Prepared by Arlie Douglas, ABC Rural, Queensland
It was the wrong end of a 14-hour day when I was told I’d won the 2009 Alltech Young Leaders in Rural Journalism award. I was elated, shocked and tickled pink, in no particular order!
I’d been at Queensland’s largest agricultural field days gathering stories, kicking tyres on new model tractors, marvelling at working dogs in action, watching schoolkids parade shiny rotund steers and of course talking weather.
It was a usual day for me. I’m one of nine rural reporters in Queensland, one of 35 around Australia who all work tirelessly for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Rural Department.
I’m the rural reporter at ABC Southern Queensland and this is my first job in the media; I’ve worked for the ABC for five years now.
The opportunity to put forward some of my ideas for journalism and reporting was a fabulous honour and I’m heartened the judges saw my entry as a valid concept.
I was really interested in two areas, the future of rural journalism in an online world and training and mentoring for young reporters like myself.
My knowledge of what the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists stood for was limited but I had called a number of colleagues who had attended congresses in the past.
So armed with that knowledge, all that was left was to pack my bags and get on a plane bound for Fort Worth, Texas in the United States of America.
THE IFAJ CONGRESS HIGHLIGHTS:
I smile even as I write about the highlights of the 2009 IFAJ Congress. What a wonderful week.
It’s rare you strike an event that manages to hold your interest for the whole program but this one did. The sessions were very informative and touched on issues of international significance; I think particularly of the podium discussion about carbon sequestration.
The title of the session was ‘the path to promise’ and it explored the concept of carbon sequestration – the ability for farmers to capture and store atmospheric carbon in their soils to reduce greenhouse gases. Two panellists talked about the potential in the USA for farmers to be paid to sequester carbon. In Australia, the debate surrounding carbon sequestration is not that advanced and it was interesting to note the different approach of the two countries.
I also got a great deal from the session which looked at the photography competition. Just seeing the extraordinary work has inspired me to work harder to produce better images.
The field tours were well organised and getting out and about in Texas has certainly whet my appetite to travel more in the Lone Star state. To see first- hand the various enterprises, from the Quarter Horse breeding facilities to the 10,000-head feedlot dairy, was a privilege.
Overall the biggest highlight of the Congress was meeting like-minded people. I feel I’ve made some firm friends in the time I spent in Fort Worth and without a doubt some fantastic contacts, some of whom I’ve already called upon.
As with any good conference there was far more information being offered than could possibly be absorbed but plenty of it has stuck.
Upon reflection probably the most valuable lesson for me was watching another Australian journalist and employee of the ABC operate. Whilst Pip Courtney and I work for the same organisation our roles are vastly different; she’s primarily the senior reporter with the ABC’s flagship rural current affairs program, Landline – www.abc.net.au/landline/
Pip’s achievements have really shown me what rural journalists are capable of and what I can aspire to in the future. In the United States she used new equipment which allowed her to easily upload stories, photographs and video to her work. It meant she could file from ‘the field’ and produce outstanding work in a timely fashion.
The blog and subsequent work Pip has done shows just what’s possible with the right technology and a skilled, inquisitive journalist. blogs.abc.net.au/events/saddleup/
Even as a radio journalist my role in 2009 has differed significantly from my job in 2004, especially in relation to the online content I produce. At the congress one of the highlights was looking at the award-winning photography – it highlighted the impact of an image and it’s something I hope to use more of in my online work.
The good news is the opportunities are endless but more people are realising just that and it’s going to be more than a challenge to stay ahead of the pack.
WHERE THE FUTURE LIES:
With the IFAJ Congress completed and having to get back into the swing of work it’s timely I revisit the two concepts I wanted to explore in my original entry.
The online world is becoming bigger everyday and it’s clear rural journalism simply has to be part of it; I think many people from the sector are already doing it very well. If nothing else the trip exposed me to some truly wonderful journalists who are already pushing boundaries in the online world.
For me personally it’s now a challenge to simply keep up but also push for my organisation to look at what other media outlets are doing and give us the opportunity and equipment to produce new and exciting content.
With regard to mentoring and guidance, I’ve been working within my own organisation to see what could be useful. It’s clear what happens at an organisational level would be quite different to the larger scale proposal that the IFAJ could be part of but it’s exciting nevertheless.
The conference gave me the opportunity to meet a member of the executive of the IFAJ and discuss further the opportunity for a mentoring program. In the discussion I had with IFAJ General Secretary, Owen Roberts, we talked about using an online medium and thought the IFAJ web site could be a possible host.
The concept, whilst still on the drawing board, would operate as a blog-style space and would draw on the expertise of some of IFAJ’s senior journalists and photographers. The blog space would require a moderator to monitor the content and organise new posts.
The next challenge would be to attract young journalists to the space and I’d call upon some of the other young journalists from within IFAJ to tap into their networks and pass the word around. I would envisage a service that sends an email to alert members of new postings on the blog space.
It’s my belief that this could be a simple and effective means of mentoring, giving more experienced journalists a forum to pass on their vast experience and younger members of the profession an access point.
There could be subsequent benefits for the Federation itself as I believe it would attract more traffic to the IFAJ web site and potentially lead to more people wanting to become members. I hope to be in contact with the executive of the IFAJ to look at developing the concept further.
In summary, the honour of winning the Alltech Young Leader in Rural Journalism wasn’t just a trip to the United States but the start of an even more exciting journey. I anticipate there’ll be challenges as the online world takes us to places we’ve never dreamed.
On the same journey we cannot forget the past and especially the lessons learnt by rural journalists at the coal face. The knowledge and experience of those who have forgedcareers in this industry is too precious to lose and there are plenty of young professionals more than willing to listen and learn.