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Peter Pula hosting a Generative Journalism workshop in Calgary on Feb. 26.

Jumping in the Deep End

Generative Journalism workshop with Peter Pula

CALGARY - Last week, more than 30 curious participants gathered in the United Way of Calgary office to explore the concept of Generative Journalism with its originator, Peter Pula. Peter, founder and CEO of Axiom News in Peterborough, Ontario, spoke passionately about Generative Journalism being a deeper, more meaningful, and transformational way to tell the stories of a community’s assets, strengths, and aspirations.

We tried deep listening, where we learned that silence is okay. We practiced asking deeply personal and provocative questions. We reflected on tantalizing tidbits of Peter’s wisdom on generative interviews: “change comes at the speed of relationship;” “be present, distill the essence;” “try not to ‘know’ the story ahead of time;” “publish quickly to preserve the spark, the life.”

To begin this new practice right away, I asked the New Scoop YYC team four questions inspired by the spirit of Generative Journalism:

Why did you make time to attend this workshop?

  "I truly believe that it is one powerful way to change the world, one interaction at a time!"

Carolina Pelaez:  I love love love to learn! And I love the New Scoop community and the mission that it has, so coming to the event meant gaining a deeper understanding of the purpose of our work in Generative Journalism, and how to embody its values. It was also a great opportunity to connect with people that resonate with this work, and that are on a similar journey regarding building a kinder, more hopeful world.

JC Lanciault: I was very curious to hear it from the horse’s mouth

Nicole Chan: I wanted to further my skills in Generative Journalism and expand my field of vision in this subject.

Tamara Lee: I am a cat. If something catches my attention, I follow my curiosity. I often find the most interesting and unexpectedly delightful projects by serendipity. Actually, this pretty much describes my entire “career."

Barb Briggs: I made the time because I have committed to New Scoop and I need to understand what it is they are doing. I made it a priority so that I can do the job I committed to. On a personal note, I was intrigued by finding new ways of telling stories and I had been struggling in my mind a bit to figure out what the difference between Generative Journalism and traditional journalism is.

Sarah Arthurs: [Sarah co-organized the training session]

Alex Martinuik: I made time for this workshop because I believe it is of great importance, not only to the advancement of journalism as it is known, but to the capacity of daily human conversation. Its strategies can remind us how to truly learn, and grow, from each other again.

Simone Lee: I was excited to attend this workshop because of a desire to hone my generative writing skills and a curiosity about who else would be in the room. Peter is known to be a thought leader, and I was anticipating that he would have much wisdom to share.

What was the most exciting revelation or most valuable learning for you?

The whole experience was very exciting and revelatory. One big learning for me was the importance of getting to the essence of what is being said. Peter Pula said “The essence of things generates life, not the facts." I want this to guide my approach in our generative conversations and our storytelling.

JC: Great to get down to it and do it. Hands-on, a lot of great feedback from participants in small groups. Most valuable will be when I start using the tools in the field and see how it feels and it looks like on paper.

Nicole: That Generative Journalism can be applied in every day life

Tamara: I was very moved by the video of Peter’s interview with Maryam Monsef, the federal Minister of Democratic Institutions. I suddenly understood the power and beauty of his generative interview technique, revealing the beautiful human being behind the clever politician. I will never again be able to watch the Minister on the news without remembering who she truly is.

  The training workshop included small-group conversations designed to explore intentions, gifts and possibilities.

Barb: First, I realized that I do understand it a lot more than I thought but I have been using different terms from other disciplines. I was a question writer and interviewer for a number of years and once I made the connection in my mind between my past experience and this, it made a lot more sense. Second, was that I don’t have to get caught up as much on doing it ‘right’ or the ‘correct way.’ It seems now that Generative Journalism is a form that is growing and changing and that each individual person brings themselves to it, allowing each piece to be different, hence the subjective nature of it. Third, I had been struggling with how to incorporate video into all of this and how I can work the stories to be more than just a camera capturing what the writer is actually working.

Sarah: One piece I learned was the importance of headlines…yup, it makes sense that that might be the one chance we have to catch folks’ eyeballs.

Alex: Passion is great, and frustration can be motivating – but we must think carefully about how we incite these sensations in other people.

Simone: Peter’s assertion that Generative Journalists stand beside their subjects, and co-create the stories with them really resonated with me. I also learned why listening, and letting silence happen is so important in order to fully engage in an interview, and to get to the core of the person’s story.

What do you hope to do with what you learned, in the big wide world?

I hope that I can, as Peter Pula said during the workshop, “tell the stories that are not being told." He also said that the main goal of Generative Journalism is “to see the person, and enable others to see that person as well." I hope that I can help people feel heard, seen and valued by listening to them and sharing their stories with the world. I also want to offer a kind presence in my interactions, approaching people with an open and curious mind. I truly believe that it is one powerful way to change the world, one interaction at a time!

  “The essence of things generates life, not the facts."

JC: I think it goes way beyond New Scoop and Generative Journalism. I think this is applicable in day-to-day life, with family and where we work. Instead of focusing on problems you focus on what works and you build things up. “Never ask a question that invites people to blame and complain” was a quote on the deck of cards we got and that sums it up for me.

Nicole: [I want to] build connections between people because our society is so very isolated!

Tamara: Oh, I hope to make the world a better place by telling better stories. No pressure or anything.

Barb: I hope to apply what I learned to the way I interview for documentary work I do as well as in my work with international development organizations and non-profits here. It has provided me with another tool in my toolbox for storytelling, which is ultimately how I identify myself.

Sarah: To use New Scoop to make space for and shine the light on all that brings life to our city…. and enjoy and make space for the gifts of all the folk who are gathering around New Scoop.

Alex: I’ve already applied this methodology of question-making in meeting new strangers, even making an excuse to talk to them – which I don’t often do. I’m amazing at how easily their code can be cracked after you ask a couple questions about which they have to pause and think "heart-fully.: The connection fostered suddenly is memorable.

Simone: I hope to use my new skills to reframe conventional stories, and to unleash their generative power.

What colour was your day?

It was blue, the “colour” of water, because the whole day had a very nice flow. Water is also the source of life.

JC: I have a hard time thinking in colours, sorry.

Nicole: Grey blue because blue is my happy mellow colour but grey because I was burning out by the end of it.

Tamara: Nuance - the opposite of black and white.

Barb: I think the colour changed for me over the course of the day. It started out more red as I was flustered and hurried in the morning and concerned that if I had to do video, I wouldn’t be able to actively engage as a participant. Then as I went throughout the day I think it became blue. Information flowing like water into rivers, tributaries, ponds and lakes, calm at times but the smallest ripple impacting everything else.

Sarah: Primary coloured polka dots!

Alex: Suuuuper psychedelic orange and green fractals, are the colours and images that come immediately to mind when I reflect on the day.

Simone: My day was pink… like the heart chakra.

This article was originally posted to New Scoop YYC and appears here with permission.

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Ann Lee

Tamara Ann Lee is a technical writer, “artivist," and great public spaces advocate. Tamara was a key innovator on Bow to Bluff, a citizen-led engagement project that won the 2013 Canadian Institute of Planners’ Emerging Initiatives Award, and will result in a new public park and cycle corridor in 2018.  Her Bow to Bluff Process Guide was adopted by Calgary City Council to help transform city engagement. Tamara has also experimented since 2009 with “ninja placemaking”: catalyzing tiny places into great public spaces with a simple invitation and a small investment. She most recently launched a tiny gallery featuring children’s art next to her Little Free Library and reading bench.