The term “development journalism” is used to refer to two different types of journalism. The first is a new school of journalism that began to appear in the 1960s. The idea behind it is similar to investigative reporting, but it focuses on conditions in developing nations and ways to improve them. The other type of development journalism involves heavy influence from the government of the nation involved. While this sort can be a powerful tool for local education and empowerment, it can also be a means of suppressing information and restricting journalists.
The first type of development journalism attempts to document the conditions within a country so that the larger world can understand them. Journalists are encouraged to travel to remote areas, interact with the citizens of the country, and report back. It also looks at proposed government projects to improve conditions in the country, and analyzes whether or not they will be effective. Ultimately, the journalist may come up with proposed solutions and actions in the piece, suggesting ways in which they might be implemented. Often, this form of journalism encourages a cooperative effort between citizens of the nation and the outside world.
By definition, development news are big news in developing countries. The problem is, sometimes the media reports are typically just government announcements of infrastructure development – roads, bridges, hospitals, etc. – and official claims that lives will improve. Those articles turn off the reading and viewing public, and that has some people pulling off their interest in this important coverage area.
As a journalist, there are tips on how the media could be used to cover development issues and these include:
- Be specific: It is important to identify specific and important issues and points for information and knowledge rather than simply broadcasting everything in the hope that some of it will stick in the minds of the general public. Don’t just reach a lot of people, but reach the right people.
- As a journalist, don’t look down on those that are not experts: There is a great danger when the issue of debate is limited to people who share similar thoughts, it will become strange to the general public. The media should make clear and refresh development issues in ways that challenge the consciousness of the people.
- Media training is only useful in a healthy media environment: often people who take media courses in developing countries can’t apply the skills they learn because the media environment doesn’t exist for them to do so. But journalist must think beyond the box to see what they can do to aid development.
- Let the communities concerned speak for themselves. More often than not what you see is that voices of people directly affected by development issues in local communities get reduced to testimonies or sources. People with the issues should be allowed to speak for themselves, rather than assume.
- In discussing the role of the media in development there is a danger of assuming the media is always very important, when perhaps it’s not. A balance must be created for better understanding and clarity to avoid misunderstanding.
- Journalists should address the limits to their reporting. Of course there are things the media must try to avoid in development coverage like dehumanizing and over simplifying of issues. You must know how to report it and what to do about it because there is no point being aware of the pitfalls if you work in a context that does not allow you to avoid them.
- Journalists should treat NGO’s like any other news source. Some journalists show disbelief when using NGO sources than other large institutions. They are likely going to report favorably on NGO’s that house them, feed them and drive them around. Sponsorship support to media is really valuable but it is crucial that the aid should not be hijacked by powerful institutions that have particular agenda. Journalists should continue to ask the right questions irrespective of sponsorship ties.
- Media platforms should make difficult development issues accessible to the public. An important role of the media is to simplify development information but also to handle academic research without underplaying its difficulty.