Join us as we take a peek behind the curtain into the life of Natalie Donback, journalist and expat. From the bustling city streets to the quiet corners of her home office, we'll follow Natalie through a typical day in her shoes. Get ready to discover the challenges and rewards of a career in journalism, as well as the unique experiences of living in a foreign country. Whether you're a fellow journalist or simply curious about what life is like for an expat, this is one behind-the-scenes look you won't want to miss.
1: Natalie, tell us about your journey through your career and how you chose to become a freelance reporter and editor?
To me, being a journalist feels like the most fun, interesting, and rewarding job I could ever think of. I get to speak to people and learn about new things for a living, which sometimes feels surreal. I’ve been working in media for most of my career and I spent seven years with Devex, a media platform creating content and news for people that work in global development. I started out working on their events team and building out the editorial content of events for key moments such as the UN General Assembly in New York and the World Economic Forum annual meetings in Davos. It took me to some very interesting places that most people don’t get to visit – like Davos – and allowed me to get nerdy with so many different topics, especially around global health.
But after quite a few years of doing this work, I wanted to be more in control over the stories I got to report on and write about and I felt like I already had enough of a network to make the jump to go freelance. It’s only been four months so far, but I’m enjoying the freedom and the creativity that comes with it. I’m still working on getting used to the uncertainty and the ups and downs, but for now it feels like I’m exactly where I need to be.
2: You focus on climate change and global health. Tell us more and what are the key issues in these areas?
There’s no place on earth that’s untouched by climate change, but how a country or a community can cope with it varies a lot. Rich countries – which are responsible for the majority of emissions historically – can more easily switch to electric vehicles and renewables because they have the resources to do so.
But then you have small island developing states such as Vanuatu or Barbados that have contributed less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet they are the ones suffering the most from climate impacts such as sea-level rise and tropical cyclones. Wildfires in California and heatwaves in Europe get a lot of coverage in traditional media, but that’s not the case for communities who live this reality every day, every hour – and those are the stories I want to draw attention to.
When it comes to global health, I approach it with a similar lens. How can it be possible that we’ve got the medical knowledge and tools to treat HIV/AIDS, yet 650 000 people still die every year because they were born in a country where health care is out of reach for most people. Or the fact that a woman dies every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth. It all comes down to inequality, that’s the biggest issue – or killer – no matter if the trigger is climate change or a disease.
3: You have reported from three continents and led editorial initiatives! Tell us more… What was life like living and working abroad? Where was your favourite place and why?
I grew up on a tiny island in the south of Sweden, but I’ve been living in Barcelona, Spain for the past nine years. I came here for the first time as an exchange student and just fell in love with the city. It’s sounds so cringe but that’s totally what happened. I then decided to come back to do my master’s degree in journalism in 2014 and I’ve been here ever since. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision, I just found a place that made me happy and decided to stay.
During my most intense time at Devex, I travelled almost every month, and I think finding a good balance between being at home and traveling is difficult. At some point I’d wake up in a hotel and my brain wouldn’t realise where I was for a good solid five minutes. In the past few years – I guess its age talking – I’ve come to appreciate time at home more and more, also because of some health issues that are really triggered by stress.
I think my favourite place I traveled to for work is Medellín, Colombia, where I went to report a multimedia story about an NGO that provides surgery to children with cleft lip and palate. We went to tell the story of how this one clinic was helping children with the mental health impact of the condition – many of these kids were struggling with their self-esteem and bullying and it amazing to see up close just how resilient they are. There was a kid called Santiago who was incredibly shy and soft spoken, but who was an amazing salsa dancer and just came alive on stage.
4: What challenges have you faced along the way in your career and life? How did you overcome them?
Journalism is not a straightforward or easy career, and I definitely made it difficult for myself by settling down in a place that isn’t an international news hub in the sense that perhaps London or New York is. There’s not a ton of jobs outside of these places, and the ones that do exist pay really badly – especially here in Spain. Most of my friends back home in Sweden have bought houses and settled down, obviously I have not!
I spent years working in marketing and events hoping it could be a springboard and that I would eventually be given the opportunity to do the type of reporting that I wanted, but sadly that wasn’t the case. It’s the biggest reasons I decided to go freelance and to see if I could make it work by myself, not just waiting for someone else to give me that opportunity. I didn’t want to look back, let’s say ten years from now, and think that I never really gave it a real shot.
5: What advice do you have for other women looking to advance their career in Journalism?
Specialise in a topic, find your beat. It takes years to cultivate relationships and knowledge of something like climate change or finance or whatever it might be you’re interested in. You need to be in it for the long-term and the more expertise you get around a topic, the more likely it is that editors and media outlets are going to come to you for your expertise.
Talk to a lot of people, all the time. Since I went freelance, I see potential stories everywhere and there’s nothing that triggers more ideas than speaking with new people and discovering what they do. Staying connected to your local community and different groups helps too, just being out there interacting with people that you wouldn’t necessarily come across otherwise.
Set aside time to read. When things are crazy and you’re just focused on meeting deadlines it’s easy to de - prioritise reading. But reading is probably the second most inspiring thing to me. I’d say consume everything; books, fiction, non-fictions, articles, reports, but also podcasts, movies, you name it. Even going to a photography exhibition or a talk about colonising March as a “planet B” (yes, I’ve done that) will get your creativity flowing.
6: What initiative have you worked on during your career that has been the most inspiring?
I’ve worked on so many interesting things, but I think the most inspiring ones have ultimately come down to highlighting the work of others – activists, scientists, social entrepreneurs – and how they are helping others one way or another. I’ve interviewed an amazing LGBTQ activist from Nigeria for a series on digital rights, I’ve written about how NGOs and governments can address child labor better, and most recently I’ve been focused on abortion rights here in Spain.
As I went freelance and wanted to focus more on climate, I also recently launched a weekly newsletter called Current Climate where I write about the latest climate news and solutions in a way that’s (hopefully!) easy to understand and not full of jargon. One of the sections is actually called “climate jargon of the week” – it’s hard enough to understand the basic science behind climate change yet alone all the confusing and contradicting opinions out there. Running a newsletter is more work than I thought but also really rewarding.
7: From your research and knowledge, what advice would you give our community on climate action? What can we do to help personally in the fight against climate change?
I’d say stay informed and take time to search for quality information from credible sources. There’s so much misinformation floating around on social media and it’s easy to just assume everything we see or hear is true. When it comes to personal actions, it really depends on your personal situation and economy. Not everyone can switch to an electric car or install solar panels in their home. But something that probably most of us can do is to consume less stuff – be it clothes, electronics, or unnecessary gadgets. Producing and shipping things around the globe contributes to a lot of emissions, especially things like fast fashion. Changing our diet towards more plant-based and locally grown alternatives can also have a massive impact. There’s a great platform called Project Drawdown that lists different climate actions and how much CO2 emissions they would save us if they were implemented, it’s worth checking out!
8: What are your top tips for fellow women who are working remotely and may be thinking of a career in Journalism?
Even if you want to cover more global stories, don’t lose sight of what’s right in front of you. It’s very different to report on a story in person than just doing online interviews and calls. If you’re working on a remote story, make sure that you really do speak with the people and communities on the ground that have first-hand experience with the issue you’re covering. And sometimes a story might not be yours to tell and requires a local journalist that really knows the context of a place and problem.
9: Lastly, what do you do for fun? How do you switch off from work and create a work/life balance?
Cooking really helps me to switch off and I love hosting dinner parties, especially if there’s a theme involved. I’m also a big wine enthusiast and luckily Barcelona is close to some of the best wine regions in the world. I love going out to meet winemakers and to – obviously – try their wines. I’m also always down to try new restaurants here in Barcelona and really enjoy discovering new gems around the city.
The sea always gives me peace too and I wish I would have more time to go swimming and to do stand-up paddle. I just paddle straight out into the Mediterranean until I can’t hear the city anymore. There’s something really specially about being out there on your own just surrounded by blue from all directions and angles. I more recently also got into CrossFit and weightlifting and find it really fun. I like being in competition with myself about how much I can lift and to see the progress.
Connect with Natalie:
Newsletter Current Climate: https://currentclimate.substack.com/