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

Journalism in Developing Countries
Various studies show that free press and independent journalism in developing countries is crucial to promoting progress. But, this feat is often difficult to achieve.

The Pros and Cons of Independent Journalism

One of the benefits of pluralistic and independent media is increased transparency, which allows citizens to hold their governments accountable. According to UNESCO, it is only “when journalists are free to monitor, investigate and criticize a society’s policies and actions can good governance take hold.”

Credible information also promotes discussions about issues that are critical to a country’s development. Allowing people to access and contribute to credible and independent media can even lead to economic, social and political empowerment. In order to reduce poverty, it is important to provide poor and marginalized people with reliable information as well as platforms where they can voice their stories and struggles.

However, journalism in developing countries poses additional challenges. Reporters face threats and harassment from corrupt governments, militias or local gangs. In addition, they often have low salaries and have to work for politicized media outlets.

This lack of freedom prevents journalists in developing countries from objectively criticizing policies and vocalizing the needs of the marginalized communities. Both of these are necessary to empower citizens and hold governments accountable.

The Current Issues in Journalism in Developing Countries

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), around 80 percent of major media outlets are owned by or affiliated with politicians. These politicians use the media as their own source of political propaganda. The salaries of journalists are directly linked to the content of their articles, so the political owners get to dictate what is reported.

Furthermore, journalists in the DRC often face physical harm if they criticize the government or local militias. Those that do report on the rampant human rights abuses and corruption are in danger of being arrested, beaten or killed.

Unfortunately, the danger journalists face when reporting the astounding information is not uncommon. Earlier this year, a conflict between the Nicaraguan government and protesters led to censorship and intimidation. Journalists who critiqued the government faced online and physical threats. The police, military and some government supporters have stolen equipment and footage, shut down media websites and have even physically attacked and killed some journalists.

One journalist, Josué Garay, shared how two men broke into his house, threatened and beat him and stole his phone, wallet and personal documents. He and some colleagues had been threatened at gunpoint a month earlier while reporting on the protests. Other journalists have had similar experiences. An unknown government supporter even burnt down a radio station.

Journalists Are Finding Innovative Solutions

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index cites an overall decrease in the free press and increased hostility and censorship of journalists across the globe. North Africa and the Middle East were ranked as the worst regions for journalists. This was partly due to the wars in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, but other countries, such as Egypt, are also incredibly dangerous for independent media.

But determined journalists are finding innovative solutions to the pressing problems of the free press. In Liberia, journalist Alfred Sirleaf understands the importance of access to information.

Misinformation, Sirleaf claims, contributed to the Liberian Civil War. The country used to suffer from a repressive regime, as Sirleaf describes: “It was difficult in the past … because of what you publish, people come after you.”  Many Liberians cannot afford radios and newspapers, so for several years now, Sirleaf has been reporting the daily news on a big blackboard in the center of Monrovia.

By providing free and independent information, Sirleaf’s “newspaper,” The Daily Talk, promotes dialogue and can help prevent future conflicts. In 2014, the blackboard spread credible information and prevention strategies about Ebola.

Bringing Independent Journalism to All

The thirst for independent journalism in developing countries is growing. Around the world, journalists continue to hold their governments accountable and tell the stories of marginalized people despite the high risks and low salary. Because of this high demand for good reporting, media outlets from wealthy countries are holding workshops and trainings for their counterparts in developing countries. The journalists receive training in basic reporting skills as well as more specialized areas.

For example, by teaching journalists how to report on business and economic issues, these journalists are able to provide more analysis and skepticism to their work. Previously, the stories were taken directly from the statements of politicians.

The Global Press Institute is another exemplary training program. It aims to boost the type of journalism that tells of everyday “stories of entrepreneurship, human rights and education,” according to Forbes. The program has found the best way to do this is through women, who play a more stable and long-lasting role in their communities.

Based in 26 countries, the training program has no language or education prerequisites. Many enrolled women have not even finished the seventh grade. But in the past, after graduating from the program in about six months, all the women were hired as journalists. Through this program, The Global Press highlights the voices of communities that are often ignored, empowers local women and continues to forward the important mission of independent journalism in developing countries.

– Liesl Hostetter
Photo: Flickr

Music is a powerful, emotional and memorable way to spread a message, something Zoe Kabuye is perfectly aware of.

At 14 years old, Kabuye is a professional rapper in Uganda using her creative drive to make music that focuses on social issues and children’s rights. Known professionally as MC Loy, Kabuye became the youngest rapping newscaster in Africa last year and now appears regularly on NewzBeat, a Ugandan television show featuring artists that report the news musically.

As rap music becomes increasingly popular in East African countries, more and more hip-hop artists emerge as socially and politically aware artists who use their talent to spread a message. Unfortunately, media in Africa is often censored and regulated by the government; rap, however, permits free speech, making it a rare and excellent way to spread hard-hitting social issues.

Kabuye began rapping at a very young age and in 2012 she rapped for Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, at a celebration for the country’s 50th year of independence. Now, she addresses issues regarding social justice, including sexual abuse, limited access to education, and corruption in the Ugandan school system.

Successful and informative, Kabuye earned her career with raw talent and guidance from 28-year-old rapper Sharon Bwogi. Professionally known as Lady Slyke, Bwogi recruited Kabuye to join NewzBeat and is one of the most admired female rappers in Uganda. Her music centers on human rights, child abuse, youth empowerment, and peace.

Every Saturday, NewzBeat is presented in English and Luganda, the language of Uganda. Each episode runs for five minutes featuring four local, regional, and international stories. The program is not afraid to address the hard-hitting and controversial topics; in fact, NewzBeat thrives on informing the people about these issues, covering subjects such as poverty, government corruption and Uganda’s desire to outlaw mini-skirts.

The television program has gained a loyal group of followers since it first aired last year, attracting viewers with its unique musical foundation. Uganda’s youth is especially interested in NewzBeat and as the leaders of future generations, this is a huge thumbs up. It is important to educate today’s youth about social issues so they can formulate opinions and make change.

Positively employing their talents, Bwogi and Kabuye have shed light on the real issues in the world. They yearn for social justice and are effectively using their voices to make a difference. This dynamic duo raises awareness and takes action to address what’s wrong with the world. Lady Slyke and MC Loy just dropped the mic.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Take Part, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo:CFM News

Poverty Journalism

It has been repeated often: journalists will have to fight for Millennium Development Goal (MDG) coverage. Despite poverty’s richness as a news topic, the degree of coverage is not yet adequate to keep governments and NGOs on track in their undertaking to reduce poverty.

Part of the problem also lies in how journalists are covering MDG issues, which include a wide range of topics—from education to corruption. To be sure, though, many journalists are doing great work, and in a 2013 report released by the International Press Institute, some of these journalists offered their advice for poverty journalism.

Here are three macro-level questions culled from that report that journalists can ask themselves as they write about poverty, regardless of the specific MDG issue being covered.

Are the Poor Being Heard?

Journalists are messengers. The poor everywhere have messages that they cannot bring to the world’s attention. They are like people stranded on an island, drawing futile S.O.S. appeals in the sand. Journalists can use their resources to serve as a link between the impoverished and those who can best assist them.

That isn’t to say that every poor individual has a distress signal to communicate. Success stories make great news and development groups will sometimes be able to put journalists in touch with people who can attest from personal experience to the benefit of a solution.

In particular, journalists should more often listen to and report the words of children, according to Jean Claude Louis, the former Haiti country director for Panos Caribbean. What a child might lack in context they can often make up for in their openness and their freedom from bias. Of course, an adult’s perspective can also be invaluable and journalists have no reason to favor one age group’s testimony over another’s.

It’s a truism of journalism: a human voice improves any story and a voice that is rarely heard can draw interest. In today’s media, the poor have voices that are rarely heard.

How Can an Issue Be Related to “Home”?

Journalists sometimes assume that a story covering, for example, an MDG related to HIV/AIDS in a foreign country will not appeal to their local readership.

However, local readerships are more globally representative than ever. Recognizing this fact, the Toronto Star began publishing a lengthy world news supplement every week, which provides ethnic populations in the community the news from home they crave.

If journalists use their dialogue with the impoverished to develop real-life stories, their local readerships will pay more attention than if they relied on statistics alone. People want to be able to contrast their experiences with the experiences of others abroad. For this reason, a story on gender inequality in Bangladesh could engage an audience in a developed country.

“Immediate contrast has impact,” said Mary Vallis, an editor at the Star.

Others, like business and technology writer Iain Marlow, point out that all audiences are global audiences in today’s world. One cannot understand domestic events without understanding the foreign impact on those events.

Will This Story Help Hold Organizations Accountable?

The 2012 MDG Progress Report affirmed that the first MDG target has been met: extreme poverty fell from 47 to 24 percent. All the same, significant progress is still needed in areas such as sustainability, sanitation and malnourishment. People need to be reminded that governments have pledged to remedy these ills in order to oblige them to do so.

As a result, reporters need to situate stories on development themes in the larger MDG picture.

For example, journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean has increasingly covered topics such as gender inequality and environmental sustainability, focusing on local impacts. This sort of coverage has highlighted the relevance of such issues to local populations, but it has not captured their scope.

A broader knowledge of the larger forces driving inequalities and disparities best directs one’s efforts to reduce those problems. However, it can also overwhelm an audience, making problems seem too massive to change.

The solution to this conundrum is to periodically relate the issues to the MDG commitments. Governments can solve massive problems and people can hold their governments accountable.

Unfortunately, it seems that not every MDG will be met by 2015, but governments are already collaborating and developing a new set of post-2015 goals. Journalists will continue to play an integral role in helping the world achieve the new goals, but they need to fight for the type of coverage that will inform global audiences and help to keep governments and NGOs on track.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: United Nations 1, United Nations 2, Global Investigative Journalism Network, International Press Institute
Photo: Hongkiat

free press
The freedom of the press in Burma has recently come under siege from its government. On July 10, four journalists and their bosses were handed ten-year sentences with hard labour for violating the State Secrets Act by reporting on a government chemical weapons facility.

Not only is the law archaic — dating back to the when Burma was still a British colony — but the verdict also contradicts the much more recent Press Law which guarantees that journalists won’t receive prison sentences for their work.

Their imprisonment has garnered international and local condemnation. Amnesty International responded to the situation saying that the verdict represented “a very dark day for freedom of expression” in Burma. The statement went on to say that the organization “considers all five men to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”

Likewise, local opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke out against the journalists’ imprisonment. She recognized that national security should be an important concern for Burma, “but in a democratic system, security should be in balance with freedom.”

This suggests that even if the journalists were guilty of trespassing onto a Burmese military facility, the sentence would still be disproportionate to the crime. However, the reporters have publicly denied the allegations in court, bringing into question whether they even committed the crime. Given Myanmar’s track record with the press, it would not be out of the question for the Burmese government to lash out at journalists for being critical, even if no crimes were committed.

For instance, several days after the ten-year verdict was given, a group of several dozen journalists were prevented from covering a public event for wearing shirts that read “Stop Killing Press.”

The reporters were escorted away from the Myanmar Peace Center where the event was being held. From there, the journalists held a spontaneous silent protest. The demonstration was peaceful and unobtrusive, yet a group of nearly 50 journalists were arrested and await trial for participating in the protest.

The arrests were particularly concerning since fewer than 50 people were involved in the demonstration. This means that journalists who simply covered the protest or were loosely connected to it are also facing the prospect of jail time.

While their potential prison time is not particularly hefty — six months being the maximum — the mere fact that they were arrested and face criminal charges for a peaceful protest is an appalling transgression against the freedom of the press in Burma.

According to their lawyer, “They didn’t shout slogans. They held no placards. They just stood on the pavement like any other people. I see no point in taking action against them.” Some of the participants put black tape over their mouths, but other than that, no action was taken during the protest.

But now, given the dire condition of press in Burma, more drastic action may become necessary. While local journalists and human rights watchdogs are sure to clash with the Burmese government over these arbitrary arrests, we may soon see more international actors playing a larger role to ensure that Burma finally enjoys the free press that has eluded the country for so long.

Sam Hillestad

Sources: The Irrawaddy, The Irrawaddy
Photo: CJFE

On November 16, global poverty had a unique light shed on it thanks to journalism students from around the globe. As part of a “pop-up newsroom,” students in the UK, U.S., Taiwan and India hit their local streets armed with their journalism training and social media outlets to report on those who experience poverty directly.

Politicians usually hold the platform for discussing poverty but they are rarely the ones who actually experience it. Instead, the journalism students went through locally-based organizations and interviewed both victims and combatants to gather on-the-ground experiences of poverty and the policies meant to address it. David Baines, who led the UK side of the project, stated one of the goals was, “to make the complexities transparent rather than trying to simplify things,” as is often done by politicians.

The pop-up newsroom idea began at California State University Northridge (located in Northern Los Angeles). As technology changes the way we can access information, Dr. Melissa Wall (a journalism professor at CSUN) wanted to find a way to utilize the immediacy of social media to inspire positive changes. By appealing to a younger population, the pop-up newsroom allows important issues, like global poverty, to reach people of all ages and of all interests.

November 16 marked the first time the experimental pop-up news reporting went international. The universities that participated have a number of international students and the fact that they were reporting from different countries made this a truly global event.

Not only are the students participating in an innovative journalism experience, they are adequately trained to do so. The Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, India is one of the most prestigious in the region and covering inequality is a requirement for all students. At Newcastle University, UK, the students prepared for this project by studying the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s guidelines for good reporting on poverty.

Reported topics ranged from art, health, feminist issues and economic inequality. Using the hashtag #livepoverty, students reported their stories on Twitter while in the field, as it was happening. By encouraging students to post immediately, the project emphasized that global poverty is a constant force that doesn’t go to sleep at night, but rather hangs over its victims 24 hours a day. With participants like the UK and U.S., the pop-up news stories proved that poverty is experienced even in the wealthiest countries in the world.

Alessandra Luppi
Sources: Pop Up News, Rebel Mouse
Photo: WNYC

6 Reasons Why Humanosphere Rocks!
The independent, nonprofit news organization Humanoshpere has been devoted to covering and analyzing the most important issues in global health, development, and aid since its founding in 2010. The organization aims to expand the relatively meager and overly broad media coverage of humanitarian issues while better outlining the role that aid and development efforts play in their alleviation. If this isn’t a sufficient reason to believe that Humanosphere rocks, here are 6 more.

1.   Tom Paulson is one funny man: In addition to being terrifically intelligent and an incredible journalist, the founder and editor of Humanosphere have a wit that is unheard of in the somewhat stiff world of humanitarian journalism He deems his news coverage as “often irreverent” in its coverage of humanitarian issues and admits that global poverty just really “ticks him off.” He also claims that he and a childhood friend invented Earth Day. So there’s that.

2.   In with the warm, out with the fuzzy:  The language surrounding humanitarianism is tinged with a sort of hopefulness that is often overly ambiguous. Humanosphere attempts to maintain the warm characteristics while refraining from the fuzziness. They aim to clearly define the issues while promoting dialogue rather than simply declaring simplistic solutions.

3.    3. They’re based in Seattle: Often called the humanitarian center of the United States, there is no better place for the headquarters of an independent news organization trying to make the world a better place. Bolstered by the National Public Radio and other local affiliates, their “moss-backed bias” that poverty is a negative thing in need of alleviation is well supported in a city that is the nation’s leader in global health, aid, and development.

4.   They’re deadly serious, but not deadly boring: Poverty, injustice and suffering are by no means light-hearted matters, and Humanosphere does not approach them as such.  However, while Humanosphere is devoted to raising awareness about these international issues, they do not wish to do so in a hum-drum manner. Instead, they post articles with engaging titles such as “Feed the World: Bugs” and “On the West’s awkward relationship with Kenya,” and keep their rhetoric understandable and approachable.

5.   They don’t beat around the bush: In the words of Tom Paulson, “We’re journalists. We like the difficult, politically charged and awkward.” The writers at Humanosphere delve directly into the issues that matter most at any given moment. They aren’t afraid to call out any news or governmental organization that fails to do the same. They simply don’t shy away from the discomfort that inevitably arises from shedding light on the issues of poverty and injustice.

6.  They are a refreshing step in the right direction: Perhaps most importantly, Humanosphere is representative of the positive direction that the humanitarian journalism field is working toward. Aside from having the entirely admirable mission of making the world a better place, their coverage tactics are better aimed at reaching their modern readership base than most existing news organizations.

Does anyone need any more convincing? Ok, here’s a video of Tom Paulson himself performing Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” (He uploaded this himself. Like I said, he’s one funny man.)

– Kathryn Cassibry

Source: Humanosphere
Photo: Humanosphere Facebook