Alternative News Changing Tone in Housing Sector

Griet Bouwen is pictured with the Cordium news publication she co-created with several Cordium staff. Three thousand of these newsletters will be circulated to Cordium staff, social housing residents and others.

Alternative News Changing Tone in Housing Sector

‘I saw the mindset in the social housing organization changing on the spot,’ newsmaker says

The conversation in a Belgian social housing organization, Cordium, is shifting to be more appreciative, two-way and connective. This could be the beginning of a new tone in the country’s social housing sector, a Cordium director said recently. He’s linking it to the way a new media firm, Axiomnieuws, is surfacing stories about people and happenings in and around Cordium.

In the boom of the 60s and 70s, thousands of government-funded units were built for low-income Belgian residents. Now renovations are needed. There is also the need to invest in even more social housing. Poverty is increasing; people are finding it more difficult to access the private housing market. The need for government financing in social housing is huge, Belgian resident Griet Bouwen notes. “The financial latitude is limited,” she says.

Regulations, law and administration in social housing are complex, and it’s difficult to explain what can and can’t be done in terms of the building and renovating, Griet adds. The social housing managers find themselves “standing in the middle of the tension.” They are caught between the needs of the residents and what government can do.

 
  Cordium directors Koen Hendrix,
Alain Bielen and Kris Vleugels.

Photo credit: Ronny Vanthienen

“It’s quite a complex situation in which people more easily decide not to communicate than to dive into a real two-sided conversation,” Griet says.

Last year, Cordium decided to try to open up the conversation between the various parties by introducing a new form of media. They wanted to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a shift in conversation.

Cordium contracted Griet and the media company she owns, Axiomnieuws, to deliver this journalism.

Fitting the mold of neither public relations or mainstream media, Axiomnieuws seeks to convene a conversation that includes perspectives from all parties — staff, residents and leadership.

“What (Cordium was) used to was bringing communication from the ‘sender-perspective’; they were mainly informing their inhabitants and partners,” Griet says.

“Together we changed that into talking to each other, into convening conversation — and that’s a completely different approach.

“We’re also showing the public what’s happening by telling stories of the people who work and live in these social housing communities.”

The tone of the news is also different from much of what would be seen in mainstream news, in that it’s “formulating things in an appreciative way, in an honouring way, not focusing on the differences, but focusing on what connects people together, or could connect them to a common issue or goal,” Griet says.

People are already showing they’re willing to be more open with each other as a result.

One woman Griet interviewed recently lives in one of the social housing units.

Griet visited her planning to interview for one story and found the resident wanted to tell another — about the state her house was in, and when she could expect renovations to take place.

Having heard this, she couldn’t just launch into her pre-set assignment, Griet says; she had to do something about the information, especially as someone proclaiming to be a generative writer.

So she wrote an article based on the conversation, following up with the head of the technical department in the social housing company to share what she was hearing and get his take.

The resulting news piece honoured both sides of the story.

Because of their experiences in this news process, both parties have now agreed to meet in person and consider how they can build on this conversation in that particular community.

“I saw the mindset in the social housing organization changing on the spot and that’s a great thing to see,” Griet says, noting she allowed both interviewees to review the article before publishing, ensuring they felt honoured and respected in how they were portrayed.

“I learned that bringing these two perspectives into one article convenes the conversation already just by trying to bring the story as true for both persons,” she says.

This new journalism model gives confidence, person by person, as interviews are conducted and stories written, that the organization owning the media does want to respect what all people in its communities say, Griet adds.

“When I’m working in the field, I feel like I am the eyes and the ears of Cordium for the inhabitants, so they feel seen and connected to Cordium, and also the eyes and the ears to Cordium from the perspective of the inhabitants,” Griet says. “Trying to write and publish stories that honour the different contributions makes me feel like a kind of mediator.

“In the words I choose, in the way I choose to build the articles as well, I feel I am mediating all the time and bringing these perspectives together. . . and also materializing what people feel and what they see.

“It is amazing to see that when people know their words (can inform) a news piece, they start to formulate their thoughts in a careful way.

“When I involve them in the process of writing and correcting, this effect gains strength even more. Can you imagine what this carefulness contributes to the quality of real-life conversations (as well)?”

Axiomnieuws is delivering organization-owned, generative news for several other organizations in Belgium, including Tourism Flanders and the Flemish Platform for Social Economy (VOSEC).

To learn more about Axiomnieuws click here.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.ca.

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Michelle Strutzenberger's picture
Michelle Strutzenberger

Generative Journalist

 

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