The first step that you will need to take once you arrive in Turkey is to seek accreditation as a journalist and apply for residency. These are two separate, but linked, procedures. Once you are accredited by the country’s press directorate, you will be provided with a press card and an authorized photocopy of that card, which will permit you to submit your residency application. Let’s look at the procedure for both.
Permanent press accreditation
This will allow you to obtain a press card that allows you entry to most official functions, campaign events, and press conferences, in addition to allowing you to obtain a free public transport card and free entry to many museums and historical sites in the country. It is also a very important document if you are reporting from dangerous locations where state security has a larger presence. The press card will also allow you to apply for temporary residency as a journalist in Turkey.
The application for permanent accreditation is done entirely online here: https://akreditasyon.iletisim.gov.tr/
You will require the following documents for your first-time application:
- Personal photo
- Photo of the main ID pages of your passport
- Photo of your press visa and entry stamp into Turkey
- A letter from your newspaper or media outlet explaining that they have appointed you as a correspondent covering Turkey (you might be asked to provide further proof of your relationship with your media organization later, such as a signed contract)
- A letter of introduction in Turkish from your media outlet’s embassy (most embassies already have a draft of this letter available for new arrivals. If you work for a British newspaper, for example, you will need a letter of introduction from the British embassy’s press attaché)
These will all be uploaded as part of the application process. Once your application for permanent accreditation is approved, you will receive an email inviting you to collect your press card from your nearest press directorate branch.
Every year in December, the permanent accreditation is renewed. Sometimes, your press card application may be delayed if you apply for the first time at the end of the year due to the backlog of renewal applications. If you arrive in Turkey between the early spring and early autumn, this should not be an issue.
You can begin the process of applying for residency while you wait for your press card application to be completed. You can complete the process of filling out the application form online at the official website of Turkey’s migration department (http://www.e-ikamet.com/en). However, many new arrivals who do not know the system often feel more comfortable paying an agent to fill out their application forms and help them collect the necessary documents, a process that can cost up to $250 for the full range of services. You can reach out to other foreign correspondents for advice on reliable and trusted agents.
You should also have established a bank account, as it will make conducting online transactions easier with a Turkish credit card. Not all banks allow you to set up an account without a residence permit, so check with different branches before applying.
Journalists and their spouses usually require fewer documents than regular residents in order to obtain the residency permit. These are usually the following:
- Personal photos
- Passport copy, along with pages that have Turkish entry stamps, and your original passport
- Printed application form once it is completed and appointment letter
- Health insurance policy that is valid for foreigners in Turkey
- Proof of residence (such as a notarized copy of your rental contract)
- Tax number (obtained from the local tax office, and which only requires a passport)
- Photocopy of press card (provided by the press directorate when you receive your press card)
- Marriage certificate (if you are applying for residency for your spouse as well)
Once you have completed your online residence permit application, you will be able to choose a date and time for your appointment to submit your paperwork. Journalists are not bound by this timing. The press directorate will provide you with the address and name of the officials in the migration department who can accept and expedite journalists’ residency applications. You can submit your and your spouse’s documents there at the time of your choosing.
It usually takes two to three weeks for the residence permit to be delivered to the address you registered as part of your application. When you submit your application in person, you will receive a receipt that allows you to travel for up to two weeks while waiting for your residence permit.
Once you receive your press card, you can begin legally practicing your job as a correspondent in Turkey. And once you receive your residence permit, you have become a legal resident of the country and can travel in and out of Turkey without restrictions.
A Note on Language
One of your top priorities when you move to Turkey should be to begin learning the language.
Modern Turkish is a beautiful and structured language with clear grammatical rules, and which, in addition to its Turkic roots, borrows heavily from Persian, Arabic, French and English vocabulary to form a language that is both ancient and modern.
The argument for learning Turkish is based on both logic and practicality.
Like any newcomer to a society one is unfamiliar with, the key to beginning to understand the culture and history and modern debates is to learn the language, study its nuances, and engage with locals who have a stake in those debates about the direction of their country.
Covering a country without access to its rich linguistic heritage is myopic at best. English speakers are more likely to have been educated abroad or in schools with a larger foreign contingent of teachers or professors and are therefore likely to have a different view of current affairs and government policies than, for instance, a Turkish ultranationalist or a farmer or coal miner far away from the cosmopolitan centers of İstanbul or İzmir. This is not meant to imply that one opinion is more valid than the other, just that they are different, and allowing oneself to be influenced primarily by the views of well-traveled English-speakers in the country is likely to portray a one-sided view of society, and to miss important social trends and concerns.
This is particularly a problem in a country with strong nationalistic values like Turkey. President Erdoğan, for example, always speaks in Turkish in public appearances. Many politicians, even those who speak English, prefer to portray themselves as patriotic by speaking in Turkish or are more comfortable expressing their ideas and philosophy in their mother tongue, rather than in English.
You will also find that many young Turks are reluctant to speak in English with a journalist even though many have studied the language in school. This may be due to shyness or to inadequate practice outside of the classroom, but the result is that it is very difficult to work as a journalist with limited resources in Turkey without knowing the language.
There is little choice for a new correspondent in the country beyond relying on the services of a translator for the first few months, or perhaps the first year, of their tenure in the country. But this must be combined with intensive, immersive work to study the language and achieve fluency as quickly as possible. You may find that you still need to rely on a translator after that initial learning period, but you will grow increasingly confident in your use of the language as you speak more of it, make friends, socialize, interview people, watch television and stroll through the streets of Turkey’s cities.
Fortunately, there are ample resources for new journalists to learn Turkish. These include:
- Group classes in one of the several institutes based in İstanbul, which provide intensive daily courses and practical assignments
- Sign up for private tutoring at the more advanced levels if you can afford it
- Free online applications that can help build your vocabulary
- Consume pop culture such as the popular Turkish soap operas, films and songs that are often available with subtitles
- Attempt to converse with locals in Turkish as well as with Turkish friends, and avoid resorting to English or your mother tongue
- Spend time in public places that are not frequented by foreigners in order to absorb more of the words and the language. You will understand more as your knowledge base grows
- Make more Turkish friends and practice the language with them
Reaching out to contacts
In your first few weeks in Turkey, you might find it helpful to meet as many potential contacts and sources for your stories as possible, in order to get a grasp on the important issues affecting public opinion. You should generally aim to cast your net as wide as possible – you never know who will provide the tip-off for your next big story, and a bigger network of sources and acquaintances will ensure you have a stronger grasp of all elements of a story or development.
When you become an officially accredited journalist, you will be added to a mailing list informing correspondents of all official functions, events and press conferences that they can attend. In addition, most key ministries and official bodies such as the presidency and the foreign ministry, as well as the main parties in the Grand National Assembly (the Turkish parliament) have press officers who are specialized in dealing with international media. Often these individuals will be an initial point of contact in those institutions, but could also arrange for interviews with senior officials, be able to provide on the record comments when needed and be useful potential sources. You should always strive of course to check information provided by official sources, but they are also an integral part of any story exploring government conduct or requiring official responses from the state.
Although it is out of date to a great extent, this guide from the press directorate lists all the phone numbers of the main government departments as well as press officers in Turkish diplomatic missions abroad:
You should also establish contact with key political and economic pressure groups, activist collectives, prominent intellectuals and personalities, among others, depending on the expected focus of your reporting. This might include the following:
- Prominent MPs and the leaders of the largest political parties
- Editors of influential newspapers and media outlets
- Human rights and press freedom lawyers and pressure groups, both local and international
- Diplomatic missions with a large presence in Turkey
- Representatives of Syrian opposition groups
- Officials in refugee agencies and other humanitarian aid and relief organizations
- Academics specializing in various fields such as modern Turkish history, political relations, Ankara’s role in the Cold War, etc.
- Representatives from ethnic and religious groups that have traditionally faced persecution in the region, such as Kurds and Armenians
- Environmental groups, experts and activists
- Archaeologists and experts in monument preservation
- Trade and industry unions
- Local and foreign journalists based in the country
- Prominent columnists, authors and artists
- Political advisers and analysts close to various movements and currents in the country
- Religious leaders from various sects and communities
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list but should hopefully offer an adequate starting point for your initial canvassing once you arrive in Turkey, and its usefulness will vary depending on whether your mandate is to cover politics and security issues, broader regional dynamics, business, lifestyle or cultural issues. Still, you will find it both rewarding and useful to have a broad range of contacts and social acquaintances across the spectrum of issues in Turkey, allowing you a glimpse into the underlying dynamics in the country, and providing you with a subtler understanding of what drives some of the key debates.
It is also important to note that there is no substitute for face to face meetings with sources and members of the community. The phone will only get you so far. Like much of the region surrounding it, and due to various security concerns, most sources are likely to require a process of cultivation and trust building during face to face meetings before they are likely to confide crucial information. Put in the effort and work hard, show respect and empathy for the people you meet and interview, and your efforts will be rewarded.
On a final note, it may help in the preparation phase when you first arrive in Turkey to spend some time reading various reports and books on the country and its modern history, recent political developments and human rights reports, as well as the coverage of other foreign media outlets and local news reports, while also understanding their political affiliations. It will take some time before you form a broader picture of what kind of news reports, and from where, you can trust. Always do your due diligence and do not take information at face value.
On books, there are plenty of lists of recommended books online. The important point is to try to consume a varied diet of books – from mass market literature and world-famous authors like Orhan Pamuk and Elif Şafak to Turkish legends like Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Sabahattin Ali, Nazım Hikmet and Yaşar Kemal. Most bookstores with English books also stock translated Turkish literature and books on Turkish history and the country’s minorities, as well as its political and cultural movements and trends. Explore those, and hopefully in a year’s time you can revisit them in the original Turkish.