The students have gone so I should have more time to be dedicating to blogging here, but unfortunately there always seems to be something sucking my time. This week it has been working on my blog post for Project TOTO. Project TOTO is a fabulous program run by Action Aid aimed at giving communities in developing nations the skills to tell their own stories via social media and other online tools. Do check it out – it’s a wonderful program and of course something right up my alley. I have been shortlisted as a nominee to be the next outreach blogger (essentially the person who will go into a community and help share these skills) and as a result have found myself undertaking challenges to prove myself worthy of the role.
Our first challenge has been to write a blog post linking poverty and climate change. I have spent a lot of time this week wondering why I am doing this. It’s not like I have a shortage of things to do and here I am putting myself in a position to be judged. But then I found myself thinking two key thoughts. Firstly, I am putting myself through this because it is such a wonderful project to support. But secondly, it has occurred to me that it is good to put myself in the position I put my students in. We are required to write a post which explains “clearly the link between climate change and poverty”, using appropriate facts and figures. The post is meant to, of course, be engaging and not exceed 1000 words. Firstly, let’s just make it really clear that 1000 words is way too much for a blog – reading a block of text that large on a screen just doesn’t work. But as I have been working to try to make a succinct, interesting and factually relevant post it has also occurred to me that while these are the core principles for writing online (I have blogged about this before) they are also the traditional skills at the core of all journalism. Yes I know, this isn’t an earth-shatteringly new concept, but it is worth reiterating, again and again. So much time is spent lamenting the changes that the digital landscape has wrought to journalism, that we aren’t spending enough time considering the imperatives of online can help focus a journalist to their core skills. A journalist should take a topic (quite often a complex topic) break it down and make it easy to understand. They should collect and present facts and use the most interesting item as the hook to get the reader into the story. This is the process that we should undertake when writing for online, whether that be a factual news story or an opinion-based blog post. And this is a process, that as cursory glance at The Age shows, is sometimes forgotten in the so-called traditional or quality press (50-word convoluted intro anyone?).
So yes, the online medium is changing the method of publishing/broadcasting our news and the skills and role of the journalist, but it is also centrally focused on what I believe is the core principle of journalism: telling a ‘true’ story in a succinct and easy to understand manner, while capturing the reader’s attention and interest with the most interesting/ newsworthy element.
* For all my students rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of me getting a chance to experience life in their shoes, I am sure the nominee blog posts will be published and judged on the Project TOTO website soon.