Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Journalists, professor ponder journalism ethics
When does a journalist cross the line that divides telling an important story and exploiting a victim?

This essential question was front and center yesterday as I met with the staffs of the Global Sisters Report (GSR) and the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) here in Kansas City.

One young journalist told of her recent reporting trip to Uganda where she reported on South Sudanese refugees.

While the journalist saw the need to interview and tell the story of this refugee, she wondered aloud if she had instead traumatized the refugees by asking them to retell their harrowing stories. We discussed, collectively, whether one article about one refugee can make a difference in their lives, and if it can’t, should we be asking them to relive their traumas?

I responded with similar concerns I had while reporting the story of a South Sudanese journalist who had fled his home with his mother and sister. I played my audio report about this man, and asked rhetorically if I had behaved ethically.

We followed this up with a discussion about potentially exploitative images. Should journalists have used the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year old Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey? In another example, should Turkish journalists have used a heart wrenching photo of a toddler with his hands in the air, raised because he mistook the journalist’s camera for a gun? The consensus on the toddler photo is that it would’ve been ethical to use it, as long as the photo included an accompanying contextual story.

These important discussions occurred during my presentation on the fundamentals of peace journalism. Before my talk, as I researched both publications, I discovered that they have a lot to teach their fellow journalists. In fact, much of their content (like stories on how Catholic sisters are working on environmental, migration, and trafficking issues; and reports about the pitfalls of capitalism, net neutrality’s impact on faith communities, and on advocacy for Haitian immigrants) already reflect peace journalism best practices.

I hope to continue working with, and learning from, my GSR and NCR colleagues.

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