Too often, and for too long, reporters have practiced “parachute” journalism, dropping into communities and working with a local to cover a story before flying off again.
“That usually leaves a lot to be desired in terms of missing context,” says Britney Dennison, deputy director of the Global Reporting Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia. “A reporter might hire a local fixer, but the fixer might not have the same type of ownership over that reporting process.” The reporter also simply tells the story they believe needs to be told, missing a lot of nuance and depth is just below the surface.
The Global Reporting Centre is modeling a new type of in-person reporting, centered on storytellers who are far more involved and entrenched in the process and outcome than a parachute piece.
“We’ve really started to think about, how do we reframe that model?” Dennison says, thinking about who the audience is for a piece and how can the community and that audience have a greater stake in the outcome to provide a more resonant story.
“We started developing this model we called empowerment journalism,” she says. “The idea was to work with a story subject and make it almost autobiographical. The story subject was really serving as the director and involved in every stage of the production. We would sit down ahead of the interview and ask questions: What would you ask yourself? Do you want anyone else featured? Are there any new places we can film? We’d give our own feedback, like this seems like something meaningful to your story, how would you feel about filming there, or it seems like your story is for searching about identity, does that seem correct to you.
“The whole power dynamic has shifted,” she says. “We’re there for support for the storyteller and to capture their autobiographical story.”
The end result of this, following years of reporting, editing and, in some cases, starting from scratch, is the Turning Points series produced in partnership with PBS Newshour.
“It’s eight videos, eight storytellers, each one talking about challenges and resilience in Indigenous communities around alcohol use addictions,” Dennison says. Their work started in 2016 with consideration of how to tell more nuanced stories about alcoholism and addictions in First Nations communities in northern Canada, “a community and a story that has been historically misrepresented for a long time. Not only are stories about addiction and alcohol use heavily reliant on stereotypes, when they talk about native communities, they’re often outright racist and miss context and the historical traumas that exist in these communities,” Dennison says.
The group spent so much time, and so much care and effort, working diligently with Indigenous storytellers that people were surprised the group was still around, years after the project started, Dennison says.
“For so long, journalists that have worked in Indigenous communities have come in and taken stories from them,” she says. “Since we were there year after year, we were able to build trust.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with Britney Dennison, deputy director of the Global Reporting Centre in Vancouver. She talks about empowerment journalism and the culmination of several years’ worth of work, a new series for PBS Newshour called Turning Points.