Be creative! That's what eight young European media professionals were tasked with while reporting on the Prix Italia media awards. DW trainee Marina Strauß was among the group.
There were smiles all around for the first selfies. Then the tweeting began, pictures went up on Instagram and posts were written for Facebook. Just from our digital habits, it was clear from the outset that we eight young media professionals from all over Europe - Belgium, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Ireland and me, representing Deutsche Welle - were going to get along like best friends. Together, we formed the first SkillsXchange group - a new initiative of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) whose goal is to develop exchanges between digital creatives from public-service media organizations across Europe. For example, in Turin I worked with Snapchat expert Pauline from the Flemish Broadcaster VRT in Brussels. She makes complex topics appealing to young audiences by using new digital storytelling formats. I also met her French-speaking counterpart François from RTBF. He specializes in creating web series.
Old prize, new ways of reporting
The Prix Italia was established all the way back in 1948. And despite its use of Twitter, a new homepage and a great data visualization project, this TV, radio and the web competition is getting on in years. That's why President Paolo Morawski invited us to Turin and asked us to give this year's focus, "The Power of Storytelling" a new, creative twist. He was especially interested in building up enthusiasm among media professionals for the event. That's because the Prix Italia is more than just an awards ceremony: over six days it brings together more than 500 journalists, producers, developers and experts from all over the world. In workshops and panels they exchange ideas and opinions about new technological developments and the political affairs of the day.
On the wrong track?
We decided that the foundation of our digital challenge would be in the form of a traditional blog. There, we eight SkillsXchangers reported about the Prix Italia's official program, looked at events going on behind the scenes and covered people who were directly or indirectly involved in the competition. Before a panel about user-generated content (UGC) - that is, content produced by users themselves and not by journalists - my Slovenian colleague Andrej and I ran an experiment. We weren't really interested in just writing an article about the panel, we wanted to get users directly involved in the topic. So we posted a picture on Twitter of a burning oil refinery we found on Flickr and claimed the explosion happened this morning in Turin. The question was: would people believe us?
We took the tweeted reactions and UGC advice from experts and put it together into a video talking about the advantages and verification possibilities of user-generated content. One person we interviewed on the subject was Jochen Spangenberg, an innovation expert from Deutsche Welle's New Media department. He told the audience at the UGC panel about Reveal, a project that develops tools to verify content from social media users. Our coverage also included live tweets from labs and other panels and various data visualizations related to the Prix Italia.
Right? Wrong? Well, try it out!
I made a lot of new discoveries at the event, which was a little surprising since I thought I was already pretty savvy when it came to digital media. One new method was shooting a story every day with Snapchat, a smartphone app that's gotten a lot of buzz. Some media pros consider it a gimmick aimed at teenagers. But others are already producing journalistic content with it. At SkillsXchange we gave it a try. We also tackled the classic vox pop, but this time using a new format, Instagram. The platform lets you post pictures in real time, tag people in them and encouraged them to check out our blog.
Of course, these new ways of storytelling don't mean that the traditional methods are outdated. Basic journalistic skills remain the essential core of reporting. It's important to find the right format for each kind of content and to combine different elements. We used Soundcloud to embed audio in our online articles, such as my interview with the editor-in-chief of the newspaper "La Stampa" Mario Calabresi, after a panel that addressed the role of public-service media on the subject of migration. Calabresi explained why he decided to publish the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who drowned in the beginning of September in the Mediterranean. While the heartbreaking picture moved everybody, its publication divided the media. Here you can listen to the interview.
The week was a very enriching and inspiring experience for me. Every participant brought a different professional background - radio pro, video journalist or digital media expert. The SkillsXchange allowed me to discover new tools and ways to approach my work. And even though as a DW trainee I already came from an international organization - this kind of intercultural work presented a whole range of new, exciting challenges. As a young journalist, you're often caught between wanting to really innovate and being cautious in order to meet the expectations of others. In Turin we had the fantastic opportunity to experiment for a week and explore the limits of creativity. And we were very lucky to have as our coordinator Madiana Asseraf, a young and very motivated social media expert who's a senior online development manager at EBU. The SkillsXchange program was her brainchild.
Thanks to the traineeship…
The first months of my traineeship at DW were the best preparation possible for the creative coverage with the SkillsXchangers in Turin. We trainees worked on a similar project at the Global Media Forum - the international conference of Deutsche Welle - in June 2015. During our six months of seminars, DW gave us the freedom to experiment with new media and put our own ideas into action.
In a globalized media world, it's crucial to be able to work internationally. I chose the DW traineeship exactly because of this aspect. In addition, I think that new forms of storytelling will be very important ways of reporting in the future - even if they seem unconventional or even playful right now. That also relates to public-service media. For us as journalists this is the only way to reach younger audiences and to stay relevant in the age of Netflix, YouTube and the expanding group of new media platforms. I'm looking forward to meeting the other SkillsXchangers again soon. We're staying in contact since one thing is crystal clear: This project shouldn't just be a one-time thing. It should turn into an established institution with regular meetings and opportunities for creative exchange.