As a journalist that writes mainly on social issues, a major concern for me is how I tell the stories of the most disadvantaged people in society. A lot of my work is focused on the impact of austerity, and I’ve reported extensively on homelessness and housing issues, welfare cuts and poverty. At the core of these stories are often vulnerable people who feel that their voices and concerns have been ignored by those in power. They also struggle to trust a political class and media that has demonised people like them.
For the past year, I have regularly visited my local food bank and experienced first hand the difference it can make when a journalist is able to invest time building relationships and earning the trust of the people they are writing about. As people got to know me they felt more comfortable opening up about their experiences and were more willing to allow me to highlight their situations in my work.
Yet I still worry about the way I tell these stories and so I took a great interest in a new report from Lankelly Chase which looks at the media’s coverage of serious and multiple disadvantage. It reveals that the media is often more focused on reporting the symptoms of disadvantage rather than the systemic causes.
The report also shows that journalists rarely explain the interlocking nature of multiple disadvantages. There are obvious reasons for this. As a rule, we try to keep our copy as simple and straightforward as possible. Explaining a long and complicated back story can be difficult to do in a clear and concise manner. But the Lankelly Chase report shows that this has a negative impact on the overall understanding we all have of how a person ends up in the situation they are in.
This will be something I take forward in my own reporting, it is my job to adequately describe complex backgrounds and situations in a brief but accurate way.
I believe that it is vital for journalists to be embedded in their local community – how else will people learn to trust them? This not only makes it easier to find stories but allows journalists the opportunity to really understand the lives of the people they are reporting on.
For several months I have been thinking about how I can best empower the people I meet at the food bank to tell their own stories in their voices. This report has made it clear to me that this is the right thing to do and something that I will make a priority in the coming months.