For many years, the Forum for European Journalism Students (FEJS) has been one of the largest networks of European journalism students. However, this network, which used to have representatives in 25 European countries and bring together more than 300 partner schools and universities throughout Europe with regular events, went silent during the pandemic. Now, FEJS wants to rebuild itself.
Richard Brandt tells us about his experience at their first General Assembly since the pandemic.
Côte d’Azur, 20 degrees and bright sunshine. The conditions for the first regular General Assembly of the Forum for European Journalism Students (FEJS) since the start of the pandemic in 2020 could not have been better. But though we were enjoying the enchanting holiday settings, we were all committed to the serious discussions and the big decisions we needed to make.
Twenty-four participants from nine European countries (Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain) came together at the Forum in Marseille, France. Some attended for the first time. Others had participated in previous FEJS events – some even before the pandemic.
From 18 to 22 November 2023, we not only took part in various discussions and workshops with journalists from Agence France-Presse, Euronews and NBC News on the main topic of the General Assembly, “Trick or Truth: Fact Check vs. Fake News”, but also collected ideas for the future positioning, promotion and funding of FEJS. We also elected a new Executive Board and Secretariat.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, an interim board has led the student organisation. Vladimir “Vlad” Khodakovsky, a long-standing FEJS member and current FEJS Project Director, played a leading role in setting up this interim board. Thanks to his many years of FEJS experience, he is able to support the newly elected board and the Secretariat.
“After the pandemic, we had no board, no secretariat. Many people resigned for personal reasons or because they left their university. It got to the point where not a single student was a member of our organisation in 2022. COVID has set FEJS back a lot. I wanted to rebuild the organisation because it’s a great network,” he told me during the meeting.
The network included the word “forum” in its name to represent its vision for dialogue and exchange. FEJS, Khodakovsky said, wants to offer a platform that enables young journalists to meet colleagues from different countries, learn more about their profession and expand their networks.
A long history and tradition
FEJS has been pursuing this goal since 1985, when Kim Sjer, a journalism student from Aarhus in Denmark, wrote a letter to his colleague Theo Dersjant from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He suggested organising a meeting of European journalism students to discuss their respective journalistic training. Some friends then got together and wrote to all the journalism schools in Western Europe. In 1986, the first international meeting took place near Utrecht, attended by more than 60 journalism students from 15 universities in eight different countries. The participants decided to hold annual meetings and chose a name for their new organisation – FEJS.
FEJS now organises two major annual events. In addition to the General Assembly in autumn, dedicated to dealing with internal organisational matters, reflecting on past events, and planning new ones, an Annual Congress is held every spring. The Congress is a themed larger gathering of European journalism students. During its 30-year history, various European cities have hosted the two events, including Cologne, Prague, Utrecht, Riga, Moscow, Krakow, Athens, Turin, Porto and Antwerp. In some cases, more than 100 journalism students have attended.
The first regular Annual Congress since the coronavirus pandemic was organised by the Slovenian FEJS delegation in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, in April 2023. The event was originally planned for spring 2020 but had to be cancelled due to the restrictions imposed during the pandemic.
Patrick Klapetz, a German journalist and long-standing FEJS member, said the Annual Congress in Ljubljana brought back the old feeling. “You meet people, get to know each other and find new friends and fellow members. At the same time, you see old acquaintances and take part in exciting workshops.”
He added that FEJS is also about finding new European perspectives in media reporting and journalistic training. “We see how different and how close we are at the same time. There are major differences in European journalism training between traditional and modern journalism schools.”
Another benefit of FEJS is that it goes beyond what a university curriculum can offer, helping students to get better at framing international events, one of the organisation’s interim board members from Slovenia, Neža Borkovič, pointed out.
Rebuilding national satellites
This joint agreement that FEJS is an invaluable network for journalism students in Europe is the driving force behind its revival and the focus on spreading the word about its potential.
“The biggest challenge for FEJS is the fluctuation of students,” said Vlad Khodakovsky. “We have to inspire people and keep up the passion for FEJS. This requires a lot of free time and voluntary work. At some point, however, people leave the organisation because it is a student organisation and not a network for 60-year-olds. However, it’s okay to remain a member of FEJS even even if you’re older than 25, but students don’t usually do that.”
To recruit new members and promote the reorganisation of FEJS, the members of the interim board have travelled to Brussels and Strasbourg, to Vienna for the annual general meeting of the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA) and to Perugia for the International Journalism Festival in recent months.
One of the core aims is to rebuild “satellites”, which are groups of country representatives organising national FEJS events. Satellites have the same organisational structure as their parent organisation, with their own president, vice president, treasurer and PR manager. FEJS Slovenia is currently the only remaining satellite in the FEJS universe. Before the pandemic, there were 25 national satellites across Europe, including in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Latvia, the Netherlands and Serbia.
FEJS plans to rebuild these over the coming years. With the organisation of the Annual Congress 2023 in Ljubljana by Slovenia, the subsequent planning of the General Assembly 2023 in Marseille by the French FEJS delegation and further upcoming events in other European countries this year, the prospects are promising. “We can think big, attract more members and get funding,” said Borkovič confidently.
Rebuilding a team
Another important step has been the re-establishment of the Executive Board and Secretariat. These are of particular financial and legal relevance to the network, as they are a requirement of the law in the Netherlands, where FEJS is currently registered as a foundation. These are also prerequisites for attracting new funding – one of the focuses of the newly elected Board and Secretariat.
Before our Forum in Marseille ended, we chose the venues for our 2024 meetings. The next Annual Congress will take place in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, this spring, and the next General Assembly will be held in Dortmund, Germany, this autumn.
Learn more about the General Assembly and FEJS here.
Opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of the EJO or the organisations with which they are affiliated.
If you liked this story, you may also be interested in: The far-right drift causing growing concerns over press freedom in France