We all know kids who can’t sit still, who never seem to listen, who don’t follow instructions no matter how clearly you present them, or who blurt out inappropriate comments at inappropriate times. There’s actually a technical term for this: ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder. ADD isn’t a disease; it’s a condition that many children experience at some point.
In November 2013, IUCN, GIZ, and ISPONRE organized a training course on coastal ecosystem services in the Mekong Delta’s coastal provinces for 35 journalists. The course included one and a half days of class work in HCMC and a 3-day field trip to Ben Tre, Soc Trang, or Ca Mau. We learned a lot about what interests journalists and even more importantly, what doesn’t.
The key message is the need to treat journalist as if they were ADD kids. They have a short attention span and if they don’t see or hear anything newsworthy they’ll quickly lose interest. We learned the hard way. The 3-hour lecture on journalist writing given by an international specialist was too long. They would have preferred a shorter and more interactive session delivered in Vietnamese. In additions, longer field trips would draw their attention more than training time.
The field trip that attracted the most participants and proved the most successful was the one to Ca Mau. This was mainly because we had an interesting story to tell about improving livelihoods and protecting mangroves through a project, implemented by SNV and IUCN, to certify organize shrimp farmers. The journalists were briefed on what they would see before they left in HCMC and this was very much a case of “under promise and over deliver”.
In Soc Trang, the journalists were satisfactory to see a GIZ-supported bamboo T-fences that have been built to trap mud and expand the coastline, and a mangrove co-management system that’s a major improvement over the previous household-based forest protection contracts. However, the long travel times and short periods spent at each site discouraged some journalists.
The field trip to Ben Tre was less successful because it was more about what we were planning to do rather than what we’d accomplished. It was a reminder that if you make the effort to bring a busload of journalists to a remote destination, you should show them things that they can quickly grasp and respond to, not just an activity list.
Journalists, of course, are not ADD kids but they share some of the same symptoms and if we are to work effectively with them, we need to have the stories clear in our own minds first. And journalists need to acquire the creative writing skills for which the Vietnamese school system is not renowned.
Mr. Jake Brunner - IUCN Programme Coordinator (Viet Nam, Cambodia and Myanmar) and Ms. Nguyen Thuy Anh - Communications and Outreach Officer (IUCN Viet Nam)