Hurricane Matthew is currently tearing through Haiti. In three days, he has claimed nine lives and the death toll is rising.
As a journalist, I inevitably think of troublesome news like this in terms of how it is told.
When reporting on tragedies, the news has a history of using photos to shock people into feeling the pain of those affected. We want to connect people to stories, yet there is a very thin line between telling the story and exploiting the people who are living through the tragedy.
As I scroll through my newsfeed, I am confronted with facts about what is happening and very little about the stories of the people who are affected. As I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw an update from a community development organization, The 410 Bridge, that works with multiple communities in Haiti. While viewing the photos, the only thing I noticed were the comments below by news outlets.
“Hi 410 Bridge, I’m with ABC News. Did you take this photo? If so, can we use it on all ABC platforms and partners with credit to you,” the first comment reads. The second follows in similar suit, yet for the Weather Channel instead.
Usually my initial thought would be that the journalist was simply “getting the story,” but what stood out to me the most was that these journalists missed the actual story that was being told by the 410 Bridge.
In the latest update from a community, the 410 Bridge reported: “The UN and the government are working to fully assess the extent of the damages in a short time so that we know what we are dealing with. My biggest concerns are for the children in those flooded areas and cholera outbreak where there is no clean water.”
These reporters completely missed the story. They missed what the Haitians were saying about the storm. Instead they have been so focused on the horrific nature of the storm and the compelling nature of the photo that they are missing the human beings within the tragedy. They missed the true heartbreak behind the photo and in those words.
Is it not our job, as journalists, to tell the stories and not merely the facts? Is it not our job to connect everyone to events happening anywhere?
It is our duty to tell the story. To accurately relay the facts and the stories of the event that is occurring. To tell why this story matters.
We need to remember to put people first, that those pictured are more than just a cluster of pixels. We need to remember that the story that should be told is more than the one that will shock the public. We need to strive for better.
I urge you all to hold us to that higher standard.
— Allie Alexy, Opinion Editor