By NYX MCLEAN, Grocott’s Mail engagement editor
During our online sessions with students, we go over the week’s stories, discuss stories they are working on, explore new story ideas, and go over our social media posts. My favourite part of those sessions has been showing the students how the community responds to their stories. As we have been doing this for almost a month, something else is taking over as my favourite thing: seeing how our students respond to the community’s feedback and engagement with their stories.
There is something immensely satisfying in finding your work out there, the story you have crafted, the words woven in just the right way to convey what is, in essence, an experience you have had as a journalist – be it interviewing, observing, or researching – into something that others will read or have read to them.
But what social media is giving us in the way of the stories woven by our students is reach and immediate engagement. We are receiving comments or reactions to the posts that carry the stories our students have written. Those comments and reactions tell us how the stories are landing with our readers and whether they are meaningful.
We can show students what is being said about their stories and the new conversations that emerge from that story. This includes comments or reactions that are not positive.
While they may be difficult to share with the students, it is a necessary part of learning to engage with readers and audiences; to learn that there are people who will disagree with your work. We use these moments to teach our students how to continue to have conversations with those in disagreement, create space for listening, and maybe learn something from this interaction.
Through this, we can witness the development of our students, as they become more sure of themselves as journalists. They can see that the nights of writing after days of research and trying to set up interviews in a pandemic world means something to the community they are serving with their stories. This is a big step in their journeys as journalists; they apply their training in a real-world context, with a real community, and with real consequences.
It takes a particular kind of courage to show up and follow stories when you know that there are readers on the other side who now, through digital media, can respond in real-time to your work. And our students do it every week; they show up.
I am proud of them and the work they are doing. I am proud of the connections they are forming with the community of Makhanda and how they see themselves concerning this town and its people.
I want to invite you as readers of Grocott’s Mail to engage with us, share your thoughts on stories or story ideas with us, and be part of the development of Grocott’s Mail and the training of the next generation of journalists. Being open with us about the stories you read helps us bring you stories that matter and tell them in ways that are meaningful to you.