Shifting the Power
A manifesto for journalism
Shifting the power
This manifesto is based on over half a decade of listening and learning with marginalised communities around the world.
The media is power. The future of journalism must ensure this power is accessible to all, starting with those in the margins of society. This manifesto is a roadmap to engaging with those on the frontlines of society’s most complex challenges.
It has been inspired by pioneers around the world, in journalism, community organising, activism and psychology.
People are experts in their own lived experience
Too often the ‘experts’ that the media choose to speak to are academics, specialist correspondents, or people with a relevant degree. While there is value in their knowledge and learning, when it comes to our social margins, there is a chasm between academic learning and lived experience. We need to define ‘expert’ more broadly and collaborate with people who know an issue best because they are living through it — whether that’s people living with dementia in the UK, young people living with a disability in Zambia, garment workers in Bangladesh or Sierra Leoneans living through Ebola.
Rebuilding trust is about sharing power (and can take time)
The time for the ivory tower has passed. To rebuild trust, we have to share our power and our platforms. To do that, the media-sphere must build bridges to allow for more inclusive ways of telling stories, redefine the way we listen as journalists and report ‘with’ rather than ‘about’ communities. It can take time to rebuild trust and conviction. For those who have grown up distrusting the media, seeing people like them demonised or patronised in the press, it can take extra investment to foster the conviction that they should engage. That work is essential and urgent if we are to genuinely share power and bring more depth to our storytelling.
People have the right to tell their own stories, in their own words and in their own time
Voice is one of the most powerful indicators of inclusion. To measure how inclusive a group is, just listen to who is speaking. A fundamental element of democracy is that everyone should have a genuine say on the matters that affect their lives. While civic and political participation are key, media participation is also critical. The lack of representation within our newsrooms has a profound effect on media agendas and therefore on how we understand and behave towards one another as a society. Giving people meaningful opportunities to share their concerns, in their own words, at the moments when it matters most and without the dilution of poor representation needs to be a common goal.
Lived experience and professional skills are a powerful mix
The rise of citizen journalism marked a turning point in global news. Audiences were able to hear directly from people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Simple mobile handsets connected to social media platforms enable groups to flag injustices, share stories from the frontlines of conflict and call for political change. But alongside this, a tide of fake news, poor verification and the general din of social media has threatened to overwhelm the benefit of that new era. By pairing professional storytellers with citizens, you can combine the rigour of traditional media with authentic access to live events as they unfold. It pays to invest in reporting skills, particularly among communities at-risk. It takes years to train a cameraperson but much less time to instil journalistic values and basic reporting skills within communities who are closest to the stories.
Diversity needs to be more radical if it’s to go beyond tokenism and tick-boxes
Stories should be told by the many, not the few. We need to go the extra mile to engage people who are currently under-represented by the media. They need an opportunity to shape their own narrative and challenge stereotypes. Too often diversity is a side issue, delegated to a well-meaning internal manager. It needs to be a strategic goal with everyone working together to achieve it. It goes beyond staff diversity targets and diversity events. What are the barriers that are preventing people from telling their stories and reporting their news? What are you doing to overcome those road-blocks?
Technology is a tool for listening, not just for broadcasting
The era of big media companies handing out newspapers to the masses is over. Mobile phones and chat-apps offers new spaces for journalists to interact with audiences and hold conversations with news-affected communities. When you engage in ‘deep listening’, surprising and unique stories emerge. Given that the majority of the world remain offline (including 12% of the UK) it is key to forge connections that work across the digital divide. Inevitably, it is those in the most vulnerable situations that are least likely to have sustained, independent digital access. SMS may be old school but it is a brilliant tool for short form reporting for offline communities. Voicemail and calls are still the preferred means for older people to communicate. Be inventive with your tools, and make sure they don’t entrench or increase marginalisation.
Stories from the margins can drive social change
Collaborating with the communities closest to stories can make reporting more intimate, emotional and informative, closing the gap between the mainstream and the margins. Stories that offer new information about the impacts of complex community experiences can inform society and help to drive accountability. Insight into possible solutions from crisis-affected or socially excluded groups can trigger new thinking and the release of resources. Fresh angles on old stories adds depth and can prompt a more empathic response from audiences. Honest information and empathic storytelling both have the potential to change social behaviour and encourage a more tolerant, understanding society.
Journalism should be about partnerships not parachutes, engagement not extraction
Parachute journalism and comms trips are old, dated practices. Not only are they an ineffective use of resources but the information gathered can be little more than a snapshot gathered by outsiders at a particular moment in time. With the world teeming with connectivity, talent and literacy, there is a great opportunity to be reaching out and building sustained and long-term relationships with the people closest to newsworthy events and issues. Use international trips and exchanges to share skills and tools within the communities you represent and establish ongoing channels of communication that enables them to report on what matters most, when it matters most.
Shift from sources to collaborators and from fixers to co-producers
If people are indeed ‘experts in their experience’ with a deep knowledge of their situation, then it follows that they should be credited and remunerated as such. While journalistic principles rightly prevent payment of sources, if you are working with communities to gather interviews or uncover new angles to the story, they deserve to be treated as equals. When appropriate, collaborators should be given bylines and a chance to shape the direction of the project. If they are supporting the production, beyond the scope of their own stories, consider payment.
Acknowledge and assess our biases and privileges
We all hold bias. It affects the way we work and the way we tell stories. When working within an organisation, we also inherit corporate and organisational bias and, in turn, we pass that on to our audiences. The very nature of having a platform and the freedom to speak and represent others means we also hold a great deal of influence and privilege, as well as socio-economic status of those often working as paid reporters. Instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, we need to hold each other to account and be open to feedback and learning. Constructive criticism and critical thought is important in bringing this bias to the surface and allowing everyone to acknowledge how it is blocking others from amplifying their voices. When necessary, step back.