The art of covering news for humans

Future News Worldwide 2018 brought together 100 aspiring reporters with communication leaders to discuss about the present and the future of international journalism

(Texto en castellano)

The Medical Faculty at the University of Edinburgh is an obligatory stop when visiting the capital city of Scotland. Aside from its beautiful architecture, its renown is due to the students who began their careers in those corridors. One of them is Sophia Jex-Blake, the first woman to matriculate at a British university. If it was not for Jex-Blake’s desire to devote to medicine, women would have not qualified as doctors at that time.

Half a mile from the University of Edinburgh, Future News Worldwide takes place in the Scottish Parliament. This event links the next generation of international journalists. 100 young journalists from 50 different countries form the 2018 edition. Each of them has their own dreams and ambitions for contributing to make the world a better place, just as Jex-Blake did, beginning from the bottom.

The Scottish Parliament just before the start of the event. Photograph: Marta Ramirez Cano

Good journalism can change individual lives. Reeti K.C., a media student at Kathmandu University School of Arts (Nepal), gives as an example the way international media criminalized a social tradition called Chaupadi. Pressured by this tradition, women are kept out of their houses and, during their period, they live in a cattle shed. K.C. explains that even though it was abolished by the Supreme Court in 2005, people still practiced it because it is their belief. It was not till BBC Nepal started reporting this issue when it became an international focus. “Those who made women practice it would go to jail or they would have to pay compensation,” stated the Nepalese.

In respect of personal desires, K.C. would like to stop the abuse that especially women from lower classes suffer in Nepal when accused of being witches. She personally doesn’t want to be in those traditions where women are mistreated with any reason and she would like to change the practices embedded in patriarchy.

Yang Chen, a master student in International Public Policy at Fudan University (China), would like to pay more attention to the social part of her country as well but, when it comes to the aspects, she focuses on the education system. Chen explains that there is a lot of inequality between the rural and the city area, because the enrollment for entering into a school is harder for people who live in the rural areas: “If you are a city student you have more opportunities.”

News contextualizing

Understanding of news can be hard if there is not a good background. This is why Vox Media, an explanatory journalism news website, was created. Melissa Bell, the Publisher of Vox Media, said in her conference that they founded this website in 2014 to give people the context of what’s happening in the world. It was launched after what they defined as “the WTF problem,” the situation where the public does not understand the news as a result of the lack of relevant background explanation.

Sebastián Mendoza Torres, a journalism graduate at the University of the Americas (Ecuador), has always thought that journalists do not just communicate, but they contextualize the reality that surrounds them. In his YouTube channel, Zoom Politikón, he brings the people information in an entertaining way, mixing data and facts with a sense of humor. As a Colombian journalist living in Quito (Ecuador), Mendoza considers crucial to contextualize the failure of the Colombian peace process so that Ecuadorian people understand how this conflict affects the Colombian refugees.

“If it is not seen as a problem, no solution to this problem will be found,” Mendoza said. A solution that Mendoza raises for solving this problem is to inform about this issue in universities and other public spaces, but also to children. This is why he chose this issue as his end-of-degree project topic. Contextualization could be, thus, a way to end segregation.

Melissa Bell exposing journalism barriers and solutions at her conference in Future News Worldwide 2018. Photograph: Marta Ramirez Cano

Humanization of journalism

Chouaib El Hajjaji, contributing writer at OpenDemocracy, Vice President of the NGO Attalaki Pour la liberté et l’égalité and Tunisian delegate, agrees that when journalists put a lot of information with numbers, it is hard for the audience to process. “The brain chooses fake news over other news that is complicated, because fake news aligns with the subconscious idea that there is always a conspiracy and, as humans, people love that,” said El Hajjaji, who uses portraits and features to face this problem. Chouaib, who is keen on social justice and human rights, believes that a portrait is like a medium where two people are connecting with each other. “Through what they are saying, you can understand a lot of things,” he pointed out.

According to El Hajjaji, in Tunisia it was found out that women in rural areas did not have the same access to health care and, due to cuts in health, the contraceptive pills were in an alarming shortage. The audience may not understand the ups and downs of policies affecting social security, but, when covering the way people are affected by these changes, the audience might start to examine the issue and relate to it. “We need to humanize our stories, after all, we write for human who are just like us,” El Hajjaji insisted on the idea of the humanization.

“Numbers are just numbers”

While talking about the importance of humanizing our stories, Catherine Gicheru, veteran Kenyan editor, ICFJ Knight Fellow and country manager of Code for Kenya, emphasizes that “numbers are just numbers.” Gicheru explained that, when reporting about budgets, journalists tend to take the humanity out of it and give only the numbers.

Against this trend, the award-winning Kenyan journalist underlines the significance of fact-checking and verification so that the journalists can share with the public what they want to say against the numbers in a safe way. Data is an efficient tool that journalists can use for contextualizing social matters, such as why the authorities spend money on one item or another.

Catherine Gicheru and Lucy Freeman Photograph: Marta Ramirez Cano

How to deal with external factors

Social journalism is not only about connecting with the audience, but also about editorial independence. “One type of oppression of freedom of speech is the censorship that media owners do since they do not publish news that they think will affect advertisements,” highlighted Urooj Fatima, Sub-Editor at Daily Pakistan Global. For the Pakistani delegate, it would be necessary to change the business models. Anyway, she outlined as well how journalists themselves are restricting freedom of speech in some situations.

In a game board where information is controlled and processed by large corporations, journalists are the ones who can speak up and decide which side of the story to tell. Choosing one path or another is in our hands. As David Pratt said, “there is no a right or a wrong way of telling a story.” There is no neutral storytelling and our duty as journalists is to serve the public interest. Humans need humans.

Future News Worldwide 2018 attendants. Photograph: Neil Hanna



More about the conference: a video report by Marta Ramírez and a written report by Paloma Chen.



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