Good journalism on development

Development reporting may never be the “beating heart of a news organization” but it could very well be its soul, panellist Eliza Anyangwe told International Journalism Festival attendees on Thursday.

During a discussion on “Good journalism on development and international cooperation issues,” Anyangwe, a freelance writer and commissioning editor for The Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network, Giordano Cossu, journalist and founder of media production company Hirya Lab, Silvia Pochettino of DevReporter Network, and deputy editor of OneWorld Magazine Lonneke van Genugten offered up some suggestions for reporters to enhance their work in the field and take it beyond a niche market.

Ultimately, it’s about focusing on people’s everyday lives and giving a human face to development issues, Anyangwe said.

Still, international cooperation — the phrase for development aid in Italy — is difficult to define, Silvia Pochettino of DevReporter Network said.

“Today, most people have a great difficulty in understanding what we mean when we talk about development and international cooperation,” she said, and that includes journalists.

“Our goal is that the two different needs of development and journalists should meet and find common ground,” she said.

Development reporting is “very nuanced,” Anyangwe said, and it’s not the same as foreign reporting or hard news and disaster reporting.

“It’s not 5,000 people died, it’s not Ebola — it’s about how do you build systems to get people out of poverty,” she said.

When The Guardian first looked into international development reporting a few years ago, they kicked off their project by spending three years focused on Katine, Uganda, with a team in the community and a team in London.

“We found our readers had very poor understanding of international issues and what it means to be poor,” she said.

That project and the audience response sparked the creation of the Global Development desk, and the news outlet now uses traditional reporting, user-generated content and community journalism from professionals in the field to cover the topic, she said.

Van Genugten — who analysed how the Millennium Development Goals, eight international development goals dealing with reducing poverty and hunger and building social structures such as schools and hospitals around the world, had fallen out of the reporting done by Dutch news outlets — echoed the importance of publishing a steady stream of content on development issues.

“Don’t let it be one article,” she said. “Keep on tracking it.”

Pochettino also introduced findings from a study of the DevReporter Network, a European project focused on Italy, France and Spain with the goal of improving the quality and quantity of information on the subject of development, conducted on how media covered development in three regions.

“If we go and see the sources that are used primarily in these media, mostly the sources are direct contact, personal acquaintance, with the people of the NGOs and so on,” she said of the reporting done in Piedmont, Rhone Alpes and Catalonia. “There’s practically no direct sources from countries in the Global South.”

And another finding from the study was that a whopping “52 percent of the articles monitored speak generically of Africa without mentioning a specific country, as though Africa were just a country,” Pochettino said.

It’s all about making the move so that development issues “do not just stay as niche issues, but become part of the mainstream,” she said.

At The Guardian, meanwhile, its team is consistently telling international development stories — and that means the news organisation is also building a consistent readership, Anyangwe said.

“What you feed them is what they become used to consuming,” Anyangwe said. “… How do you become the next Guardian in telling international development stories? Start telling international development stories.”

Cossu, meanwhile, noted that it’s important for journalists to report on the ground and “avoid stereotypes and oversimplifications” in their coverage.

“The purpose of your photograph or your story is to talk about a problem, to involve people,” he said. “If you want something that is lasting and will have an impact, sensationalism is short-lived. It will only last a minute.”

Cossu — who said he doesn’t hire a driver or a fixer when he’s in the field, although he sometimes has an interpreter — noted that journalists should always try to help explain to people why they’re being interviewed and to give them time to answer the questions, rather than just come in like a “lighting bolt” to get a quote or a photo.

“My best advice comes from local travel companions,” he added.

Good development reporting often emerges from the question of, “How do you tell the story of communities and countries changing?” Anyangwe said.

But in telling those stories, she added, there’s one key thing for journalists to remember.

“Often we treat international development topics like statistics and subject areas… What is interesting is the people behind those numbers,” she said.