon. Detained journalists and closed media outlets are denied any effective legal recourse” the report continues.

Secan Alkan says the differences between the two countries are vast.

“Normally, in my home country, it is very hard and difficult to be a journalist, partly because of the politics. In Finland the freedom of speech appears more acknowledged” he says.

“In Turkey I regard it as challenging for journalists to say their opinions or write about politics, because the politicians do not like if you criticise or don’t agree on something”.

“It is very unfortunate and challenging as a journalist, and a very different culture” he adds.

One of the challenges so far for Alkan has been learning about how journalists in Finland go about their work, especially the legal and professional considerations. But he’s impressed with the way the legal system works to protect journalists. Another aspect he’s brushing up on is journalism ‘lingo’ in Finnish, common words bandied around a newsroom that immigrants who speak Finnish are unlikely to have been taught.

File picture of Spanish journalist Eric Lipchis / Credit: News Now Finland

Barcelona training, transplanted to the north

Sports reporter Eric Lipchis worked at one of Spain’s best known newspapers La Vanguardia, and when he moved to Finland he did some video work with Aamulehti.

He now works in advertising but is working to improve his Finnish to get a full time journalism job again.

“At the end of the day the language is the biggest challenge when searching for a job in Finland” he tells News Now Finland.

The 39-year old got his diploma at university in Barcelona, and on the Haaga-Helia course he’s already learning some important differences between the work of journalists in Spain and Finland.

“First of all in Spain you have to sell. You can’t say bad things about sponsors you advertise. In Finland I feel journalists are more free” he says.

Another area where the two countries differ, according to Lipchis, is on pay.

“If you want to get work in Spain, the salary may be very small even though you must work a lot. A two page report you get like €100, for a report it takes a lot of time and effort. If you manage to do four reports per month it is not enough to make a living”.

“It is not easy to work as a journalist but the salary is not always so big, but I feel people respect me here” he explains.

Looking to the future

Both Sercan Alkan and Eric Lipchis are already considering what the future might hold for them after their training course at Haaga-Helia comes to an end next spring.

“My first plan is to learn journalistic culture here in Finland. I want to do an internship somewhere, like a local newspaper for example” says Alkan, whose passion is still photojournalism.

“In the future I want to work as a photographer somewhere” he says.

Lipchis also thinks it might be easier to secure a job working with photos or video, just due to potential language issues.

“Still, I’m not waiting anyone to come for me, I actively search new opportunities” he says.

“Generally speaking my strengths are audio-visual communication, entertainment and content production. I mean, I always have to do a creative job, sometimes the companies do not respect that so much” he says.

File picture showing exterior of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Science in Helsinki / Credit: News Now Finland