Delphine Halgand: “I had a journalist’s DNA”
Delphine Halgand is the Executive Director of The Signals Network, a French American nonprofit “focusing on providing support to whistleblowers who have shared major information with the press.” Thanks to Sciences Po, Halgand acquired the curiosity, problem solving, and her communications skills that have led her to success in journalism.
Halgand remembers “It was always my dream as a child to be a journalist.” She was advised that Sciences Po could put her on the right path, so she “dreamed of entering Sciences Po from my little high school in the Alsace countryside.” After completing the Franco-German undergraduate program and a year abroad, she returned to Paris to enter the journalism school.
In journalism school Halgand found that the graduate program most importantly “taught me how to speak in public.” She appreciated the small class sizes and how “all of the classes were really hands on to learn the radio skills, TV skills, and writing skills.” Her professors, she recounts “were the best journalists in the newsroom, which opened amazing opportunities for internships and developing your professional network.” Today, Halgand says, she still remains in touch with many of her professors, with some of whom she serves on the same board.
After graduation, Halgand got a job with the French news outlet 20 Minutes. She describes, though, how “after one year working in a newsroom in Paris and having already done an internship in most of the newsrooms. I felt that I needed to see something else.” She worried about limiting her career to climbing the newsroom ladder. “I really felt the need to go abroad to see a different perspective,” she adds. Halgand applied for the Volontariat International program, which allows young graduates to work abroad for two years, and got a job as press attaché at the French Embassy in the U.S. She “was so excited by this opportunity to be able to go to DC and understand American politics better. At the same time,” she notes, she was excited “to be on the other side in a sense, because when you're a journalist you definitely see the administration as the other side.” In D.C., Halgand had the opportunity to organize dinners for the French ambassador, bringing Congressmen and think tank leaders to the ambassador’s residence for semi-private conferences. Thanks to this experience, she says, “I learned so much about the way diplomacy works in Washington and the way the political circles work.”
Halgand was eager to return to the journalism world and next took a position as a freelance correspondent for Le Monde, before being hired by Reporters Without Borders to build their U.S. chapter out of Washington D.C. She raised money and grew the team, “leading the press freedom advocacy with the White House, Congress, and the UN in New York.” Through her press freedom work, Halgand became known as the specialist to help American journalists held hostage in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. In this role, she worked closely with the journalists’ families and their media to build public campaigns and also nonpublic actions to help efforts to obtain the journalists’ releases. “These people really have had a deep impact on me,” she reflects.
While working with Reporters Without Borders, Halgand describes how she started to see an increasing crackdown against whistleblowers, who were facing harsh consequences for sharing very important information with the public. This caught her attention, and she immediately realized “how we need more people to have the courage to stand up when they, they know of something undemocratic or illegal.” From these realizations, Halgand built The Signals Network, and now works with whistleblowers and different media outlets to coordinate collaborative investigations.
In the current climate, Halgand feels that her work is a hot spot. “I'm very proud that we are supporting whistleblowers who have shared with the media very important information related to the coronavirus. I'm very proud to know that I'm also supporting other whistleblowers, who have shared very important information about election interference by foreign powers.” In addition, Halgand is leading the team of rapporteurs for the Working Group on Infodemics, the inaugural working group of The Forum on Information and Democracy. The group is currently drafting recommendations for platforms and governments to fight disinformation on social media, which will be presented to 38 governments in November
For current students and young graduates interested in a journalism career, Halgand advise them to “find a niche.” She underscores the importance of learning a language or a sought-after skill, especially gaining knowledge of data journalism or open source data investigation. “The control of information is power,” Halgand states. “It is definitely very important to defend. And it's very active fight.”