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UN OCHA Begins StoryMaker Training

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UN OCHA Begins StoryMaker Training

When crises strike, the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is consistently among the first institutions to intervene.. On the scene when violence recently re-ignited in the Central African Republic and immediately responsive to devastation caused by the 2012 typhoon that struck Tacloban in the Philippines, OCHA field officers are among few responding organizations with access to areas affected by crisis. By partnering with Small World News and implementing their StoryMaker app, OCHA field staff leverage their unique access to a world the general public does not know by creating compelling stories no one else is telling and share them with the world. And they can do all of this, needing nothing more than a smartphone. Recognizing the importance of telling the story of their work from the field, OCHA’s communications office asked Small World News to provide training and mentoring to their Press Information Officers with the objective of empowering them to tell insightful stories from some of the most vulnerable places in the world. An all-in-one solution to creating and publishing stories, StoryMaker users focus on telling and sharing a compelling story with integrated guides, without being hampered by technical issues. Simple to learn and navigate, StoryMaker scales external communications objectives while supporting the generation of professional deliverables.

The March 2014 program launch transpired in Jordan and included twenty-seven OCHA field officers as well as their headquarters communications team. Equipped with varying degrees of experience in communications and public relations, trainees participated in an accelerated Small World News course in visual storytelling with a smartphone and the StoryMaker app. Despite the unusually brief convening for Phase One of this curriculum, trainees personally experienced great success in both learning the introductory curriculum and realizing the potential of this tool. Actively using StoryMaker throughout the program, trainees recognized diversity amongst their peers as they individually produced stories. These exercises aided in building camaraderie, compassion, and trust among participants allowing them to experience first-hand what information sharing can deliver for a large population of readers.

The trainees worked hard and came up with a fascinating array of interesting stories, from silly to saddening. While the approach varied greatly amongst participants, a number of themes were dominant, reflecting the similarities across much of UNOCHA’s work, despite offices and projects spanning the globe. Three stories, in particular, stood out.

In one case, two participants produced a story focusing on the impact of unemployment and interviewed a man working at the hotel as a chef. It was discovered that he had earned a master’s degree in computer science. Although there is a lack of jobs in that field, he found work as a chef at the hotel and doubles up by providing the IT support to the hotel.

Another group addressed the issue of orphans who have lost family due to tragedy. They made a humorous piece profiling three young cats the hotel has taken an affinity with. Their story profiled the cats struggle to find a place to live, in the face of opposition from hotel guests leading to their displacement.

Finally, the third group, who produced the best overall piece, was a fictional look at a woman displaced by a natural disaster. Although each of the individuals in the piece was acting, the combination of script and well-constructed visuals resulted in the creation of a story that provided each trainee a strong example of what they should try to produce during Phase Two of our program.

As Phase Two begins, Small World News will work closely with program trainees, OCHA field officers, back at their offices across the world. The continued curriculum includes Small World News advising them on choosing shots, interviewing ideal individuals, and coaching them through any technical difficulties they encounter. Sustained collaboration and mentoring will enrich their confidence in using StoryMaker and ensure overall program success for both OCHA and Small World News.

Small World News is looking forward to nurturing a relationship with OCHA. Sharing stories from refugees and people displaced by natural disasters and conflict will put a human face on some of the worst crises affecting the world today.

Please stay tuned for updates including additional outcomes of this program as their stories come in!

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Link: http://smallworldnews.com/blog/un-ocha-begins-storymaker-training
Asynchronous Social Media

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Asynchronous Social Media

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to tell stories better. Everyday emerging technology is altering the way we think of storytelling. Storytelling choices and methods should be rooted in a clear understanding of your goals and specific needs. These goals must also be tempered by your available resources. Finally you want to consider how your audience’s expectations also serve to mold your strategy.

For example, while more people join Twitter everyday, there are still many communities not represented there. When I was working in Libya in 2011, we started a hashtag #AskaLibyan to promote engagement between the international community and Libyan citizens. At the time internet connectivity was virtually nonexistent in Libya. Livestreaming would have been prohibitively expensive, if not impossible. However Twitter worked well, and provided a low bandwidth opportunity to create a relationship between individuals inside Libya and those abroad. As bandwidth increased and the Libyans running Alive in Libya increasingly focused their efforts on video production, the #AskaLibyan hashtag was left behind.

I was recently approached by Jessica Christian, Communications Director for Circle of Health International, about livestreaming from the Zaatari refugee camp, on an upcoming delegation to support Syrian mothers. I was initially skeptical, and a quick google seemed to confirm connectivity is very weak in the camp. I asked her a bit about her goals with livestreaming, and primarily she wanted to connect their donors and supporters with the work they helped create. Secondarily, she wanted to reduce the amount of post-production work that remained after the trip.

Livestreaming could be a great way to solve this, however the primary gain from “live” necessitates real-time interaction. Livestreaming has been a growing trend in mobile and social storytelling. It exploded during the Occupy movement, but has been growing for a long time. It’s easy to understand the appeal of “live” due to the increasingly real-time nature of the internet.  For Jessica and her colleagues in Jordan to engage in real-time with their supporters in Texas and elsewhere, she’d have to overcome a nine hour time gap. I suggested she consider the low connectivity in Jordan and the time gap an opportunity to try something different.

Using a unique hashtag she can create an asynchronous dialogue on Twitter that may also engage others outside of her network.  Telling her story in short bites sorted with a hashtag creates a collaborative narrative that her donors and supporters participate in. Add to that Twitter’s new photo-first policy and you have an even greater opportunity. Although much vaunted, video isn’t everything. A series of great portraits, with 140-character quotes from the subjects can bring distant communities to life. Sharing them on twitter, with a replicable hashtag creates the opportunity for a collaborative narrative, and may bring you surprising new voices.

 

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Link: http://smallworldnews.com/blog/asynchronous-social-media

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Working With Syrians in Istanbul

This account of SWN's workshop for Syrian media producers in partnership with IWPR was written by Mark Rendeiro, whose work can be seen at citizenreporter.org. A podcast featuring students from the workshop can be heard here. This past April, Louis Abelman and myself went to Istanbul to give a video story telling workshop specifically for Syrian reporters living and working in conflict zones. The workshop was a project from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and consisted of 5 days of class time, 4 of which were dedicated to video related details such as recording and editing.   The class was made up of about 12 students who live in cities such as Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zor, and Idlib. They were, on average, in their early 20's and all involved in either writing, photographing, or making video reports of war and life in their cities for mostly local online and offline media channels.

Probably the most eye opening detail about these participants was that hardly any of them had ever wanted to be reporters or journalists prior to the war.  2 years ago they were students at universities and technical institutions studying for non-media related careers. The outbreak of war was the catalyst that led them to this sense of personal responsibility to report for both Syrians and non-Syrians to inform them about what is happening where they live.  And in these last two years they had seemingly had a crash course in journalism, learning along the way, while dealing with the tremendous risk and losses that this war has brought them.

During the course of this workshop where we taught camera shots, fundamentals of editing, and discussed what makes a story interesting or compelling. Students also showed us their previous work.  It is a classic but frustrating moment to see examples of shaky and poor quality footage that was recorded at tremendous risk in what are hostile places where- had it been known they were filming, they could have been killed. While it is understood that having a clear and steady picture is much harder when you're dodging bullets and hostile soldiers, it is almost an unworthy risk if the video you record is impossible to look at or understand. That is the difficult balance of being very dedicated to reporting but not being well trained to do the best possible job in those circumstances. Thankfully such workshops do exist and organizations like the IWPR make the effort to not only get young reporters to Istanbul but to find those who are already dedicated and doing what they can, to then take a few days and get further training.

The level of experience and ability of students from when you get them to when they head back out into the field can always vary, especially when you have reporters that have a lot more on their mind than just how to do an overlay a clip in Premiere.  War trauma is a reality that very clearly plays a role in such a classroom, affecting how much people can learn and focus on any given day. Thankfully our Syrian students were across the board determined to learn and build upon what they know with each new project.

By the end of the week we had a few people who came out of the workshop capable of producing media that would interest and fit the quality standards of most 24 hour television news networks.  We had more people who had advanced from individuals who had never edited video to now being able to shoot and edit their own complete stories.  Many seemed to leave with a new outlook on what kind of stories would serve their purposes better, to shed light on the dire situation in their community.

It is a logistically and pedagogically challenging task to bring reporters out of a war zone temporarily, figure out what skills they have and what can be learned within a limited time frame, and then return them to their communities. It is also a very inspiring and humbling experience to teach skills, share experience, and in-turn learn from the talent and resolve that these young reporters showed us. Our hope now is that our efforts help them do better work, and that we can see them again, in a time of peace, in these beautiful places we have heard so much about.

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Link: http://smallworldnews.com/blog/working-with-syrians-in-istanbul