Journalism and Global Wellbeing
Since the media boom of the 1990s, journalism has entered an academic discussion that questions a writer’s role in their community and beyond. There are core objectives of journalism that have always remained true: providing readers with unbiased information, holding those in power accountable, and educating and advocating for the people. What these objectives do not address, however, is the relationship between journalism and global wellbeing.

Researchers assert that the media today holds a “social responsibility” to the public. Journalists must reach out past their nuclear community and consider the impact good and insightful reporting can provide. Foreign correspondents are essential to society; these journalists uncover conflict and tragedy happening on the other side of the world and explain to readers why they should care by offering insight and finding the humanity in every story. Most countries and communities are willing to lend a hand, and they just need to know where to look. That’s where the relationship between journalism and global wellbeing in terms of poverty, health, safety and equality becomes imperative.

A Conversation with Mallory Saleson

Global communications and media specialist Mallory Saleson has been on the scene at all the right times. Working as a broadcast journalist and radio correspondent for Voices of America (VOA), Saleson spent a lot of time covering South Africa’s post-apartheid elections and other instances of conflict within the region. Saleson sat down with The Borgen Project to discuss her role as a journalist during a time of humanitarian crisis and social upheaval and the connection between journalism and global wellbeing.

Looking back over her nearly twenty-year career in Africa, Saleson says that what she remembers most is the people. She states, “Journalists don’t write about issues, we write about people, we write about circumstances, we write about humanity.” As a broadcast journalist working under VOA, she witnessed war, civil unrest, disease and poverty.

Although it was her job to interview and report, Saleson strove to understand the people she spoke with—most of all, she listened. Yes, there are breaking news stories that must be short and laden with urgent information, but “that’s not why you become a journalist … if you can’t write about people then you don’t really have a story,” says Saleson.

In terms of media coverage on global poverty, Saleson believes the United States could do more. This is not an unpopular sentiment among members in the field. Media ethicists are looking to broaden the conceptual base of global journalism and asking writers to consider their audience as an international public. In other words, journalism and global wellbeing are inherently connected.

What Is Media Ethics?

So what is media ethics? This theory urges journalists to remove themselves from the borders of their home country and report using a multifaceted approach. Researchers suggest that articles should be written with diversity in mind and a keen perspective on every angle. Due to the general globalization of technology and access to information, do journalists now hold a higher responsibility to citizens across the world?

Media ethicists argue that the answer is yes. If all reporting were to become completely universal with no previous bias, diversity would be normalized. This would create a connection between cultures as well as unity and a global identity.  It also creates a direct link between journalism and global wellbeing. Saleson suggests that journalists who write locally but relate their coverage internationally can help readers understand and empathize with people and their struggles, despite living thousands of miles apart.

Beyond a Free Press

In broad terms, a free press allows journalists in the region to report freely without censorship from governmental officials. A free press paves the way for policy change by alerting stakeholders to issue they may be unfamiliar with. From this transparency, journalists can hold governments accountable on finances, legislation and international affairs. Free press also opens a forum for debate where opinions can be expressed without fear of punishment. While a free press is the baseline of journalistic values, the idea of globalizing the field takes the job description much further.

A free press brings awareness, but a dedication to a diverse population and common humanity brings something more: empathy. If journalists can diminish all distance between the reader and the coverage of conflict, researchers believe it could create tremendous change. This intimately connects journalism and global wellbeing. Saleson suggests that American media focuses on an international issue only once it has begun to affect the U.S. directly. She states, “You need to go to those countries and understand these people, their struggles.” Emphasizing the humanity in every story can make people removed from the circumstance care and offer resources to those affected by global poverty.

It is important to note that invoking the sentiments of empathy and compassion are all grounded in facts that elaborate on the circumstances, future developments and possible solutions. Writers must draw a line between sympathy and empathy. To feel sympathy is to feel helpless remorse, but to feel empathy is to understand and acknowledge another’s daily struggles. That kind of strong reporting can do more than inform: it can create emotional stakeholders.

The Future of Journalism and Global Wellbeing

This modern view of a journalist as an employee to the global population with a social obligation to inform and unify could be a newfound push for international aid. If a journalist can make two readers on opposite sides of the world feel like neighbors with the same struggles and needs, international aid will become much easier. This focus on journalism and global wellbeing proves promising because to change people is to change the world.

– Alexa Tironi
Photo: Flickr

Media Shift
There’s a classic tale in journalism about a reporter who asks her editor why their journal didn’t publish more pieces about domestic or global poverty. Her editor’s response: “Nobody wants to hear another story about how poor people are going to die in Africa. It’s depressing.” Opinions such as these have been common among nearly all media organizations for a good period of time. Now, however, a shift is occurring in poverty journalism; this shift is crucial to drawing attention to the important issue of extreme poverty.

The Problem With Traditional Media Methodology

Before this media shift, any focus on poverty was in its worst form. Of course, this is practical: news outlets need the audience to see what poverty looks like, and they’re more likely to pay attention to a drastic report. However, the problem with solely highlighting the depression and hopelessness of extreme poverty is that those emotions become the only messages portrayed in media depictions of underdevelopment. It doesn’t give audiences or influential individuals a chance to connect to those in need. It simply serves as an episodic report of foreign tragedy.

Moreover, an influx of these types of reports eventually becomes unappealing to audiences. They don’t want to see another situation they can do nothing about. Why should people care about an Asian village they’ve never seen or heard of and have no influence over? Before the media shift, poverty seemed like a perpetual problem that had nothing to do with the audience.

The effect that traditional media has had on audiences’ reactions to poverty reports is apparent; according to reports, less than 1% of stories from 52 major media outlets covered poverty as a result of declining interest and donations from viewership. Journalists and media organizations realized that there had to be a shift in the media portrayal of poverty if it was to get its fair share in the limelight.

The Shift

So what is changing in the media, and how is it helping to bring attention back to poverty? The answer: connection. Eschewing depressing messages in favor of hope and progress creates a connection between audiences and those in poverty. This media shift is creating a new age of poverty observation and understanding. According to Jurg Meyer, the problem with traditional media and its depictions of poverty was that it created caricatures of the less fortunate, leading to fear and aversion rather than a desire to help.

By redirecting focus toward facts and current events, this began to become less common. Rather than exclusively tragic stories, journalists now report facts and histories as well as practical solutions. This has helped to create a new wave of poverty journalism. The message of this new style of journalism attempts to convey that there are people living in the world who have no way to improve their own well-being or protect their rights. More importantly, this shift in journalism tells audiences they are more capable of helping than they realize.

Is The Shift Helping?

Perceptions of the media portrayal of poverty will always be divided. Before the 2008 financial crisis, many Americans held a negative opinion of the world’s poor, believing that it was a matter of personal responsibility. But after many Americans experienced sudden poverty firsthand in 2008, they became more sympathetic to the plight of the world’s poor. A media shift in tone and content led people to involve themselves in relief efforts. Keeping up the momentum of this shift in journalism can lead to a better future for millions in poverty worldwide.

Donovan McDonald
Photo: Unsplash

World Problems To Write About
Across the world, many disasters have left poor legacies for many to deal with. Currently, organizations such as UNICEF and the United Nations Foundation are making efforts to eliminate global problems like climate change and global poverty. With this being said, many individuals are not aware of the full extent of these issues. It is time for journalists and writers to focus on today’s most prevalent issues to educate the public to take action. Here are five world problems to write about.

5 World Problems to Write About

  1. Climate Crisis: Right now, many news publications have been reporting on one of today’s most known issues: climate change. Affecting millions of individuals around the world,  the current climate crisis is a problem that many activists and scientists are trying to solve. Some people like Greta Thunberg have made it their mission to educate the public on what is going on and how to involve themselves. First, it is important to write about this issue because it has drastic consequences on human lives. For example, studies show that climate change will displace about 200 million people by 2050, leaving them with no home. Second, climate change also has repercussions on the planet itself. Sea levels have risen approximately eight inches in the past century, and the Earth’s surface temperature has risen almost 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit as well.
  2. Food Security: Quite a lot of today’s agriculture relies heavily on quick and easy access to water; however, access to natural resources such as water has grown limited due to its exploitation for other purposes. The lack of food security has contributed to the sharp increases in world hunger as people are not meeting their dietary needs. According to the United Nations, approximately 925 million people around the world go hungry either because they cannot afford food or because it is just too scarce. People need education about food security from the news, as many personal choices, such as wasting food, contribute to the problem.
  3. Lack of Education: Another important issue to write about is the lack of education that is so persistent in many low-income areas. Currently, more than 759 million adults are illiterate and do not properly understand the consequences of lacking education. Not only does it limit the number of job opportunities available in the future, but it also has drastic effects on future generations. Many organizations such as the Association for Childhood Education International have identified the source of the issue and are determined to alienate it in the coming years. By empowering children and adults to pursue an education, it hopes to shed light on its importance and help individuals grow.
  4. Gender Inequality: As the world progresses, it is important for society to acknowledge the age-old issue of gender inequality. Consequences such as wage discrepancies and stereotypical gender roles have limited many women across the world from achieving their full potential. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take almost 108 years to fully solve this issue; however, it is important that people write about gender inequality more often and educate the public to speed up that time. By understanding the full scope of the problem, men and women everywhere will have the empowerment to take action and fight for equality.
  5. Global Poverty: Finally, one of the largest world problems around the world is global poverty, affecting almost half of the world’s population. Global poverty, in general, has economic and social consequences. Not only can it be very dangerous for one’s health, but it also has dire effects on the environment and physical landscape. To add, poverty can negatively affect economic growth by limiting the amount of money available to invest and increasing crime rates. The Borgen Project has been a key player in writing on this issue, raising money and spreading awareness globally. It has also been very active in legislature, advocating for certain bills to alleviate global poverty. Writing on this issue can increase its urgency and push for more individuals to involve themselves.

It is important for writers and journalists across the world to report on these world problems that are most prevalent in today’s society. The world problems to write about above are some of the most urgent problems to address, affecting many politically, economically and socially. By reporting on these topics more frequently, people have the education and empowerment to take action. After all, action can only happen after awareness.

– Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr