Reporting from conflict zones, Julia Leeb shares journalism tips


Photo provided by Northwestern University in Qatar

Never underestimate the power of a picture, said Julia Leeb, a photojournalist and filmmaker who specializes in producing virtual reality content. She spoke at a community presentation at Northwestern University in Qatar on Monday, Feb. 5.

Reading about what the world was going through wasn’t enough for Leeb, who said she wanted to experience it firsthand and to show others the truth about countries that are plagued with huge misconceptions.

“I have to see it with my own eyes,” Leeb said.

Leeb spoke to more than 70 students, faculty and staff about the importance of photos in telling stories to the public and communities at large.

Leeb faced criticism regarding the safety of traveling and reporting in dangerous countries such as North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar. Despite this, she said her constant successes stems from finding her own way rather than following a trend or listening to other journalists, she said.

“It was mind-blowing, the way she is conquering and challenging the status quo is amazing,” said Hatim Rachdi, a freshman at Northwestern University in Qatar.

In her talk, Leeb listed five ways journalists can reach people: through writing, TV reports, photo-newspapers, art exhibitions, and virtual reality (VR). Others around Leeb discouraged her from using VR, she said, as they felt that it was “too early” for such technologies but she persisted.

“360 degrees can change journalism and can give back credibility for journalism,” Leeb said.

Leeb said consuming journalistic content through VR and 360-degree video allows people to have a sense of being there, similar to physical evidence. It is a visual representation of current events and politics, which makes people aware of what is physically going on.

“As a journalism student, the concept of VR giving credibility to journalism was something that was interesting to know,” said Menatalla Ibrahim, a journalism sophomore at Northwestern University in Qatar. “It made me realize where the future of journalism could be.”

In her career, Leeb has traveled to several countries experiencing conflict, including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Italy, Libya, the DRC, Egypt, and Palestine. She traveled to Egypt during the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring. “It was like witnessing history,” Leeb said.

The photojournalist added that she faced many turning points and obstacles in her career.

Upon her visit to Libya during the revolution, the revolution became a war. While reporting on the conflict, Leeb’s colleague, along with their driver, died after a missile blew up the car they had been traveling in; by luck, Leeb’s own life was spared because she had stepped out of the car to interview some people on the road. Leeb said that after this incident she had two options: step back and take on a normal life, or continue to pursue her passion. Leeb chose to continue.

Later in her career, Leeb visited North Korea, where she photographed ordinary people. She said her photos concentrate on the concept of collectivism and that she also found the country’s architecture particularly interesting. From her experience, she created a luxury interactive book that consists of photos representing the art and culture of the country. Upon its publication, Leeb said she was blacklisted from North Korea because she had entered North Korea on a tourist visa and reporting and producing publications about the country is illegal.

“The way she is covering social and political issues is very original,” Rachdi said. “She only cares about her audience, an inspiring story that portrays real objective journalism.”

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