Location: Brisbane, The Lucky Duck Café and Bar
Brisbane Chapter of the C4D Global Network grapple with difficult stories
On the 30th of June 2015, 25 network members met in Brisbane. Dr Scott Downman shared his experience from twelve years of dealing with the question of how to personalise stories of human tragedy and injustice in journalism and public awareness.
Dr Downman is a lecturer in journalism at the University of Queensland. For the past 10 years he has been involved with community development projects in Southeast Asia aimed at addressing the issues of human trafficking, labour exploitation, and work migration. From 2007-2009 he worked as a fieldworker for the Thai-based NGO Mekong Minority Foundation, in an AusAID-funded project in northern Thailand. He is the director/founder of HELP International, an anti-human trafficking not-for-profit organisation. He was the 2012 winner of Australia’s Future Justice Award for his media-based anti-trafficking work in Thailand.
Dr Downman used examples of where traditional journalism has been inappropriate for personal stories of refugees, asylum seekers, the victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable people. His academic critique of reporting by NGOs (at their own request) revealed many examples of exploitation, where people were re-victimised and re-traumatised during the communication of their stories. Over time, this academic critique has expanded to a body of work aiming to produce best-practice models for reporting stories of human tragedy and injustice. Dr Downman asserts that truly informed consent is paramount in avoiding exploitation. In this process, the reporter and reported find common emotional ground and negotiate the form the story takes. Dr Downman has been involved in many examples of alternative journalism, such as self-portraiture and participatory mapping. Other approaches include using actors, illustrations and masking.
There is a need for alternative approaches to story-telling, not only overseas but in our local community. ‘Change Makers: The True Story of Woodridge’ is a magazine Dr Downman created with six University of Queensland students. The magazine was developed over 5 months, as reporters spent time building relationships with students at Woodridge State High School and finding appropriate communication methods to tell their stories. The Change Makers team aimed to dismantle negative stereotypes associated with this community, while covering complex social and cultural issues, such as asylum seekers, child marriage, and Indigenous youth. The team received a national award for the magazine and Dr Downman believes the time taken to build trustful, mutually respectful relationships were key to its success. Dr Downman coined the acronym, TRIO for his approach to journalism: Transparency, Representation, Impact and Ownership.
Dr. Downman’s presentation left the room abuzz with conversation. The small group discussions were based around two questions, “How do you represent and personalize the stories of people you work with?” and “What is most important – the person or the person’s story?”