Interviewing Tsipras (Biggest Name in Headlines)… NBD

This summer is a crazy time to report in Brussels, Belgium. At Thomson Reuters we cover a ton of topics, but the Greek debt crisis consumes most of our time and energy recently. It may not seem like that big of a deal to everyone at home, but it has consistently been at the top of media headlines from many countries this summer (including the US). I wanted to share some of the things that I have been working on with everyone at home because the videos we produce are bought by media companies all over the world. So many of the things we put out from Reuters in Brussels ends up on CNN and other American news channels.

So why exactly is Greece a big deal and what exactly have I been working on?

Last night history was made. Greece had been fighting default for five years, but last night Greece missed a payment to the International Monetary Fund and they are the first developed country to do so. The Greek crisis is far from over. Greece is headed down a path to leave the Euro and there is fiery tension between the Greek government and their creditors as well as other EU leaders.

I must say that reporting in a foreign country is difficult, but it is even more challenging to be thrown into such an important and complex story. The past two weeks have been a marathon for political reporters here in Brussels. Here are the three main types of meetings that we covered in regards to Greece.

  1. Eurogroup Meetings – The Eurogroup meetings are between all of the finance ministers from countries that use the Euro.
  2. European Summits – European Summits are meetings between the heads of state of all 28 EU member-states.
  3. Meetings between key EU figures and Tsipras – There were frequent meetings between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and key EU people such as Juncker, Dijsselbloem, Draghi, Lagarde and Schulz.

Working these events can be challenging, but I have interviewed some of the world’s top leaders regarding one of the biggest international stories of the year. I was standing just an arms length away from Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when he said the highly-used quote about how EU leaders are blackmailing Greece. At this point in time, the world thought that Greece was wanting to reach a deal, but I got to see the expression in his eyes and the demeanor in which he stormed out of the EU Summit first-hand. I told my colleagues that did not see his it up-close that Greece was out. Sure enough, Tsipras called for a referendum later that night.

That video of my interview with Alexis Tsipras was bought by over 75 clients around the world. My video was on top news channels across the world including CNN. Here is the interview published on Reuters’ website (about 30 seconds in).

During the month of June, the Reuters Video News Team in Brussels produced an all-time record of 116 stories in one month. 116 stories does not sound like very much, but I would like to add that there are only 5 real employees and 2 interns at this branch.

I started thinking about all of the world leaders that I have either interviewed, held a microphone up to for a statement or filmed at a press conference. Here is the list.

  • Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel
  • Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi
  • President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz
  • European Central Bank President Mario Draghi
  • President of the European Council Donald Tusk
  • Eurogroup President Jereon Dijsselbloem
  • IMF President Christine Lagarde
  • And countless financial minister
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It’s amazing what you find when you explore with no destination in mind

I spent this past weekend in Brussels recovering from Amsterdam the weekend before and the EU Summit just days before. It was honestly really nice to spend a weekend exploring parts of Brussels that we had not before. On Friday we had class at the Parlementarium, which is an interactive visiting center for the European Parliament. There were a lot of interactive activities to help you learn more about the history, founding and functions of the EU. It was early in the morning, but we definitely enjoyed it.

After class Haley, Caroline and I went to a Turkish lunch buffet in Place London, which is a small area near the Parliament that has outdoor cafes and bars. It was a great start to the day.

Turkish restaurant in Place London in Brussels, Belgium

Turkish restaurant in Place London in Brussels, Belgium

Later, we explored the city. We ran into some absolutely breathtaking parks and decided that one of these days we need to take a bottle of wine and some sandwiches for a picnic.

That evening, we met up with students from a Mizzou Political Science study abroad group that was in Brussels for the weekend at Celtica (a touristy, but still fun bar). It was great to see my friend Max and show him a good time in the city I currently call home.

On Saturday, I had to get up early to work on a story in Ligny (it’s in Belgium). 200 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and the bicentennial has all kinds of reenactments and ceremonies that we are covering for work. Well, Ligny was Napoleon’s last victory and they staged a whole campsite for a reenactment. The story that I covered was the actor playing Napoleon during the battle arrived at the campsite. It was really funny because the actors stayed in character the entire time even though it was not the day of the real reenactment. People were cooking over campfires, making ammunition, riding horses and practicing military marches. I got to interview the person playing Napoleon. When I asked him how he prepares to play such a key historical figure he said, “It’s easy. I am Napoleon Bonaparte.” He was funny and so were the other actors that I interviewed. It was definitely not ideal working 10 hours on a Saturday, but it was a fun story and experience.

Actor playing Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Ligny reenactment.

Actor playing Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Ligny reenactment.

My first days interning at Thomson Reuters

Bonjour from my office in Brussels, Belgium!

For those of you who do not know, I am interning at Thomson Reuters in the Brussels location TV department this summer. I know you all want to believe that I am spending my days eating waffles while wandering Europe, but with my internship and classes, I am really working most of the time.

My friends in journalism feel free to skip to the next paragraph because I am going to assume that you know what Thomson Reuters is (or at least, you probably should), but for those of you who don’t, I’ll explain a little about the company. Reuters is a news agency that provides content in over 100 countries and has over 600,000 employees across the world. What Reuters does is it sells their stories to news companies all around the world. For example, a story that our branch did last week was bought and used by BBC, CNN, etc.

I started my internship Wednesday and the first thing that we did was took a tour of the office, met our co-workers and got our workstations set-up. Then, we filled out information to send a media press pass request to the European Commission. However, before we could finish filing the request, there was breaking news and Haley and I (my friend that is also interning with me at Reuters) got to tag-along with the cameraman and reporter.

My boss saw a tweet that flights out of Brussels airport were cancelled, due to technical issues. So we grabbed the equipment and went to check it out. As soon as we got there, they got straight to work. The cameras are the same as the ones I use at KOMU, which I am excited about because Jan (the cameraman) seems to be a videography genius and I think I will learn a lot from him. He sets up shots so quickly and is constantly thinking in sequence (sorry if this post gets a little journalism nerdy). I just watched his ability to scan the room and think about every sequence that is necessary to tell the story. He used the tripod for most shots, but he also wasn’t afraid to crawl on the floor to get a good angle. One thing that I thought was great was that he got a lot of close-up facial reaction shots from passengers as they looked up at the board of all the flight cancellations.

Clement was the one conducting the interviews and writing the script and I also learned a lot from him. Reuters has a long stick mic, so they don’t have to tell people to run the mic up their shirt to hide the wires. This and the fact that there were two people working on the story allowed Clement to approach people as they were in line to figure out how to get to their end destinations, so he was able to get their initial reactions instead of giving them time to think about what they are going to say. That allowed for some more real and emotion-filled sound bites (they call them vox-pops).

They sat at a table after everything and Clement scripted in iNews while Yan cut the clips in Edius. Since this is a news agency and not station, they cut video into sequences and sound-bites that are longer so that news stations can use whatever video they please and can put it to the script that they write. So what does a news agency script look like then? The script is a shot list that describes the action in the shot or quotes the sound bite. Then underneath the shot list, they write the web story so that Reuters customers know what the story is about and can use that to write their own script. (Hopefully, this is making sense).

Anyway, when we got back we read some European news.

The next day of work, we did a lot of research about TTIP (an EU-US trade agreement) that will be making many headlines in June, the battle at Waterloo since the centennial anniversary is in June and about the Greek debt crisis, since we will also do many stories on that.

The next day at work, we watched the mid-day European Council press briefing and took notes and wrote down time codes of good sound bites (vox-pops). After lunch, we went to the European Council to get our press passes. I’m not going to lie, that made me feel pretty important.

Today is Monday and we really didn’t do very much at work today. We updated the big whiteboard with June’s calendar of events and watched the European Council mid-day briefings. We also looked over some stories from our co-workers because they like to make sure their translations to English make sense.

First few days in Brussels

We had a few days before our internship began to explore the city and run some errands. I think I didn’t realize that I would actually be living here and would need things like dish soap and toilet paper and trash bags. So that was definitely a hassle and we are nowhere near close to having everything that we need.

The second night we were here, Haley and I met Bell Johnson (who interned at Thomson Reuters last semester) for drinks at this bar that is famous for gin and tonics. She gave us some good advice about what to expect at work and it helped calm my nerves. On our way home, there was a jazz festival that Brussels has once a year, so we stopped in at that for a second. There was an outdoor stage set up where people could relax and enjoy the jazz music (and of course, there were beer tents).

That night we went to Delirium, which is a bar that has the world record for most beers on tap. We heard that this place is really fun, but definitely a touristy place. We figured, well we might as well go because we are tourists. It was definitely an experience. The guys in Belgium are much more forward. They will walk right up to you with no pickup line prepared and jump right in by saying something rudely inappropriate. The guys definitely annoyed me, but it never felt threatening, just annoying.

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We got some beers at Delirium and then we went to another bar next door that has a bunch of types of tequila. It was a lot of fun. We ended up meeting a big group of people from London who were a blast. Overall, it was a great first night out with most of the people from our trip.

One thing that stood out was how late we got home! They don’t go out until so late that before we knew it, it was 4:30 a.m. I guess time flies when you’re having fun?

The next day we went to an area called Flagey, which is near our house. They have this sort of farmer’s market every weekend. We got some fruit there and it was honestly a great environment. It’s not a touristy area, so we finally felt like we were real Belgians. We stopped by a little park right nearby to relax by the lake before heading home.

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After the market, we headed Grand Place. Basically, if you were to Google Brussels, this is the area you would see. I can’t describe how beautiful the area is, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Monday was a holiday (one of the ones that everyone is off work, but nobody really understands why). We had a walking tour planned for us by the program. It mostly at Grand Place again, but I finally got to see Manneken Pis, which is one of the most famous sites. Not sure why because it’s a tiny statue of a boy peeing. I probably should have paid more attention to the tour guide.

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Anyway, the tour was okay, but the waffle I got on the tour was what made my day. Now THIS was the AMAZING Belgium waffles that I heard so much about. This picture needs no explanation.

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On Tuesday, everyone started work except Haley and I. Our bosses just got back from a conference in Latvia, so they weren’t ready for us Tuedsay. It gave me time to catch up on my jet lag and run errands. After our friends got home from work, we went to a restaurant. I got lapin a la kriek (rabbit and red beer). Garreth, our program director, said we needed to try it and it was good. It was like a more gamey chicken leg.

I will write an update about my first two days at work soon!

10 things I’ve learned about Brussels

After the first few days in Brussels, I would like to point out some cultural differences.

  1. People here aren’t very smiley and nice (this might just be a larger city thing, but I’m not sure)
  2. People wear mostly just black (my pink Express work shirts stick out like a sore thumb)
  3. You have to pay for water at restaurants AND beer is typically as cheap as water (so naturally, we just order beer)
  4. The workplace is so much more laid-back (my boss wanted to buy us beers in the middle of the workday)
  5. They will not separate checks (so request small bills when you go to the ATM)
  6. Stores close so early (no joke, they’re out of there by 6)
  7. They go out way later than we do (if you leave a bar before 1 a.m. you didn’t even see the peak of the night)
  8. Men are chauvinist pigs (and we thought frat guys were disrespectful….)
  9. Belgium has some of the highest taxes in the world, so employers all buy their employees expensive cars so that they don’t have to pay that money in taxes (so it’s safe to say Belgians like their cars)
  10. This is a city with so many cultures! Everyone here is from all over the world. It truly is an international city and it’s amazing. Everyone I meet has a great story to tell.

Day 1 in Brussels

Well today is the day that I officially moved to Belgium for the summer. We got into Brussels at 9 in the morning there, but it was 2 in the morning in St. Louis. When we got off the plane we all traveled in the big group to the guy holding the Mizzou sign. We took shuttles to our apartments and it was not the drive that we expected. Sure, we saw a few older buildings, but for the most part it was just new modern buildings with lots of shopping. It reminded us of DC or Michigan Avenue.

When we got to the apartments, it was amazing. The living room and the dining room are extremely spacious and kind of modern. We went up the spiral staircase to find 3 bedrooms. They were all a little different, but they are decently spacious. It definitely works for how little stuff we even have right now. The best part about the apartment is our rooftop deck. The walls are pretty high, so it’s hard to see the view, but if you climb up a little you can see that it is breathtaking. I know that will be my favorite space in our apartment.

After we unpacked, a lady from the complex came around checking everything and it was the first time that we had a bit of a culture shock. She spoke no English, so it was hard to communicate with her. We had to tap on her and direct her to an outlet that is broken to communicate. Nobody in my apartment speaks a lick of French, so this will be new to all of us.

Shortly after, the guys came up to our apartment to visit and we all decided to go walk around the city. We went down our street and then left and we eventually ran into all the main shopping. There were a ton of cute stores that I want to check out soon and hopefully they are cheap enough. While we were walking the streets, we ran into a waffle vendor and we knew that we needed to try it. Trying to order the waffle was a little funny because we don’t speak French so we looked at the sign and tried our best to pronounce it.

The waffle was nothing like our waffles. Sure it has the imprints of a waffle, but it was almost bitter and it was drenched in chocolate. It was a complete shock because it’s not what we are used to, but it was great nonetheless.

We stopped by a market to get toilet paper, hand soap and a few essential groceries. We just mainly picked up water bottles and something to eat for breakfast tomorrow.

Then we went to an orientation at our Mizzou office with Garreth. I definitely don’t remember how we got there. He was super nice and funny, but I can tell that our class is going to be a lot more work than I was expecting. I have a feeling when I get home from work on the weekdays, we will be super busy and staying in a lot.

He did answer a lot of our questions about traveling on weekends and he suggests traveling a lot around Brussels. He also said that it would be dumb not to go to Paris, Amsterdam and London because they are about an hour and a half away is all. I still think that I want to try to go to Barcelona because he said it’s one of the best cities in the world and it’s a quick plane ride. However, I think that will be my last flying trip. Anyway, I’m overwhelmed and feel like I need to start planning right away.

We then walked to dinner at this cute restaurant. It was paid for all by Mizzou, which is amazing. He gave us a few Brussels choices and I didn’t know what to pick, but I decided to go with this shrimp and mussels pasta. A lot of people tried rabbit also, but I’ll have to save that for another day. Apparently it was really good. I loved my mussels and the pasta was so great too. We also got a few choices of Belgium beers to try. I tried Kriek, which is a cherry beer and it tasted just like candy. I loved it. The second beer that I got was a Heigen(something) and it was also good.

After dinner, we walked home with the intention of going out, but we physically were drained. Instead we got a good nights sleep.