A message from Colombia, delivered by project management software

Ideas about your organisation sometimes come from unexpected places.

Overlooking Medellín. Photo taken on a European Journalism Centre press trip. Credit: Felipe Abondano.

Something posted in our project management tool Basecamp caught my attention a few weeks back. I’d been looking for something to distill the essence of what I was trying to achieve with the new identity of the European Journalism Centre. I’d been thinking to myself about where to start.

Team surveys help.

A page of values works, I guess.

Iterations of mission statements; they’ll do.

But what I was really looking for was a story. Something with narrative that had more nuance than traditional corporate branding exercises

Unwittingly, I found it inside our project management tool, the place where we go to arrange to-do lists and share files. It was staring right at me.

One of the things the European Journalism Centre does is arrange reporting trips on behalf of partners. It’s tough work. The attendees often travel out to remote locations, and we’re responsible for recruiting busy journalists, wrangling endless logistics, and co-ordinating with a lot of local partners and fixers.

Colombia press trip. .Credit: Felipe Abondano

Biba had just returned from a press trip to Colombia, which had been particularly challenging, with lots of last-minute changes and internal travel complications. Immediately after her trip, she posted an update as a response to the daily question we ask the team.

Honestly, I was expecting a quick update on the logistics.

Good trip, not all went to plan, issues at the airport, but all fine now.

Instead she posted this:

Just a quick note on Colombia — a country that fascinated me. A massive thanks to Josh for reaching out to his network and identifying the best local partner I have ever worked with — together with the best interpreters and photographer. Big thanks also to Bianca and John who were helping us out with urgent payments and travel.
The team gelled together extremely well and the best compliment I received was from the interpreters. They said they have been doing such projects for over 20 years but never saw a group this harmonious and willing to help each other. The photographer had the final word at the end of the trip, when the journalists and our team gathered around a campfire overlooking Medellín — he said to the journalists:
“There are good people living in this country [Colombia] who suffered a lot through the wars. They are afraid — afraid to speak up, to protest, to stand up for their rights. So we ask you [the EU journalists], who have louder voices than we ever will, to speak on our behalf.”
I found this very moving and meaningful. And once again it showed what the real purpose and strength of the EJC is.

I couldn’t ask for a better summary of what we need to try and do everyday: support valuable reporting, defend free speech, build networks, connect journalists with new ideas, work as a team, give staff opportunities that inspire them, and celebrate our wins.

There are many more examples like this in Basecamp and my inbox. They don’t come from expensive brand consultants, or excruciating design workshops.

They come from the team doing their job, and being proud of their work. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Thanks for reading! You can read more about my journey as the new director of the European Journalism Centre in this series.

Or check out one of the pieces of reporting that came from the Colombia trip: this podcast from The Guardian.