Thursday, November 6, 2014

Writing for an International Audience

By Caleigh Bourgeois
The paper I am interning for is very unique. The Gazette Van Detroit was originally started 100 years ago by Flemish immigrants in the U.S. Flanders is the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, and “Flemish,” describes the people and customs of that area.
The Gazette Van Detroit was one of the only ways Flemish-American immigrants could stay informed about their loved ones during World War I. Today, the paper is still going strong with an international audience. It is published in both English and Dutch. Most importantly however, after 100 years, the paper is moving entirely online. A large part of my internship has been aiding in that transition.
Working for The Gazette created an opportunity to for me to collaborate with an international staff and serve a global audience. Our board members range from the United States. to Belgium to the Philippines. We are all in different time zones and must be highly organized and clear in our communication with each other.
This has taught me patience. As a television journalist, I am used to chasing down sources and receiving responses before my 4 p.m. deadline. With the Gazette, I sometimes have to wait for approval on a document or video overnight due to the time differences. My superiors and coworkers must do the same for me, and I must be flexible with my hours in order to match deadlines on different time zones.
Writing for an international niche audience is also a challenge sometimes, because I must keep jargon in mind. For example, I would have to explain to most Americans what “Flemish,” refers to (as I did earlier in this blog post). However, the Gazette’s demographic not only understands the definition of the word, but is the population of people that the word defines.
Even with social media posts, I must decide if I should refer to towns as being in Belgium, or break it down by saying they are in Flanders. The timing of social media is also important. I must post at times that are optimal for numerous time zones.
I don’t speak Dutch, therefore my posts and videos for the Gazette are all in English, and I don’t need to worry about translation on a large scale. However, when it comes to names of Flemish places or words, I must judge whether to use the English or Dutch spelling. For example, in English, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium is referred to as “Flanders,” but it’s “Vlaanderen,” in Dutch and “Vlaanders,” in French. All three options are technically correct. It just depends whom you’re writing for.

I haven’t yet mentioned the challenges of reporting abroad, from tracking down sources to traveling within the country for stories. That is another blog post entirely. However, the challenges of serving a global audience and working with coworkers around the world have been exponentially rewarding. I am so thankful for this lesson in organization, patience and juggling different demographics. I am certain this has prepared me well for the ever-changing arena of modern journalism, where the world continues to grow smaller and the deadlines shorter.

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