By Jennifer Neutel
‘Everyone in the workshop was simultaneously a student and a teacher’
A workshop on news organizations as participants in community-building modelled its own message at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany June 30, by facilitating small group discussions that created deep connections amongst participants.
Each of the five facilitators in the session, at the June 30 to July 2 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, took just one minute of the 90-minute time slot to speak on what brought them to the room. For the rest of the time the approximately 30 participants experienced a community-building exercise that drew them into deep discussions in groups of three.
“I could not have asked for better engagement and development than occurred in those 90 minutes with people from all over the world,” says Chuck Peters, a co-facilitator and president and CEO at The Gazette Company. A moment that gave him goose bumps was seeing European, Asian and African colleagues engaged in rich conversation and connection around their community engagement efforts.
“It was a many-to-many conversation. That was symbolic given that so much media is still ‘one-to-many’,” says Peter Pula, a co-facilitator and Axiom News founder and CEO.
Participants encountered each other through questions including: Why did you come to this room at this time? What common themes do you see amongst the three of you? What issues are facing your community and how could journalists engage in those issues? What gifts do you bring to a global community trying to develop best practices on these issues?
After sharing in the groups of three, the room came back together with an invitation to reflect their conversations to the large group. Then participants created new groups of three for the next question.
Travis J. Bockenstedt, a multimedia producer in residence at Wartburg College Department of Communication Arts, moderated the workshop.
“It was only fitting that we partnered with Axiom News and The Gazette Company to engage in a conversation about community building,” Bockenstedt says. The college’s Department of Journalism and Communication deeply values relationships that help it engage in conversation about using news media to build local communities, he says.
In addition to Pula, Peters and Bockenstedt, co-facilitators included Dr. Penni Pier, Wartburg College Department of Communication Arts department chair, and Benjamin Smith, an applied anthropologist.
The collaborative process between the facilitators was “completely fluid,” says Pier. Each organizer is a strong, creative and independent professional and there was an immediate bond. “The synergy was so refreshing and positive.”
“I believe that everyone in the workshop was simultaneously a student as well as a teacher; I think that is one of the best compliments I can give to the experience,” she says.
Peters notes at least three of the facilitators have been part of events led by community building and civic engagement thought leader Peter Block (who developed the Six Conversations That Matter), and have witnessed the power of getting the room involved in conversation.
Pula and Pier both recall the final exercise as a highlight. The group formed a circle and shared in two to five words their impression of the workshop. It was “incredibly positive and reaffirming,” Pier says.
After the workshop, a man working technical in the room said he had never seen anything like it, and wished he could have been in the group and had the experience.
Penni says she is grateful to her colleagues for engaging in this participatory exercise with her, and she feels her understanding of community was developed and shaped more because of the experience.
“I learned a great deal about myself by simply listening to others and their perspectives. It was an energizing experience for me as both a facilitator and a participant,” she says. “I would encourage more conference planners, programmers and presenters to opt for more interactive means of sharing and creating scholarship.”
Bockenstedt echoes the desire to create more “community-building evangelists” and expose more people and organizations to this type of work.
The facilitators are hopeful that the connections made will continue to develop. Many participants shared their contact information with Pier, who will look to create a virtual connection space.
“The best thing that could happen is that participants find opportunities to collaborate, share content, blog, create visions and new friendships,” Pula says.
Bockenstedt says he was impressed to learn more about the work of The Gazette Company and Axiom News. Thanks to their participation, he describes it as the best workshop in three years.
“The way we communicate with our audiences has changed. The opportunity for an institution of higher learning like Wartburg College to engage with organizations working to constructively disrupt journalism is important for our journalism program and our students,” Bockenstedt says.
Read The Gazette Company’s related story on this workshop.
— The Gazette Company’s We Create Here effort is one of three pilot sites participating in the ASNE/Journalism That Matters partnership exploring how and why news organizations are engaging with their communities. This story is written by Axiom News.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.