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.