What a development aid worker learned from journalists

Notes to self for future encounters with journalists:

When you are trying to explain what your project is really about, try and explain it so that your own grandfather or grandmother would truly grasp the idea. Try to explain it in one sentence. Then simplify that sentence a bit more.

Simplified does not mean simple. Once your project is explained so that one can understand it, you will receive more detailed questions. This is when you can start the in-depth discussion. But to get there, you have to think of yourself as a person with a business idea giving a pitch to a critical audience. Do your best and make sure your story is interesting.

Do not hide behind jargon. It will never make a good story and it will bore your audience. Ownership, sustainability, efficiency, community-led, participatory – don’t drop the usual development jargon to make your sentences sound more professional.

Seeing a new building most likely is not the most interesting story for a journalist – a building does not look too interesting in a photograph. Focus on showing your results through human stories which make every result more concrete. How did the project change this person’s life? What’s his/her name?

If something has proved to be challenging, be open about it – hiding challenges or problems creates suspicion. Mistakes and failures are ok when one learns from them.

If you have genuine enthusiasm towards what you do (in your project), it will show, and it will evoke interest.

Never underestimate the power of humor and jokes.

And finally: journalists are equal discussion partners. They are curious. Their main goal is not to eat you alive.


Background: 16 Finnish journalists, along with officials from the Embassy of Finland in Addis Abeba and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Finland, visited Ethiopia in March 2015. Three days were spent in the Amhara region getting to know the Finnish funded bilateral projects and NGOs there. I had the great honor to coordinate the overall programme at the field level, what a ride!

3 thoughts on “What a development aid worker learned from journalists

  1. Pingback: 2015 | Selam Selam

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