The following information and answers were submitted by Zsófia Fülöp, a Hungarian journalist based in Budapest. She is working for a political-cultural weekly newspaper and its online version, called Magyar Narancs. She is an incoming Central and Eastern European Journalism Program (CEEJ) Fellow. The CEEJ program was postponed and the fellows will be arriving in the U.S. to begin their fellowship in the spring. Until then they will be participating in a webinar series and will be highlighted through a CEEJ blog post series. Q&A Series with CEEJ Fellows Pt 5: Zsófia Fülöp.
After studying Philosophy, Journalism and Aesthetics I tried several paths like writing, editing, being a curator assistant in some museums or working for the European Parliament. But my true vocation which is also my passion has always been journalism. It feeds my neverending curiosity, openness, development and discovery and I am always excited about the next chapter.
- What is your topic or content of interest and why?
When I started writing for university newspapers I was writing about all kinds of cultural topics including theater, exhibitions, movies and books. I wrote a lot of interviews with artists and I also founded a university magazine in the media department of Eötvös Loránd Science University with my friends where I was responsible for the cultural column. I felt it was my field and when I started working for my current newspaper, I had declared then that I would not write about politics. Yet here we are today where my main focuses for writing are internal affairs, health care and social issues. And I have to admit, I love it! When I write about the health care and social systems I always try to find personal stories, to talk to those who are being most affected. Through their examples and experiences, I strive to show the failures or the possibilities of our systems. Sometimes it is a lot of reading and analysis but most of the time it is fieldwork, which I love the most. Nothing compares to the feeling when you can be on the spot and give a voice to those who cannot always be heard.
Recently I attended a week-long program in Greece where I was able to visit some of the refugee camps. It was an incredible and eye-opening opportunity for me. I have also made a lot of reports about the Roma, disabled persons, addicts, those living with HIV and other under-represented communities. When it comes to politics I enjoy writing about local political issues, elections or party politics. In October 2019 there were local elections in Hungary – I closely followed the campaign of the candidate, I was with his team for weeks from morning until night and he eventually won the seat of the mayor of Budapest. This piece is one of my articles I am the proudest of.
- What brought you to the area of journalism, what made you want to become a journalist, is there someone that inspired you?
I think I always felt I would be a storyteller. My mom is a Hungarian Literature teacher, my uncle is a university professor in the same field. We always had a lot of books at home and I was surrounded by texts all the time. But I suppose there were two turning points in my life to become a journalist. First, studying Philosophy that showed me the importance of asking the right questions in order to find the truth. Secondly, studying Journalism and Media Studies that showed me the relevance of being critical and adamant. That was not a hard task for me as I’m curious by nature and I am always open to listening to those who have something to say.
- Why does journalism matter?
Journalism is a power that has to be used for the public good. In my opinion, a good journalist has to be stubborn, eager to ask questions and open to listen. And most of all they should never get tired of telling stories. As I mentioned before, journalism is an opportunity to make those visible who otherwise do not have the chance to be seen. Sometimes publicity is the only really effective way to highlight a problem and find a solution. Journalism is also a key point in defending and maintaining democracy and the right to freedom of speech. That is why it is under attack.
- What is your primary challenge as a journalist in your country?
Working for an independent and critical newspaper is never easy when the people in power do not want to listen to critics. Some years ago I could still have an interview with a politician who belonged to the government. However, now they do not even answer our requests. It is the same with the official information or data from public authorities. The other tendency I have witnessed in recent years is that more and more people are afraid to talk so I have to use the undesirable ’anonymous source’ phrase more often.
- What is your current understanding of freedom of the press or what does it look like in your country?
According to this year’s report of the Freedom House, Hungary is partly free and it includes the freedom of expression as well. In a nutshell, I would say that it does not look good. The possibilities of independent media are decreasing and the path is getting more and more narrow where we can continue doing our job. But I also think it is a wonderful time to be a journalist and fight for what you believe in, even if the circumstances are not always ideal.
- What is the one thing you are most looking forward to during your program in the US?
Meeting journalists from different countries and with different backgrounds is always a big inspiration for me. I consider myself a good team player, I relish both learning and teaching and I thrive on getting and giving useful advice, experience and information. I am really looking forward to that moment when I get to know the editorial office which will be hosting me during the program, the people who work there and when I can use their tips to develop myself as well as show how I work back home. I think of this program as a professional and personal adventure which can be the next step in my carrier to achieve my goals.
- What are some of the things that have colored your impression of the US?
As I have never been to the US my sources are all ’secondhand’ like books, documentaries, movies and articles. I have some friends who are originally from the States and some who moved there from Europe. I love listening to their very different experience in the country, the culture, the society, the attitudes and I cannot wait to shape my own opinions about these through my experience. I have lived in Western Europe for a while and it was a defining period of my life. I am curious whether I will have the same feeling in the US even if it is a shorter time.
- What are you hoping to accomplish with this fellowship?
I firmly believe in lifelong learning, and journalism is typically a career in which you are always developing yourself. That is something I try to achieve every day. With a program like this, I will have an excellent chance to widen my knowledge and gain insight into how my overseas colleagues work. I would like to collect useful methods from experienced fellows and precious information to write better articles and become even more sensitive to the issues we face nowadays. Given that I love traveling and I have never been to the US, I might have the chance to discover a whole new world.