Group chat

Selfie no. 372

We recently recruited 14 young people from six countries for a reporting programme, and before they’d even met, the WhatsApp group was buzzing. When we did get them together for an intense five days in London, they seemed to form a tight-knit group within 24 hours. By departure day, the WhatsApp group was filling with heart-eyed emojis, group selfies and emotional farewells as they prepared to return to four different continents.

Apart from the emojis, it was similar to an experience I had 10 years ago, when 30 of us from different European countries got flown to Berlin for an EU-funded youth journalism scheme. That short trip led to some of us creating our own joint project the following year – planning it over multiple Skype calls from our respective countries – and a few lasting friendships. (Plus, apparently, at least one romantic encounter.)

I guess it’s not hugely surprising, but it’s still great to see: when you get people together from different backgrounds who are doing similar things and have similar values, they can very quickly get past the small talk and onto something deeper.

It’s why there’s a lot of backing for training or development programmes that recruit people in cohorts: there’s an understanding that you’ll get a whole lot more support and learn more from your peers, for a longer period, than from experts or programme leaders. I’ve seen that through the On Purpose programme I did a few years ago. For me, the network has been the most valuable part, and even when you come across someone from another cohort that you haven’t met, there’s an instant sense that you’re on the same page. It’s a bit like the relief you feel when living abroad and you meet someone from your own country – you skip that layer of small talk and of sizing each other up, and relax into conversation.

Our young reporters are different in a lot of ways – religion, cultural upbringing, area of work — but they’re all of a generation that’s facing both more opportunities than ever in storytelling, documentary and journalism, yet also more competition than ever, not to mention a tough political climate in some places. Hopefully they’ll be able to support each other a bit in the coming years: advice or just someone to vent to, a sofa to sleep on while travelling, a project partner. Maybe one will even offer a paid assignment to another. That would be worth a heart emoji from me.