I asked Jeremiah (the photographer who traveled with me) a few days ago to make sure that everything in my story was truthful to what we saw. Global ethics are a tricky subject for a first time international journalist.
Unlike most stories that I have written, the sources in the story will probably not ever see how I portrayed them. My memory, my notes and the few post-trip translation checks are all that I have to make sure that I’m telling the story as it is.
For example, I talk quite a bit about parasites in some of the small villages, but there was no doctor present and no way for me to 100 percent confirm that these children were afflicted. I had to make that judgment call with the evidence: A local social worker had given them parasite pills, there were big bellies and scrawny arms on many children.
This is the most impossible fact checking I’ve ever done.
Story Update: We turned in the “final” draft to be graded by our writing coaches yesterday. It took me about three hours just to get up the courage to hit the print button. It’s hard to let a story go. Luckily, I’m not yet submitting for publication, so I have plenty of time to continue making updates. I’ll post the excerpts in a week when they have been chosen.
The balance between a journalist and a NGO is tricky. A journalist must always strive to be objective (though this is often not entirely possible) and definitely independent.
We had this discussion in class last night reflecting on our time spent with Hope of Life in Guatemala. In staying with the organization, many of the townspeople thought our journalism group was missionaries too. That doesn’t seem very independent.
American readers know (most likely) nothing about the organization. What they will know is what we choose to put in our stories. And our stories (should be) from a third party point of view, like a good journalistic story should be.
Some NGOs are choosing to eliminate the middle man (journalist) and do the reporting on their own. Charlie Beckett, who often writes that journalism should involve the public more, noted in his blog that charities want people to see these international places in the same way that they do. I think it’s great that they want to get the word out.
But this isn’t journalism. Beckett questions this practice:
“This is bad for the media and the NGOs as in the long-term both will lose credibility. The news media needs to learn how to use public participation without cheating, while the charities need to learn some media literacy and ethics.”
In class, we came to the conclusion that while Hope of Life wanted us to report in the way they saw it, we wanted to do the stories that we found. Hope of Life is a wonderful organization that does great work, but many organizations do great work. I’m documenting what I saw–not what I want people to think.