By the people, TH!NK3

‘It’s about the people’ was the phrase that kept making itself heard over the two days of the registration conference for the TH!NK3 blogging competition. The theme is development but it all comes down to how it affects people.

For the two days 22-23 March, the people involved were the 100 participants who had signed up to blog about this round’s theme. We came from countries from all corners of the world such as Mexico, United States, Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, UK, Portugal, South Africa, Iceland and Romania. We were all gathered in Brussels to begin our journey on evaluating how countries around the world had progressed in “facing the biggest issues known to man“. 10 years ago, world leaders embraced the challenge of such goals as ending poverty and hunger, providing universal education, and promoting women’s rights. Now with five years before the Millennium Development Goals are meant to be achieved UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010 to boost progress towards them. We were gathered together to write and report about global cooperation and sustainable development in the lead up to the summit.

The competition is organised by the European Journalism Centre and follows TH!NK2 which focused on Climate Change and TH!NK which focused on the European Parliament elections.

We all gathered together for a three-course dinner within a casual environment designed to promote introductions between us and provide a closer glance at the competition itself. The participants did not need to be bloggers to be chosen but to be in with a chance to win a reporting experience, to either New York, Asia or Africa, 20 posts need to be written between March 24 and the end of August. Like it or not we would end up being bloggers and part of the media.

This information was presented during the dinner and afterwards a few groups of people went out to explore the city via its many bars through the side streets in the city centre. The late night excursions were reflected in the red eyes of more than a few of the participants at the all-day conference.

The schedule however provided for much interest and enthusiasm. The focus on development was augmented by the training and encouragement in journalism with tips on how to best promote, structure and utilise our work.

Marina Ponti, Director of Europe for the Millennium Campaign, provided the keynote speech and introduced us to the idea that “[t]he main obstacle is not lack of resources, or lack of technology. It’s the lack of political will”.

A panel of development journalists provided an international dimension of coverage with perspectives and examples from Guy Degen (independent journalist and trainer), Linord Rachel Moudou (Voice of America), Helmut Osang (DW), Thomas Seifert (Die Presse) and moderator Oliver Wates. They kept coming back to the idea that the issues may be overarching and affect nations and organisations but ultimately the effect is always local.

Most of the participants had some passing link to journalism, whether it was as practising, aspiring or student journalists. Some had a little trouble in making the transition from ‘reading’ the media to ‘being’ the media. Why do the press get it wrong? questioned one audience member and why aren’t they interested in important stories? Why Tiger Woods rather than starving children. Oliver Wates, former Reuters development journalist and trainer, stressed objectivity, addressing both sides of a story, and the two dimensions of importance and interest.

Whether people learn about slums in India through Slumdog Millionaire or about the human sacrifices in trade via Blood Diamond, we are now the ones responsible for getting the message out. So it begins.

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