In 2013, five participants of the Solidarity Academy wrote an essay about the project voicing their doubts, dilemmas and presenting possible solutions to the existing issues. However, in 2016, many of them are still unresolved, and there are new areas that need to be addressed, a sign of our times.
Show me an organization with international and intellectual ambitions without at least one youth project, skeptics may say. Indeed, there are a number of programmers for young NGO activists, local activists, youth culture managers, students, volunteers and so on. While there is nothing wrong with investing in youth, we all know the phenomenon of “project tourism”.
It can be easily seen in application forms – many applicants know what to write in order to be selected by using the same keywords, and consequently participate in the same projects. Of course, this can be prevented by establishing partnerships, pooling resources and choosing quality over quantity. Moreover, from the European Solidarity Centre’s experience, the most effective strategy is to focus on a specific target group and tailor the program to suit their needs.
Identifying the target group
As the essay further argued: “Most people do not grow up with a clear idea of what their future profession will be. In other words, journalists are not born journalists. Oftentimes, it is only by experiencing situations in which reality does not conform with expectations that people are able to define their future goals.”
Indeed, it is not easy to design a project for a group with no fixed plans. However, the investment in the development of young, ambitious people sooner or later brings results. With the participants’ involvement in public life and discussions on social and political issues the effort will pay off.
As the essay claimed: “A journalistic workshop provides precisely this opportunity; to weigh up our vision with reality, and theory with practice. Moreover, it may simplify the decision whether to continue with one’s current direction or to alter it.”
As the Turkish writer Elif Shafak once said, in order to really understand the world we are writing about, we must leave our cultural ghettos and search beyond the realities of our countries, cities or circle of friends. That is why the Solidarity Academy connects participants from the East and West, South and North. Even though the project themes are always specific and may vary from Polish-Russian relations to the Baltic Sea Region, we try to engage young people from different parts of the world.
The diverse perspectives and experiences from various media fields create a unique possibility for building higher-quality cooperation and reflection. Since a journalist’s work is about gathering and distributing information, explanation and analysis, communicating with others is essential. And, as our participants argued in their piece, “beyond the practical advantages, meeting media professionals from countries like Poland, Georgia, Germany, Romania, Argentina, Slovakia, Italy, Ukraine, the Czech Republic etc. can also contribute to enriching our understanding of the world and breaking the walls that we often surround ourselves with”.
It is all about sharing
Sharing knowledge, experience, perspectives and views is key. Therefore, the main task of the organizers is to create comfortable conditions for sharing. But how to facilitate the process and how to build an atmosphere of trust necessary for an honest exchange?
Our former participants shared their view on the issue: “Journalism is a diverse subject, and authors from different backgrounds and different stylistic traditions can inspire new ways of thinking about how to approach thorny subjects. Depending on the type of workshop, knowledge exchange can enhance specialisms or broaden horizons. For instance, experts in reportage can help someone who has previously worked only in news add color to a story about the Gdansk arts scene, while even the most experienced writers’ skillset can be improved by comparing notes.”
Devaluation of “dialogue”
Dialogue is the keyword in almost every international journalistic project. We have a dialogue between borders, a dialogue between nations – dialogue is the bread and butter of a number of phenomena. The word has clearly lost its power.
One can ask: what does “dialogue” mean nowadays? Can we call every conversation and meeting, even the most superficial one, a dialogue? What is the outcome of a real dialogue? Does dialogue always assume difference between the parties? Does it avoid difficult questions?
The lack of objective indicators of a dialogue creates a space for fake assessments that can be reported back to the project’s sponsors as easily achieved objectives. In order to regain the meaning of the dialogue, first, the project’s creators have to be ready for a real, deep and frank discussion and choose the appropriate tools. Where dialogue is just a buzzword, only a superficial conversation is possible.
Second, in order to come up with the right tools, the organizers have to be aware of group processes, as it often happens that the most common form of an attempted “dialogue” is a general conversation, beating around the bush instead of directly addressing controversial topics.
Finally, there is a need for honest feedback from the participants. It should contain information on how their expectations regarding dialogue were different from the outcome. Unfortunately, however, participants used to superficial dialogue often expect just that. And this is how the vicious circle begins.
Staying in touch
One of the best indicators of the quality of dialogue is whether the project’s graduates continue to stay in touch, meet, share ideas and spread the ideas of the project. The quality of the program for graduates can also be an indicator of how seriously the organizers treat networking and long-term cooperation with the participants. Another challenge is to develop a graduate program that follows the idea of empowerment and involves the participants in the decision-making process about the future of the project.
The organizers of the Solidarity Academy decided to engage the graduates of previous editions and assign them important roles in the project as tutors, trainers and partners. Thanks to this idea, the project has a chance to become a common good.
Journalism in a “post-truth” era
It does not come as a surprise that “post- truth” has been chosen as the 2016 word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary. Facts seem to have lost their importance. As Ryszard Kapuściński warned us a long time ago, journalists are being replaced by media employees. Perhaps linguists and sociologists are happy to have a new phenomenon to examine, but as supporters of young journalists we feel as if someone is getting in the way of our work.
One may say that there is no point in investing in young journalists and talking about media ethics, if in their future work they will not be paid for telling the truth. But the participants of the Solidarity Academy Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue launched a campaign titled “Make Facts Great Again”, aimed at supporting fact- -based journalism in contrast to opinion journalism. Thanks to that, we are even more motivated to continue with the Solidarity Academy. “The borderland” is the theme of the next edition. Journalists interested in the issue – we look forward to hearing from you.
This article originally appeared in “Meanwhile in the Baltics…“, a collection of articles written by the graduates of 2016 Solidarity Academy – Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue, organised by the European Solidarity Centre in partnership with the Council of the Baltic Sea States.