ICVolunteers' conference reporters contribute an important element to a conference that many professional reporters have lost: tons of motivation and a fresh perspective. With nearly ten years of experience in bringing together non-profit organizations and volunteer reporters, ICVolunteers manages to satisfy both parties.
It all started with the 12th World AIDS Conference, in the late 90's, when a team of volunteer reporters worked hand in hand with InfoLink and MCART, in charge of the onsite reporting service, covering the many sessions of the event. That same partnership is now bringing ICV reporters together to cover the International Forum of Montreal in Canada at the end of May, focusing on global governance and democracy.
This year was the third time already that ICV sent volunteer reporters to the meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to work in partnership with the Conference of NGOs in Consultative relationship with the United Nations (CONGO).
Over the years, ICVolunteers and MCART have developed an effective reporting system and valuable experience in training volunteer reporters to write reports on conference sessions as well as articles and interviews. The volunteer reporters provide the contents for an on-line news service, which can serve as the basis for a final conference report in print or CD-ROM format as well.
Reporters do more than just provide texts, although that is their core activity. They fill in several important gaps. For instance, NGOs that want to attend the Commission on Human Rights cannot send delegates to every session, but still want to be informed. Some organizations do not even have the money to send anyone at all. The volunteer news service allows them to know what's going on despite those constraints.
Rik Panganiban, CONGO's Communications Coordinator, also points out that the volunteers commit to monitor entire sessions, something NGO staff who come with very specific aims often cannot do, let alone professional journalists. "We can really rely on the volunteers," Rik says. "In general, the volunteers are eager to gain experience, and they have a strong desire to be effective and follow the instructions very well."
Most volunteers are no experts in the subject matter of the conference at hand though, and sometimes their reports need to be edited a little. That also serves a purpose, according to Rik: "Some of our NGOs concentrate on field work or have limited experience with the Commission on Human Rights and need more background. Our challenge is always to serve both expert and non-expert audiences and as volunteers often have the same questions as non-experts, they are very helpful."
The fresh perspective of the volunteers actually are an important added value, points out Randy Schmieder, Director of MCART. "Professional journalists are limited by the constraints of their field. They cannot always report everything the way they see it for fear of losing their job. Volunteer reporters, by contrast, are free to report objectively. If you know a lot about a subject, it can make you biased." And when they are biased anyway (because it is very difficult not to be), the volunteers bring in a different perspective to the more experienced participants. "Volunteers help to produce a more balanced picture," says Rik.
Let us not forget that the reporters would not be volunteering but for the fact that they possess valuable skills and are extremely interested in the job: many are students for whom it is an excellent way to take a look behind the scenes of their future working field. Without their participation, the job would be impossible to do.
Randy of MCART: "I am always impressed with the professionalism of the volunteers. A little motivation goes a long ways." (VK/CS)
A program coordinated by ICVolunteers and MCART
Past news services: