Journalism and Global Wellbeing: An Ethical Relationship

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