Letter from Poynter India’s Workshop Team

Kochi, India, Workshop Participants. March 25, 2014 — One of the nicest traditions at The Poynter Institute is the seminar photograph. This is a record of a special time with colleagues and faculty and of new friends made.

When I first thought about the idea of bringing a group of faculty members to India to conduct a series of workshops, I had that moment of self doubt that affects most of my new or innovative projects. That pesky inner voice of doubt whispered: What could we teach that would be relevant? What will the participants want from our teaching? Would we have an impact?

After three workshops and traveling more than 500 miles within India (not counting the 8,000 miles to get here), I found my answers (and doubt silencer) in a participant’s tweet:

Teaching in any new environment is always a challenge, but organizing a workshop with six great teachers who had yet to work together was a bit of a magic trick. Any credit for our success goes to them. I’ve organized workshops at Poynter but never something like this. To me, the real magic emerged during the first workshop on the first: It was the collaborative spirit of the faculty members, Vidisha Priyanka, Tom Huang, Sue Bullard, Casey Frechette, Zella Bracy and Jeffry Couch.

Sue Bullard, left, and Zella Bracy, right, take a selfie with a group at the Chennai workshop.

Later we would joke as we walked through airports and through crowded and bustling street markets that “no Poynter faculty would be left behind.” It was in the seminar where that saying came to life, with each faculty member helping the other, each presenter knowing that if there was a stumble, a fellow faculty could share a perspective and add to the teaching. It was a generosity of spirit.

That generosity was also in the seminar room, with participants sharing their ideas and experiences. It was about helping Poynter faculty to learn about India and its journalism training needs — as well as its strengths. It even extended to helping with a shopping trip.

That tweet from the Kochi workshop participant also reminded me about the impact of social media when it comes to capturing key learning points from a workshop. It has been fascinating to see which points resonate with participants. And they even served as a “tease” from one workshop to the next. Capturing those tweets for our Storify pages was a challenge as sometimes the flow was fast and furious.

Zella Bracy (second from right) and Howard Finberg (right) speak with participants at the workshop in Kochi.

Since the faculty is the heart of the workshop, here are their own impressions:

Sue Bullard, associate professor of journalism at the University Nebraska, Lincoln

India is colorful, chaotic and charming all at once. At first glance, from the backseat of an auto rickshaw, you can’t help but think about how different we are. Crazy traffic — motorized rickshaws, cars, buses and motor scooters packed with families — snakes its way down crowded streets where lanes and rules appear to be suggestions at best. Markets teem with vendors selling fresh coconut juice, silk scarves and aromatic spices. India sounds different than the quiet plains of Nebraska too. In India, the blast of honking horns, the melodic call to prayer, the Babel of many languages spoken on crowded streets remind us we’re across the world.

Yet despite all of the differences, the Poynter workshops show a different reality. Editors, educators and students here have much in common with us too. They are passionate about journalism, about exposing wrongs, about learning new ways to tell the stories of India. They’re curious, challenging and eager to be heard. On the first day of each series of workshops, we all are cautious, wondering if this will work. By the third day, we’ve bonded. We share a common goal, making journalism succeed despite the challenges of today’s world.

Tom Huang, right, discusses a point with Kochi workshop attendees.

Jeffry Couch, executive editor, News-Democrat, Belleville, IL

India has been a trip of discovery for me.

I’ve learned that we have much in common with our Indian colleagues. We have similar missions – to do excellent public service journalism that holds public officials and institutions accountable. We’re connected by many of the same professional values, such as accuracy and fairness. We’re passionate about what we do, and we want to do it well.

I’ve also discovered that we are very different. Indian journalists face challenges that we don’t have, including issues of personal safety. Newspaper circulation is mostly growing in India, and digital transformation at most places is in its early stage.

Like Howard, I had a twinge of doubt about what American journalists and educators could possibly offer that’s useful to Indian journalists. That’s been my biggest surprise. Indian journalists have been hungry to hear our view on craft issues, digital transformation and new tools. They’ve been engaged in our teaching, and have pitched into discussions with vigor.

Teaching in India has been invigorating and exhausting. Thanks to our Indian friends and my teaching colleagues, the trip will rank as one of my most rewarding professional experiences.

Zella Bracy, business development for Tru Measure, a division of The McClatchy Company

I have always believed that the work of journalists really matters, that journalism is needed to support democracy. The research I undertook to prepare for my session truly drove home in a painful manner the brutal financial realities that affected newsrooms in the past few years. The data around the future could also be perceived as bleak. The facts around the loss of revenue are enough to jade even the heartiest optimist.

Yet, through the days of training, as I listened and learned from the participants, my optimism returned, fed by the passion from the students and my colleagues. I plan on using the powerful combination of passion and optimism to double down on working to drive revenue in support of great journalism because my belief in the work continues to thrive.

 

Vidisha Priyanka, left, and Howard Finberg, middle, listen to a Kochi workshop participant.

Casey Frechette, visiting assistant professor, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

As our time in India draws to a close, I know I’ll look back on these workshops with great gratitude and fondness. In each city we’ve visited, we’ve received a warm welcome from journalists committed to improving their craft. In some cases, attendees traveled great distances to be with us. Participation in our sessions has been outstanding, creating a rich dialog and a chance to begin learning about the complexities of Indian media and society. The chance to discover India and learn from participants alongside gifted, generous colleagues and friends has made this a truly special experience.

Tom Huang, Sunday and enterprise editor, Dallas Morning News and Poynter Diversity Fellow

One of the most powerful moments for me came during the Kochi workshop. During one of our first sessions, a veteran journalist decided to play the role of embittered cynic. Several times during a presentation on brainstorming, he reacted dismissively, saying that there was no way to come up with new story ideas or new approaches to storytelling. Now, I like tough questions, but I grew frustrated, because I felt that he was trying to encourage a certain closed-mindedness.

But over the course of three days, something seemed to click with him. I think he began to understand that, even though we may fail as we try new approaches, it’s important to at least try, because that is how you learn. At the end of our final session, to all of our surprise, the journalist stood up and publicly thanked Poynter. Later, he walked up to me, looked me in the eye and thanked me for my teaching.

I was struck, then and there, by how much we share as journalists, whether from the U.S. or from India. We all face the fear of change. We are all going through profound change in our newsrooms because of the digital disruption. I realized that Poynter’s journey to India was not only about teaching and learning, but also about reassuring one another that we can figure this out together.

Vidisha Priyanka, interactive learning producer at Poynter and a native of India

In my head, I knew the Poynter training would be well-received in India. After all, we are a people who pay a lot of attention to good education and training. In my heart, I had a little bit of trepidation about how many people would finally be able to make it to the training. The reality is, that ongoing, onsite training in journalism is hard to come by here. As people streamed in for more every day of the three-day workshop, I was overwhelmed by their eagerness and enthusiasm. The passion for journalism in the room was clearly palpable and in turn we gained energy from the people in the room. It was a good feeling to give back something of what I had learned over the years to my own people.

Just as important as the faculty’s reflections are the thoughts of the participants. At the end of each workshop, we ask for their thoughts about what they have learned. Here are a couple of reflections recorded on the project Web site that touches our hearts, which is a Poynter experience, no matter where you are in the world.

From the Chennai workshop:

 “Poynter has broken communication barriers and brought together all types of journalists offering a bright future for them. It’s a pointer to professional excellence in journalism.”

From the Kochi workshop:

“The training was mesmerizing. With three days touched all the subjects comprehensively .And switched a synergy of change process to equip Indian journalists to meet the future challenges and to change the perception of luddites in newsrooms. The windows of mind were opened, filled with the fresh air of knowledge .And refueled with spirit of integrity and commitment. We were flying to cope with the enthusiastic team of Poynter.”

That’s a good way to end this letter from India.

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