Learning Journalism at the World Economic Forum’s Under-30 Meeting

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GENEVA, Switzerland — During the recent five-day annual summit of the World Economic Forum’s Under-30 community (called Global Shapers), its 450 young participants were able to pick up a four-page magazine every morning, printed in full color and filled with fresh content from the previous day.

The magazine was the result of a team of 20 millennials’ first foray into journalism. During the conference days and several months of prep leading up to it (including a training session provided by Pro Journo), the team picked up a handful of skills in digital media—and, perhaps most important, learned to hunt for meaningful content and stories in large, community-based meetings, which are becoming more popular among millennials.

Meeting participants start the day with some morning reading.

Photo courtesy of the Geneva Global Shapers Hub

Meeting participants start the day with some morning reading.

In May, Giulia Zanzi, the Geneva Hub’s communications lead and second-in-charge, had the idea of starting a daily magazine team, with the long-term goal of positioning her hub as a “connector hub” where the participants would be instrumental in bringing together other hubs. In a meeting with Luigi Matrone (head of the Geneva Hub), Wadia Ait Hamza and Mehli Nurluel, both community managers of the WEF, “Wadia, Mehli and I were part of the European Youth Parliament,” she says. “There was a daily magazine for each meeting, happening every six months. So we were inspired by that.”

Even though the main daily magazine was published in print, Giulia’s team, like those in a modern newsroom, embraced multiple channels and emerging digital tools such as Periscope, a live video-streaming app. “For the magazine, the first goal was…to create permanent memories, so they [the participants] will have this 10 years later and remember the meeting. The second goal was to share this meeting with people back home.” 

For the team members, an eclectic mix of students, engineers, business consultants, and researchers, just to name a few, the skills gained ranged from learning to use digital media tools to sharpening communications skills and teamwork. But the biggest learning curve was in trying to produce stories in a structured and meaningful manner.

For Mohamed Raad, an electrical engineer by trade, the most difficult part was “to remember all the people I’ve met, and to remember all the stories. There were so many people and so many stories.”

He adds, “I’ve always seen them [reporters] as jobs where you record somebody and take back what they said, word for word, put it in an article and publish it. But there is a lot more structure in terms of how an article progresses. You need to have background knowledge of what you’re reporting on. And to get a story, you have to be very attentive of what’s going around you. Even if a person might bore you at first, you have to listen. The whole thing about journalism is that you have to scavenge for content—it doesn’t just come to you.” 

The abundance of stories waiting to be told is both a blessing and a curse at meetings as diverse as this.

Enabled by millennials’ nearly ubiquitous use of social media around the world, a growing number of cross-border communities cater to young people’s desire to lead a global and connected life, with ambitions to make a change for the greater good. But in a gathering of participants from nearly 170 countries, such as this one, it is difficult to find an overarching agenda that balances community building with catering to not only widely different cultural backgrounds but also the various operational and strategic challenges that hubs face locally.

“Sometimes, in these meetings, everyone says the same thing. So [by working as a reporter] it’s nice to get people’s unfiltered opinions,” says Ashley Pilipiszyn, a University of Geneva student and a veteran of many international sustainability-related meetings.

“I would’ve loved to write more about what the Shapers are actually talking about, and what problems they face on the ground. People had different ideas, so it would provide meaningful content rather than being just descriptive,” Pilipiszyn says.

This is only the fourth such meeting that the WEF has put together for the community’s hub leaders—but the community, focused on city-based projects, has doubled in size in the past three years. One advantage of such a diverse meeting and community is that hub leaders are able to learn from others how to mobilize, motivate and execute projects in challenging settings. “You [the curators] have to be clear about your objectives and bear the responsibility to make it happen. Most importantly, motivation has to come from the curators—they have to be part of the team,” Zanzi says.

For this project, she adds, “the most difficult thing was that it was completely something new. We didn’t have anything to start with, no benchmark. We just had a lot of passion to make it happen. But today I am extremely proud of my team,” she says on the last morning of the conference.

“Everyone is rewarded when we get asked, ‘When are you printing? Are you staying up over the night to print?’ in the morning…. I think we [are achieving] about 90 percent of what we set out to do,” she says, before hurrying back to finish the last 10 percent.

Magazines on display.

Pro Journo

Magazines on display.

Disclosure: Pro Journo served as an adviser to the team, whereby we provided journalism training and daily editing of the magazine. In return, Pro Journo received a travel stipend from the World Economic Forum to attend the meeting.

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