The Seattle Refugee Youth Project is premiering digital stories created by local refugee youth on Saturday, March 5 from 1:00-3:00 in UW’s Kane Hall 120. To accompany this blog post they granted Flip the Media a sneak preview of one of the stories:
My career in journalism started just as newspaper publishers began their awkward and ultimately impotent dance with Internet. As a photojournalist, I watched publishers and editors struggle with how to fit the paper’s Internet presence into their business model.
At the time, the notion of citizen journalists and crowd-sourcing stories would have seemed absurd. The journalist’s role was that of a gatekeeper who filtered what the audience needed to know from the noise.
The gatekeeper was skeptical and searched for the ulterior motives of sources for stories. Press releases weren’t printed verbatim, if they were printed at all. They were the starting point for stories, maybe. If the gatekeeper deemed a story not fit for publishing it languished, for whatever reason, right or wrong.
Did compelling stories get passed over? Sure. As with all human endeavors the practice is but a shadow of the ideal.
As a photojournalist, I felt pretty comfortable with this system. I thought of myself as a vehicle for the story — a story that did not belong to me, but to the people who inhabit it. My job was to weed out the extraneous details to find the heart of the story and help communicate that in pictures.
The idea of allowing people to tell their stories was sickening to me. Not because the stories shouldn’t necessarily be told but because I held on to some combination of self-preservation and belief in responsibility of the gatekeeper. Years of reading bad reader-submitted copy sifting through poor photos had left me jaded; and a bit of a snob, some might even say an elitist.
Even as student in the MCDM, a program that prizes the democratization that the digital revolution has brought to media, I pined for the ‘old’ journalism model.
There was never any epiphany. No a-ha moment. For me it was evolution or resignation. The media landscape was remapped completely, and to survive in it I had to adapt.
Like it or not, it became clear to me that in the new world of journalism, communities have a more active role in telling their stories. Just being a gatekeeper is no longer feasible. Journalists have to be facilitators as well.
While taking a class in advanced storytelling this summer, which emphasized community-centric collaboration, I came across a volunteer opportunity with the Center for Digital Storytelling, which conducts workshop in which participants tell a story from their life, using their words and their images, literal or symbolic.
It looked like the perfect opportunity to learn how to be a facilitator of participatory journalism; to empower others using my background as a photojournalist.
I put down my cameras and worked along side the facilitators from the Center for Digital Storytelling to help a group of about 20 Burmese refugee youths tell stories from their lives. I was at the workshop to help the tellers hone their stories and teach them technologies without getting in the way of the story.
It was learning experience for me too. I was learning to edit with storytellers that don’t have a background in journalism, writing or photography. I was learning to help someone else develop their own story and providing the necessary instruction to leverage the technology so that it didn’t get in the way of the storytelling.
The results of workshop were compelling stories told in the words of the participants, not through an intermediary – which made them all more compelling and, in some cases, haunting.
One story was especially impactful. It was the story of Joseph. Joseph’s obsession with soccer became clear in the story circle, an exercise in which participants briefly share their story idea. At first it was unclear what his story was other than a near fanatical love of soccer. But as the facilitators worked with him, it emerged that a series of soccer balls marked the most important events in the entire story of his life.
From his days living in Burma, he and his friends played the game with a ball of plastic bags as a soccer ball, having to stop the soccer match to find more bags when their ball go to be too small. When he relocated to a refugee camp in Thailand, he played with a real soccer ball for the first time. The ball belonged to a fellow refuge. When he came to the U.S., it was through soccer that he made his first friends in his new home. And it was simple bet on the World Cup that he got his first real soccer ball, his most prized possession. The story is simple, yet powerful.
It is unlikely that this Joseph’s story would have ever been told by a ‘traditional’ journalist. And it is it unlikely that his story could have been told as well as he told it himself. In his voice. In his own words. Using his pictures.
In it’s purest form, one of journalism’s foundation tenets is to give a voice to a voiceless. Joseph’s story is the embodiment of that tenet.
This kind of participatory journalism is not the death knell of journalism. Not all journalism can be or should be crowd-sourced or produced by citizen-journalists. There is a balance. It is another tool, for lack of a better word, for journalists to use.
As much as the Burmese refugee youths may have taken from the workshop, I think I learned as much, if not more
For legacy journalists having trouble navigating the new landscape of their profession, I recommend volunteering at a Center for Digital Storytelling workshop as a first step.
For more information on Voices of Migration visit: http://voicesofmigration.wordpress.com/