18 February 2013

The Case for Localizing Aid Stories

How do you get the average Joe to care about or even watch a story that is related to aid? Lawrence Haddad makes the case for telling more accessible and real stories in his blog. He writes:
The story the media frequently tells--aided and abetted by the development industry which needs to raise funds--is centred on disaster, deprivation and disease. This sells newspapers and helps charitable giving. So why try to change it? Because it doesn't reflect the reality. Fatigue and cynicism will set in. Trust will be broken. And most importantly, it is a misrepresentation.

So how to make development interesting to viewers in the 6-7pm television news slot, preferably the local news slots which have even higher ratings than the national news ones? Not easy. First, think like a regular viewer. Why should they be interested? Find some stories that penetrate the lives of busy people who have no professional interest in development. Second, write like a regular person. Don't use jargon. Third, develop a relationship with media professionals (not only those converted about development)--get to know how they think and what they need. Finally, tell the real story--authenticity will win out. 
Localising global stories is not easy, but it surely can be done. We have to change the conversation on development before it is too late.
To play a little bit of the devil's advocate, these kind of stories do already exist. It is essentially the beat of Nick Kristof, who has come under equal criticism for his reporting. It is also what made the problematic video Kony 2012 so popular. ABC did a series, thanks to Gates Funding, on global health that did poorly in terms of viewership.

Kony 2012 was in part successful because it did make the case as to why people should care about a central African warlord. It did get media professionals who do not dip into the humanitarian world to report on it. However, we are nearly a year since the film and little has changed in the media landscape.

Stories are applying the ideas that Haddad recommends. They make sense and may be right. Part of the problem is that the stories are infrequent. A missing ingredient is the fact that people need constant exposure. We care about celebrities because they are inescapable. Stories appear on CNN or are teased in the sidebar of the Huffington Post and GlobalPost. What if development was equally inescapable? What if reporting and stories related to development came up higher on Google News or were listed on Facebook?

More viability will allow for a greater diversity of stories that will reach people. However, if stories being to pop up that follow Haddad's suggestions and are marginalized, does it change anything?