The Final Countdown

Dollores Benezic Bucharest

Reducing an epic story to 2,500 words while sampling German sausages, Serbian cevapcici and British rain added up to “the most beautiful four months of my career”, says 2011 Balkan journalism fellow Dollores Benezic.

Cevapcici on a plate
Locals say cevapcici, Serbia’s national dish, is best bought on Belgrade’s Skadarlije Street (Photo: Dollores Benezic)

Believe it or not, but I managed to thoroughly enjoy the process of cutting down a mammoth document of 66,000 words to an article of 2,500. My trips also provided me with a chance to try out the culinary delights of Germany and Serbia. Oh, and did I mention the rain in London?

My time on the fellowship has been the most beautiful four months of my career during which I travelled to four countries, I met interesting people and I worked in a Western journalistic style, which, unfortunately, is becoming less common in my country.

My topic – workplace surveillance of employees and protection of personal data from a European perspective - has proven quite dense in terms of documentation.

The end result of digesting dozens of laws, regulations, websites and conducting 23 interviews was a mega story of 66,562 words – to be precise. Of which I had to choose only 2,500 words for my final article that would thoroughly cover the subject, satisfy the programme selection committee’s requirements and be an accessible and interesting read.

I am not entirely sure if I succeeded, but I'll find out when the fellowship prize-winning articles are announced at November’s closing seminar in Berlin.

Curry Wurst
German beer and sausages sweetened the pill of cutting a 66,562 word epic down to a 2,500 word story (Photo: Dollores Benezic)

Until then, here’s my mini review – including gastronomic impressions – of my travels:

In Belgrade: I liked the beer and cevapcici (see top photo) the most. Cevapcici is a dish of grilled minced meat that is very similar to Romanian “mici” and a sign of the shared Balkan influences on the two nations. Plus the sunset over the Danube, witnessed during an afternoon stroll along the walls of Belgrade’s Citadel.

In Berlin: I have been conquered by currywurst – a spicy sausage - often eaten on the street, with mustard and fries. I’m also won over by sauerkraut with “schweinshaxe und mit kartoffeln”, that’s pork knuckle with sauerkraut and potatoes.

Beyond the food, I was also hugely impressed with the German mentality and spirit, which seems to be ever alert to and outraged by potential rights abuses. A people once bowed by communism, like Romanians and Serbs, have refused to be defeated and have not lost their sense of citizenship.

After Nazism and communism, Germans have learned to be more critical and careful – and more willing to fight state surveillance. Along with the rest of the world, however, they are not always so vigilant when it comes to revealing personal details on social networking sites like Facebook.

London is probably the most expensive city I have been to in my whole life. I greatly enjoyed seeing with my own eyes locations and sights previously known only to me from the movies: the Thames River and its bridges, Big Ben, the London Eye, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, and the Tower of London. It was, however, the most expensive research trip.

London Rain Drink

The London sights are wonderful, but constant rain and baked beans for breakfast failed to impress (Photo: Dollores Benezic)

On top of the expense, I just cannot understand how English people enjoy eating baked beans for breakfast and how they live with being permanently monitored by cameras.

Another observation is that the English spoken in London is a little different to that in my books…

In conclusion, I would like one of the results of my work during these four months to be an increased awareness among Europeans about their rights to privacy, and encouragement to fight for those rights. For me it certainly has been.

And last but not least, I would like to repeat the experience. I will be looking closely at the fellowship’s alumni programme that allows fellows to apply for funded research and travel for other stories they want to investigate.

I have many more interesting story ideas up my sleeve yet :)

Dollores Benezic is a freelance journalist from Bucharest who is participating in the 2011 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.

She will be writing regular updates on her investigation into workplace surveillance, privacy at work, workers’ rights and employment law in Romania, the Balkans and the European Union.

Fellow Bio

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Dollores Benezic

Dollores Benezic began her media career in 1994, four years after Romania became a democratic country. 

Topic

Topic 2011: Justice

The topic for this year’s programme is justice and fellows are investigating subjects as diverse as privatisation, organised crime, employment law, rape convictions and extradition treaties.

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