Who is the story for? And why tell this story?
To incorporate empowerment journalism into your reporting, start by asking yourself some questions. Are you from the community at the centre of the story? Have you already built community connections? If you are answering no, there are a number of steps outlined in this guide to help you incorporate an empowerment approach.
Remember the point made by Duncan McCue highlighting the difference between storytelling and story-taking? By asking yourself who this story is for, and how it serves the communities you are reporting in, you can hopefully avoid extractive storytelling.
Alex Pritz directed The Territory, a documentary partially filmed by members of the Uru-eu-wau-wau community in Brazil who are featured in the film.
Pritz told us, “starting out, we didn’t come at it and say, ‘Okay, we're going to do a co-production and do all these different things,’ it was really just like, ‘Okay, if we want to talk to this community about making a film together or including their perspective in a film, we have a lot of work we need to do to explain what a film is and how a film operates and how it’s made and what the purpose of it is.’
…We brought cameras down and showed people how to operate cameras, how to work in front of them, how to work behind them. ‘If we’re going to work together, it’s eight hours a day that we might be all up in your business, following you, doing everything you do.’
…And at the same time, they said, ‘If we’re going to work on this, don’t just follow us.’ They had this journalism fatigue and they said, ‘All these reporters come and they spend two weeks with us and we show them deforestation and we take them around, they do the interviews with the elders and nothing changes for us. It’s actually a huge energy sap to be chaperoning these people, to do all this work and then not really see anything from it.”
So, how can you better serve the community you are reporting in? This can be a challenging question for global and national outlets who have a broader audience. This is why we suggest asking a simple question to your interviewees: Why are you sharing with me today? Remember people are choosing to commit their time, effort, and energy to speak with you for a variety of reasons. Knowing what those reasons are can help you to consider the impact of your reporting.
Filmmaker Alejandro Yoshizawa told us, “interviewing is not easy. Being interviewed is not easy. So that’s the number one thing. So you don’t take for granted that someone has donated their time...you have to respect their time. You have to respect their story. You obviously have to be prepared, but you also have to be prepared to listen.”
Investigations have spurred activism, triggered elections, and led to policy changes. We’ve seen heads of state resign and arrests of high-ranking officials, but there are also community-level impacts.
Meaghan Brackenbury, formerly with Cabin Radio and now at CBC North in Yellowknife, said, “I always tend to approach sources as people first and sources second. I think that’s really important because I think a lot of times when we’re reporting on issues that revolve around people’s personal stories and experiences, we tend to forget that nobody actually owes us that as journalists and storytellers… it’s actually a real act of generosity for them to share their story with you.”