At Axiom News, we say we work in collaboration with organizations to tell the grassroots stories that can help shape the organization’s future. Rarely, though, is that as clearly captured as it is when we, as generative journalists, are able to interact in a daily activity with those whose stories we tell.
A few weeks ago, I arrived to “do a story” about a neat program at a long-term care home — its parent company is one of our clients. The activity staff had begun an afternoon current events program with residents. A good handful would meet for tea and talk about the latest headlines in the local newspapers.
I wanted to tell the story because it was unusual, new and worthy of appreciation through the online news service we publish.
As I walked into the dining room where the event was being hosted, I noticed the facilitator of the group holding up the recent front page from a local newspaper, the Peterborough Examiner. I hadn’t seen it yet, but I recognized the photo: it was a picture of a friend of mine, above the fold, in full colour. He was demonstrating something about the ash tree borer, a bug that is killing Ontario’s ash trees, and had recently been discovered locally.
I failed to hold back any excitement and blurted out, “Hey — I know that guy!” to the great delight of the elderly residents around the table.
I didn’t stop there. Not only did I know him, but I’d written the media release that was sent to the local media to alert them of the story.
“You mean you have the inside scoop?” the facilitator of the group asked, with a nicely balanced mix of astonishment and relief.
Getting a conversation going in the group isn’t always easy, even though everyone is gathered to chat. Sometimes, the facilitator comes up dry.
So, notebook and pen in hand, camera slung over my shoulder, I joined the table. I answered the questions. How did they find it? How did you find out? What did you do then?
They had other, meatier questions too.
“What’s happening to local newspapers?” one resident asked in reference to the closure of a long-time operation in their locale. That opened a conversation that might not be something you’d expect at a tea party in a long-term care home: online journalism.
The facilitator was called away to a phone call so I kept the conversation going, despite the fact that I don’t have any idea how to talk to very elderly people, and had never attended the group before.
The big story of the week had been the train crash in Lac-Megantic, but that was a little too tragic for a tea party. I flipped the page of the newspaper and remembered I’d heard about the three-toed sloths that were being adopted by a local zoo after losing their home at the zoo in Calgary following the flood.
They liked that story, and it brought back memories and chatter about the times they’d been to the zoo over their lives.
In the end, I was changed. I had, inadvertently, brought something to the table of a client that had enriched their experience.
So often, I appreciate the moments that I am enriched by the people I meet and the stories I tell; they may not always know this, but it is the reason I chose journalism as a profession. To think that my own experience can enrich others is an entirely new way of looking at it.
And, one that merits many more experiments. Collaboration, after all, is about sharing strengths.