Hard-working networks

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The original networking site

I’ve been doing some writing for the European Commission’s EURES website, which aims to encourage jobseekers to take up opportunities in other countries. The blog posts are for the (somewhat oddly-named) Drop’pin blog, which targets 16-30 year-olds in EU and neighbouring countries.

A fairly broad audience then – and, being based in the UK, the challenge is to tackle a topic in a way that’s useful not only to readers in this country.

Experience of living abroad makes you aware of things that are country-specific, though (e.g. appreciating that the charity sector isn’t necessarily as developed elsewhere). Working in international teams is perhaps the best training for writing in plain English – better leave out those dazzling turns of phrase or idioms. And language skills help too, of course – for example, getting speedy responses from a source in Berlin for a piece on accessing the creative industries.

The harder, more time-consuming part is finding the right contacts in the first place.

It comes down to networks – something I first fully appreciated way back in 2010 on a young journalists’ project. We met on an EU-funded trip in 2009, and a year later, I’d managed to herd 13 of us from 13 different countries to Istanbul to work together for a week. But the topic that initially brought us together (EU enlargement) wasn’t the real value of the project; few of the original group are still working on that, which is why the website we tried to create around that topic died within a year.

Rather, it was the contacts we made. I now have genuinely helpful folks spread across Europe with their ears to the ground and a willingness to respond to a very brief email or a Facebook post seeking quick contacts, sources, or ideas. Three of them have already helped me “Europeanise” my Drop’pin blog posts.

Finding, sustaining and using those learning/sharing relationships is one of the things I love most about what I do. And it’s happened often. Sometimes, by chance: I met Olivia at a 3-hour workshop on making documentaries; three years later, we’d made one together, with another new friend. I met Sheena at a conference in Kampala last November; we’re now putting together a series of interviews (watch this space).

Sometimes, it’s been intentional. I applied for funding for a partnership project from the Council of Europe, and forgot about it, until Lorelei in Bucharest got in touch. By then, we had about 6 weeks to plan and carry out a two-week project, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was great experience.

Unsurprisingly, I love the potential of sites like Meetup, or one that’s specifically for journalists, hostwriter – which I used to find contacts on my Uganda trip. I had a coffee with Esther, a science and environment reporter, who told me that one national paper pays about 30,000 Shillings (about 10 euro) per article, and about the stories she covers – like gorilla tracking with the Queen of Buganda. Perhaps not the most typical one, but at least I’ll know who to call for any future primate & royalty topics.

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