Opinion/ Comment

Opinion article – Why we gather: A short letter on the importance of journalism forums

Written by Cristian Lupșa, Journalist/Current chair of the European Press Prize preparatory committee

This past February, some of us on the Preparatory Committee of the European Press Prize met in Bucharest to pick this year’s nominees in all six categories. There were editors in chief, data experts, writers, investigative reporters, editors, all excited for the chance to read great work, but also for the opportunity to be together.

We walked the city, dined, were up late in bars, and, because we just couldn’t get enough, we also took turns speaking at an event I organized for the community of local journalists. It was a series of lightning talks (15-minutes), some Q&A, followed by coffee, cookies, then lunch. Afterwards, some in the audience told me that, although it was Saturday morning, it was what they needed – a jolt of inspiration, a few reminders, and new tools to try.

The truth is that we deplete our resources in the daily grind, and although we try to stay connected on various platforms, or read up on one another in the industry press, the work is too demanding. So, we look to the next gathering in our calendar.

It sounds so basic, but this is why we journalists gather: to commiserate, to complain, to belong, but also to ask “how did you do it?”, to learn a new trick or two, to plan a common project, and just refill the gas in the tank.

We gather to keep going, to find partners to collaborate with, to get ideas on how to become better in the field and stronger as organizations.

It’ll be the same in Athens for this year’s Forum. I know because I’ve read the wishes of people in our Prize community – which will also gather there. They are looking forward to being inspired by colleagues, to exchanging ideas, to joining networks, to finding projects to collaborate on. They come because, as one wrote, this is a group “of people who understand the loneliness of this job, how time consuming it is, and who knows how to support a writer”. They come for facilitated conversations or informal chats so they can get “more perspectives from people sharing how they overcame obstacles – on the field, in the newsroom”.

A dear friend on the Prize committee says many international grants have “trained our newsrooms to death”. I’ve also read poignant criticism asking if the resources spent on large scale events couldn’t have gone to struggling newsrooms and thus achieve more immediate impact. I also know the financial toll of attending one of these gatherings without any support can be rough. This is all true, and there is much room for improvement: we need to give smaller players larger stages, help guests from all over to participate, and make sure that if we’re spending serious money, we’re also designing for maximum takeaways.

Still, gatherings remain the best way we found to celebrate each other, recharge, and learn. Remote work is great, but remote gathering not so much. Your stories are just too close by and tempting. Once the work is removed, once the energy of a crowd of peers gets going, once that feeling of belonging sets in, you remember why it’s all worth it, even if it’s hard.

These days it often feels like it’s harder than it’s ever been.

Which is precisely why we gather.

See you in Athens and beyond.