Migration: the new frontier of storytelling


Stories about migration often have a few things in common: a woman wearing a hijab, crying. A child, lost and traumatised after crossing the Mediterranean on a boat. A picture of bright orange life jackets floating on the water. A reminder of the dark statistics of migration: the thousands who died on the way, and the millions still displaced.

This is what Yasir Khan, Senior Editor of Digital Video at Al Jazeera English, is trying to change.

“People are tired of refugee stories because sympathy is exhausting,” he said during a panel focused on the innovative ways of covering what has come to be branded Europe’s “migration crisis.”

“Empathy, however, is empowering,” he added.

The panel was hosted by freelance journalist Donata Columbro, with Marta Cosentino, a human rights journalist focused on the Middle East, Alessandra Morelli from the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and Marina Petrillo, who focuses her reporting on migration on different platforms including Open Migration and Reported.ly.

All have experimented with new ways of telling the stories of migration, with a particular focus on individual stories aimed at fostering empathy.

Marta Cosentino’s documentary Portami Via follows a Syrian family on its journey from their country’s civil war to Turin, Italy, while picturing their expectations and daily struggles.

An Al Jazeera’s videos which told the story of Alex Assali, a Syrian refugee who is feeding the homeless in Berlin in order to give back to the country that took him in, was viewed more than a million times, Khan told the panel.

The panel explored how the language used in stories of migration can shift the public perception, and the importance of covering responsibly one of the most significant story of our times.