Moving beyond the rhetoric

By Nicholas Phythian

Moving beyond the rhetoric...

For many reporters, the challenge at any international gathering is to get beyond the rhetoric and statistics and make it relevant for the reader, the listener or the viewer back home.

Sometimes a keynote speaker offers a peg, turning the meeting itself into a news event.

As delegates gathered in Rome for the annual meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in the week that Pope Benedict announced his retirement, that was unlikely to happen.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation workshop on the fringe of the meeting offered journalists from around the world a chance to step back, share experiences and look for connections between what was happening in Rome and the reality back home.

“Every time, Reuters continues to enrich my pool of knowledge, and give me exposure to wonderful journalists and teachers from around the world,”  Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam from Pakistan's Express Tribune wrote afterwards. “It makes me think outside my bubble and sharpen my skills.”

The workshop, which ran from 13-15 February 2013, brought together 21 radio, television and text journalists from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asian Republics. Each brought their own unique experience of reporting on rural poverty.

What's change? 

Persuading your editor to publish a story about rural development can be difficult at the best of times. One approach is to look for change, and its impact on real people.

In Rome, keynote speaker Hui Liangyu of China briefed delegates on rural development there, a far cry from the previous year when billionaire Bill Gates ruffled feathers with a speech calling for public 'scorecards' to monitor the impact of projects and increase accountability.

The presence of a Chinese vice premier was a huge boost for IFAD but he gave little away about China's policy on some of the thornier development questions of the day, or on how Beijing planned to partner IFAD.

The Fund, one of three UN food or agriculture agencies based in Rome, functions like a bank but offers its clients expertise that goes way beyond financial advice. It works in partnership with other members of the development community, and national governments.

The Pope found time to send a message to the IFAD Governing Council. There was the hint of another story, when a senior IFAD official said partners from oil-rich states wanted IFAD to do more for them … in terms of sharing knowledge.

Either might have worked for some news editors back home, but not for everyone. Workshop participants had to find alternative story options.

Facilitators Miren Gutierrez and Nicholas Phythian were on hand to highlight promising story ideas and likely angles.

Some participants came under intense pressure from news editors to get to St Peter's Square and file stories on reactions to the Pope's historic announcement. That they managed to file on that as well as follow the workshop was a tribute to their journalistic ingenuity.

Originally posted on TrustMedia Alumni blog