From January 2009, my world changed a little for the better. You could say I was in a good place at a good time. After publishing my research on bottled water in Asia for the Our World 2.0 webzine, Media Studio head Brendan Barrett decided to take a chance on me. I stuck around as one of two part-time editor for the magazine (Carol Smith is the other), complementing my research and editing work for the UNU-ISP.
12 months later and after seeing 100 published articles and 14 video briefs in both English and Japanese go through the cyberspace gate, I can say sincerely it has been a privilege to work with the UNU Media Studio team. It’s always advisable to avoid clichés, but on this occasion I can’t, simply because I honestly believe: 1) the team is committed and talented and 2) the work is, people tell me, of good quality.
These reasons, and the support we have received from our contributors, funders and audience, have helped to ensure that a total of 1,103,381 people have been reached by our work this year (up to November). This includes audiences through the Our World 2.0 webzine, our YouTube and Vimeo channels, our online learning resources and of course through our Facebook and Twitter communities, where for the latter we have more than 1700 followers.
Much of this reach can be put down to our content being embedded in an extensive number of blogs, online magazines and other websites such as the popular Treehugger.
But numbers don’t mean everything, especially in cyberspace where attention spans are short, and the list of options of where to go to read, watch or listen to anything, is getting longer and longer all the time.
Although hard to measure, what matters is the impact you have in terms of education and behavioural change as a result of creating awareness.
The Media Studio’s video briefs are being used as powerful education and capacity-building tools for academic institutions and training events including for the up-coming UNU masters degree programmes. More recently, a DVD containing 12 of our video briefs was disseminated at the Summit on Climate Change organized by the UN Secretariat in New York on 22 September, 2009.
Our World 2.0 turns 1.5
Education does not have to be quarantined to traditional lectures and textbooks. Content and discussion is moving online and the tools to educate are also diversifying. One of the UNU’s responses to the seismic shifts in the way in which the world communicates, has been its support of the Our World 2.0 webzine. Inaugurated in July 2008, the magazine has completed it’s first full year and increased content from 1 to 3 postings a week. By sharing the stories of outstanding people working for a more sustainable future, the magazine aims to promote positive change in millions of people in the areas of climate change, peak oil, food security and now biodiversity. Biodiversity was added in recognition of its importance as a core theme for the research activities of the UNU.
Diversity in who you reach and what you write also matters. After all, this is the UN. The readership for Our World 2.0 is global, with the US, Japan and the UK providing the top three countries for visitors, and with India and China in the top ten. Although we can do better to attract contributors from the global South, we are receiving more and more contributions from writers in developing countries and those with a more immediate stake in the global pressing issues we discuss.
Interestingly, our recent reader survey showed that 80% of our readers are under the age of 40, that 68% of them hold a bachelors degree or above. Hopefully this means we are reaching the leaders of the future.
In any business or work operation, constant innovation is critical. Some things you try will work and others will need to be re-thought. Our Debate 2.0 features have been met with mixed success: some like our discussion on the environmental impacts of meat garnered a critical mass of comments and others, frankly, did not. How we encourage more direct involvement with our audience is something we’ll keep working on. In the last 6 months we have also expanded our range of communication tools to include podcasting thanks to Megumi Nishikura, and photo slideshows thanks to Sean Wood.
In recent times we have started sharing and sourcing content with our peers in the online green community. For instance, through an agreement made in August 2009, Our World 2.0 became part of the Guardian Environment Network, allowing us to source their world renowned writers in George Monbiot and Nicholas Stern and provide them with our own unique content.
Since then, the website was included as the official blog for the Gateway to the UN System’s Work on Climate Change and on 6 November 2009, won the 2009 Society for New Communications Research Excellence Award in External Communications and Communities.
Together is best
It’s hard to single out one quality that makes the UNU Media Studio effective in the work that it does. But since I have to, I would mention collaboration, both internally and externally.
This year we significantly enhanced our partnerships with other UNU research and training centres/units along a continuum of informal and formal learning activities. To date, researchers from UNU-ISP, UNU-IAS, UNU-MERIT, UNU-EHS and UNU-GTP have contributed articles.
We have also been sourced to produce videos and develop websites. For example Luis Patron has supported UNU-EHS implement the project on Sustainable Land Management in the High Pamir and Pamir-Alai Mountains (PALM) by producing two video briefs and e-learning materials on sustainable land management and climate change in Central Asia.
Citt Williams has worked with the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative, as a contribution to the Indigenous People’s Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA), to produce video briefs. These videos were screened at this months COP15 indigenous voices on climate change film festival in Copenhagen where Citt and Megumi are attending. This groundbreaking initiative has been conducted in partnership with indigenous story-telling communities, the National Museum of Denmark and the Christensen Fund.
In maintaining our strong links to our Japanese audience and supporters, David Jimenez and Sean have designed the International Satoyama Initiative portal and Kaori Brand has produced two satoyama videos with funding from the Ministry of the Environment Japan.
Led by Brendan and working closely with Ahkilesh and Darek from UNU-ISP, we have also partnered through the Asia Pacific Initiative – a multi-institutional educational programme involving the implementation of two semester-based courses (10 to 15 weeks) – with the University of Hawaii and a network of universities in the region. Courses on (a) Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and (b) Climate Change, Energy and Food Security are organised in real time via video conferencing that connects classrooms at each university. Students and lecturers are also able to communicate through the Moodle online learning management system.
In the fall semester of 2008-2009, the courses were completed by 55 and 117 students respectively. Student enrollment for the fall semester of 2009-2010 courses increased to 97 and 182 respectively.
Finally, in the last twelve months we have also struck up agreements to contribute video content to the United Nations Television (UNTV) and Google Japan to collaborate with the launch of a channel on YouTube entitled Think Green and on the YouTube Food Channel. These strong relationships and the Studio’s smooth operation have been made possible by the behind the scenes work of people like Jason Hall, Rie Hayafune and Oleg Butuzov.
The future is what we make of it
While I work mostly on the Our World 2.0 website, I genuinely feel a sense of team spirit with the work that all our staff have been doing, whether it involves me directly or not. As they say in climate change, a rising tide lifts all boats.
I hope we can kick-on with your support through your contributions, feedback and comments. Our work is worthwhile doing if you are part of the conversation.
From January 2009, my world changed a little. I hope yours did too.
A special thanks to all my colleagues for their support, guidance and creativity. A super special thanks to my editorial buddies Carol Smith and Brendan Barrett, for they have spent the most time putting up with me in this first year…