learning pages / Covering development

1.2 : What is development journalism?

There is no single definition of development journalism. We have opted for those definitions which:

  1. put the emphasis on global issues,
  2. use analysis to understand the role and responsibilities of a journalist,
  3. entail high ethical standards, and 
  4. adopt a global outlook when trying to understand and reflect the world.

At the same time, while it certainly seeks to counter the tendency towards one-sided or Western-focused narratives, development journalism is not (as the name might suggest) only investigative reporting from developing countries.

Press conference at Nairobi University, Kenya 2018
Author: Peter Ivanič

“A good journalist must not only describe, but delve, debunk and decode. International development is complex, slow, non-prescriptive and uncertain. It requires the reporter to appreciate and explore the interplay of diverse realms such as health, education, environment, governance, local and national economics, and culture,” (theguardian.com)

Elisabeth Ribbans, Guardian and Observer’s global readers’ editor

As there is no single definition of development journalism, we have gone through a number and selected several common, interconnecting themes.

Development journalism and development journalists should be:
  • Thematically broad, reflecting the increasing need to cover issues around sustainable development and humanitarian needs, with greater visibility given to global issues.
  • Analytically strong, built on a firm understanding of the power of representation and the need to deconstruct stereotypes, generalizations and dominant narratives, enabling journalists to consciously question their frames of reference to understand and reproduce the complexity of each story they cover.
  • Ethically solid, with an emphasis on human dignity and structural power imbalances within and between societies (locally, globally and glocally), giving voice to those who do not possess power, those who are not heard.
  • Epistemologically sound, widening our idea of the world and its many communities, shifting imaginative boundaries and barriers to understanding to draw out specific contexts and their interconnections at a global level.
There are a number of core principles and values that development journalism should always be based on:
  • Respect for diversity and different social, cultural and economic realities: This does not, however, mean an unquestioning or uncritical attitude towards the communities, practices or viewpoints under discussion – only that these issues are covered in an informed, inclusive and non-discriminatory manner that aims to understand local perspectives.
  • Critical thinking and analysis: open and critical towards information, especially regarding representations of the global south. This means moving beyond accepted wisdom and established tropes to explore challenging issues with curiosity, honesty and impartiality.
  • Social responsibility: broadly speaking, this involves faith in the right of everyone to equal opportunities, solidarity with the most marginalized, recognition of our own position within global power structures and the role of journalism to challenge these injustices.

At the same time, there are a whole range of characteristics that development journalism should NOT have.

From a methodological perspective, development journalists should avoid paternalism, ahistoricims, depoliticisation, he or she should not simplify (or oversimplify), they should not be ethnocentric, they should avoid hegemony, messianism and victimisation or sensationalising of people whose stories they cover.

From a practical perspective, they should not hesitate to pose questions to everyone – including ordinary people and especially those on the margins. More specifically, when covering issues in the global south, they should engage local people, experts and officials from the countries in question, not only NGO workers from the global north and representatives of international bodies with limited and often fuzzy mandates. The same applies when covering refugees and migrants as well as minorities – besides ensuring better coverage of the issues, this approach also helps to empower the communities and individuals covered by giving them a voice.

Development journalists shouldn’t forget to take power structures and relations into consideration when investigating, questioning or reporting, whether at a global level (for example, inequalities between North and South) to local issues (such as gender imbalances between women and men or social divisions between elders and youth). At the same time, they should avoid becoming a vehicle for the agenda of any organization or institution, whether governmental, corporate or non-profit.

Journalists should always keep their eyes and minds open: this is especially important when covering issues which are remote both geographically and culturally. They should automatically question and doubt what they hear, see and think, in line with classical Cartesian doubt. De omnibus dubitandum est – everything must be doubted, including one’s own assumptions and subjective viewpoints.

Because doubting is not only an essential element of rationalism, knowledge, cognition and modern science as such, but also of quality development journalism.

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1.1 : What is journalism as a profession?

Journalism is a process of collecting, analysing and disseminating information in the public interest. This means it is a profession with a strong element of social responsibility. That is why journalists are required to follow the highest ethical standards – accuracy, balance, impartiality and truthfulness, independent of any commercial or political interests.

1.3 : What is the value of development journalism when covering global issues such as migration?

Global development issues are more complex and urgent than ever before. What was considered ‘foreign news’ just a few years ago is now a regular topic in domestic public debates. ‘The global is the new local’, as the saying goes – and migration is a perfect example of this. Development journalism is a way to react to pressing issues like migration or climate change through a complex, imaginative approach that ‘domestic’ or ‘foreign’ journalism often fails to achieve.

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