Conference info

Meera Selva and Rachael Jolley on presenting stories to different cultural audiences

Rachael Jolley, Editor of Index for Censorship, and Meera Selva, from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, sit down to discuss writing for a global audience, the art of a successful pitch and the state of journalism.

“People find it really difficult to think about a global audience,” Jolley says. “Everyone is so used to thinking about it from their own perspective. Often the stories people are pitching they have a knowledge in, but it’s a story that ‘s already out there. Stories need to make sense to people in France, Argentina, Spain. You might know that this is the minister for education, but does your audience? You need to be able to take a step away.”

They discuss how important it is to think outside of your social and cultural bubble. They keep referring to how pitches need to look outside of their own perspective and look at their story from an external perspective and whether the story still stands up.

They say it’s important to make it clear, ‘why are you the person telling this story?’. “in your pitch, you have to explain precisely why you’re telling this story. You don’t necessarily have to be from that community at all,” Salva explains. “You could offer a comparative perspective; it could be that you’re politically safer to report on the issue. For example, you could go to Russia, and then have the safety of being able to again leave. You have to quite clearly express this in the pitch.”

Discussing the opportunities for freelance, Jolley asks Selva whether she thinks that a decrease in staff jobs is a good opportunity for freelancers. Selva is hesitant towards this.

“Yes, there’s opportunity, but there’s a risk,” she says. “Budgets are being cut, and this is why there’s more opportunity for freelancers because there are fewer people being employed as staff writers. In a healthy world, it’s a mix of both. Falling budgets are good for anyone. But I do think that there’s the opportunity for freelancers to reach more editors. In the digital age, there’s more opportunity to catch editors attention.”

She goes on to speculate that the very thing that was accused of ruining our attention spans, is the very thing that is liberating longform journalism. “There’s no point in regurgitating the short bits off of social media. Is the world of journalism moving towards long form because they can get so many short snippets of news from social media?”

They both see social media as a place for opportunity. They open up the discussion to the audience, with many speaking about how they have been able to interact with editors online, how they’ve been able to share their work to wider and more global audiences, and the opportunity to find work online.

Salva also talks about how social media helps you build a “personal brand”, which she says is even more important in many ways to global audiences. “Your citizenship matters to global audiences; If you’re British that’s how you’re going to be perceived. You need to define it so people don’t define it for you. Create the image that you want someone in a foreign country to have of you,” she says.

Returning back to the matter of longform journalism, it’s good news, Jolley says.

“We’ve always been an advocate of longform journalism at the Index on Censorship,” Jolley explains. “We think that the world has swung round with us. Four years ago everything, had to be 400 words, we were told that everyone has the attention span of a flea. It’s really interesting how this has changed.”

Words by Juliette Rowsell