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Who are the storytellers?

There is increasing discussion around the role and power dynamics of journalists as storytellers.

At the GRC, our work on this topic is greatly influenced by our former University of British Columbia colleague (now an associate professor at Carleton University) Duncan McCue. His work on reporting in Indigenous communities (online toolkit, journalism graduate course, and now a published textbook, Decolonizing Journalism) offers practical guidance to journalists looking to report in ways that: address historical, current, and colonial power imbalances; embrace nuance and complexity in reporting; break down long-standing stereotypes; understand and recognize the significance of cultural and community protocols; address the lack of coverage, and more.

Duncan McCue’s work around “story-taking” also asks journalists to reflect on their role in extractive storytelling. We encourage you to read the textbook, but in short, McCue says:

There’s a long history of non-Indigenous people coming to Indigenous communities, asking about people’s lives, requesting their stories, then leaving.* Those visitors interpreted what they saw and heard—in books, reports, studies, films, or photos. Indigenous people had little say in how those stories were told; in many cases, the story never even made it back to them. …You are the latest in a long-line of storytellers requesting permission to portray Indigenous Peoples to the world. If you are calling, or going to meet, an Indigenous person for an interview for the first time, that Indigenous person may have an image of you* in their head. You may be a story-taker—someone who is going to take their story away. And, if history is a guide, there’s a good chance that a) that Indigenous person is correct, and b) you’re going to get the story wrong. (Decolonizing Journalism, Page 4)

* emphasis in original

With this in mind, you might want to start your reporting work by asking yourself some key questions:

  1. Why are you telling this story?
  2. Who is the story for?
  3. Why tell this story?