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How I overcame the challenges of participatory journalism

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Cafébabel

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We’re launching a series of informal articles written by Cafébabel staff to explain the changes the magazine is going through. Most importantly: a new editorial line, new sections, new plans, new faces... in short, it's a whole new world!

How to reconcile participatory journalism and a job well done? Well, it’s been one of Cafébabel’s biggest challenges, but we’ve learned how. 

Charles, a new contributor that I met a few months ago at a festival in Paris, has just published his first article in our online magazine. It’s our best article so far this year in terms of visibility and reach. But it’s neither the numbers nor the sound box that make me proud. It’s all of the work we did together before we published the article, all of the personal feedback and constructive conversations that count. That may sound pompous or pedantic, but it’s the truth. It’s the human aspect that comes with being an editor, things like following up with new contributors and helping them all throughout the writing process, that will stay with me forever.

From the very start, Cafébabel’s main goal was to provide guidance to its contributors in their writing process. But I’m not going to lie; guiding a community of volunteer contributors is not for the faint of heart. It can take a very long time and it doesn’t always work out.  The process of writing a quality journalistic piece can’t be done in a heartbeat – it happens gradually, step by step.

Today, Cafébabel is ready to promise something new (editorially-speaking): holding on to our participatory aspect without cutting back on quality. And the challenge lies in this ambitious promise. Young contributors who aren’t necessarily journalists will continue to write for us but with longer, more in-depth and more researched articles.

The delicacy of my mission as assistant editor of the French version is in making sure I give the contributors the boost they need. How can I ask them to rework their articles without offending them? It’s all about empathy, knowing how much effort the contributor is willing to make as well as understanding their mind state.

I was clear with Charles from the beginning: we still can’t pay our contributors and, on top of that, we’re asking them to work harder. Is that asking too much? No, because I’ve seen how valuable guiding a contributor in the writing process can be. In doing so, you build a relationship of trust by coming up with ideas, helping the contributor, and in turn fostering loyalty and enthusiasm within your community. I’m convinced that with people like Charles, we will succeed in maintaining a participatory European magazine with high journalistic standards.

Translated from Le Cafébabel nouveau : mon défi du participatif 

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