What’s it really like to report from a war zone? Work on an undercover investigation? Be a humanitarian photographer capturing images in the far corners of the earth to influence our hearts and minds? Here, you'll find out through captivating conversations delving into the personal stories of people who dedicate themselves to telling stories to drive impact, while at the same time exploring the ethical challenges they face. Hosted by Susannah Birkwood, international journalist and NGO storyteller.
8: Not enough NGOs consider paying story contributors - Laura Elizabeth Pohl, humanitarian photographer
39:12“A lot of us get into this work with NGOs because we want to make a difference but there are times when NGOs are actually doing more harm and they’re not living up to their standard of being humanitarian.” This episode features Laura Elizabeth Pohl, a humanitarian photographer, filmmaker, writer and editor from the US living in Cape Town, South Africa. Laura prides herself on producing stories about issues like immigration, agriculture, healthcare access and economic and social justice in an ethical way with care and respect for the dignity of the people featured. Her work for international NGOs has taken her to more than 20 countries. Laura was previously an entertainment journalist and interviewed celebrities including Britney Spears, and Mary J. Blige, and also worked as a Dow Jones business reporter in Korea, before she transitioned into photojournalism. The founder and co-editor of NGO Storytelling, a website to inform and inspire humanitarian storytellers, Laura also hosts her own podcast, Creative + Moneywise, where she interviews other photographers about their real-life money stories and career paths. In this episode, we consider this question: should the people featured in NGO stories be paid? We discuss the pros and cons of offering individuals compensation for sharing stories which are used by organisations to raise funds or advance their advocacy goals. We also hear Laura’s reflections on some of the unethical behaviour she’s witnessed when gathering stories in countries across the world, such as when she was sent to interview a struggling family in the DRC – who were receiving no support from the international nonprofit that selected them. This episode contains useful tips as to how NGOs and their storytellers can help the people featured in their communications to feel more valued. Useful links: Check out Laura’s website Check out Laura’s podcast, Creative + Moneywise Check out the NGO Storytelling blog Check out Laura’s Medium post, A call for ethical standards in nonprofit humanitarian photography Check out Oxfam's Ethical Content Guidelines Check out WaterAid's Ethical Image Policy Connect with Storytelling for Impact: Visit the website: www.storytellingforimpact.net Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/storytellingforimpact/ Follow Susannah Birkwood on Twitter: @Susannahbirkwoo Email: [email protected]
7: Going undercover always carries a risk – Ed Davey, environmental investigative journalist
48:06This episode features Ed Davey, the head of rainforest investigations at the international NGO Global Witness, where he leads a team dedicated to exposing the destruction of the world’s most important rainforests. In 2018 he helped reveal how the world’s top three commodity traders were embroiled in one of the biggest corruption cases of all time. Previously he spent eight years specialising in undercover journalism at the BBC where his work was featured on programmes such as Panorama, Newsnight, and the national News at Six, as well as writing for publications including the New Statesman and the Mail on Sunday. At 38, he’s also the author of three novels – Foretold by Thunder, The Napoleon Complex and The Killing Gene – published under the name EM Davey. He has visited more than 60 countries and African countries feature in all his novels. In this episode, we chat about what it’s like to work in investigative journalism for an NGO, getting the low-down on how Global Witness carries out its campaigns focused on complex international corruption and environmental crime, and how the job differs to working for a media outlet. We also hear eye-opening stories from Ed’s career as a journalist going undercover to expose everything from unscrupulous building firms to unethical fertility clinics, and learn about his astonishing trip to Benin, West Africa, to make a BBC documentary about voodoo sorcery after a friend told him he’d seen a voodoo priest cut off his wife’s head and then reattach it… 1:32 becoming a published author 6:41 sharing a name with a famous politician 8:37 transitioning from the BBC to campaigning journalism 12:50 calling on companies to take action on deforestation 15:33 getting decision-makers to take action on findings 17:30 the inside track on Global Witness investigations 21:00 justifying long-haul flights as an environmental campaigner 24:18 going undercover 28:12 Ed’s most impactful investigation 30:07 evaluating the impact of investigations 35:47 risks in undercover operations 39:24 voodoo in Benin 44:44 tips for getting into campaigning journalism Useful links: Check out Ed’s website Check out Ed’s novels Check out this Global Witness anti-corruption investigation Ed worked on Check out Ed’s BBC World Service documentary on voodoo sorcery in Benin Check out this BBC undercover investigation into building test centres Ed worked on Check out Ed’s BBC undercover investigation into immigrant working conditions Connect with Storytelling for Impact: Visit the website: www.storytellingforimpact.net Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/storytellingforimpact/ Follow Susannah Birkwood on Twitter: @Susannahbirkwoo Email: [email protected]
6: So much NGO language reinforces stereotypes – Sarika Bansal, ethical language expert
41:32This episode features Sarika Bansal, a journalist and author based in Nairobi, Kenya. Sarika was the founder and editor in chief of BRIGHT magazine, an award-winning digital magazine that told fresh, solutions-oriented stories about social change. In June 2021, she published Bright magazine’s final project, Tread Brightly: Notes on Ethical Travel – a collection of essays which to gets to the heart of what it means to travel ethically. Sarika has written extensively about the impact the language we use to tell stories in the NGO sector can have on the policies and decisions people make about faraway people and places. She has been published by the New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian and others, and developed curriculum and tools for journalists at the Solutions Journalism Network. In this episode, we discuss Sarika’s biggest bugbears when it comes to language use in the international NGO sector, scrutinising words and phrases such as "giving voice to the voiceless," “capacity building," “third world,” and “beneficiaries”. We also get her top tips on how to use language that empowers contributors and upholds their dignity, as well as delving into the moral quandary that is voluntourism and asking: Is there an ethical way for a young, privileged person to spend time in a poorer community? How might they channel their good intentions in genuinely useful ways? Useful links: Check out Sarika’s book Tread Brightly: Notes on Ethical Travel Check out Sarika’s New Humanitarian op ed on voluntourism Listen to Sarika’s podcast Made in Africa Check out Sarika's article 17 Development Clichés I'll be avoiding in 2017 Check out Sarika's article Cockroaches, Demons, Pregnant Bellies: This is the Language of Dehumanization Check out this report on the language of dignified storytelling Check out Bond's guide to taking British politics and colonialism out of our language
5: Do no harm also applies to journalism – Thin Lei Win, humanitarian correspondent
55:24This episode features Thin Lei Win, an award-winning Burmese climate change, food security and humanitarian correspondent living in Italy. Thin recently went freelance after nearly 13 years reporting for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Thomson Reuters global news agency. Born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar, she is also the founder and former chief correspondent of bilingual news agency Myanmar Now and co-founder of the non-profit storytelling project The Kite Tales, a unique storytelling and preservation project chronicling the lives and histories of ordinary people across Myanmar. We discuss whether the foreign correspondent model is due a reckoning following a recent reporting trip by CNN International to Myanmar to cover the country’s recent military coup. The media outlet was widely criticised for the trip, with many accusing it of downplaying the role played by local journalists and for causing harm as 11 local sources were arrested after speaking to CNN’s reporter. Useful links Check out this Vice article: How CNN’s Myanmar Trip Started a Debate Over Parachute Journalism Check out Thin’s storytelling project The Kite Tales Check out Myanmar Now Sign up to Thin’s newsletter about food systems and climate change Follow Thin on Twitter
BONUS: How to get into human rights reporting, with Iain Overton
7:02In this bite-size bonus episode of Storytelling for Impact, Iain Overton offers his top tips on becoming an investigative journalist and foreign correspondent. Iain Overton is a multi-award-winning investigative journalist based in the UK who has worked in over 80 countries around the world unearthing hard truths about human rights and gun violence. Iain was the founding editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism where he worked with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to uncover the Iraq war logs. His films have been broadcast by the likes of the BBC, Al Jazeera and ITN and he has worked with The Guardian, Independent, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sunday Times. He is now Executive Director of the charity Action on Armed Violence as well as a lecturer in human rights investigations at the UK’s Birkbeck and City universities and the author of two books Links: Volunteer at Action on Armed Violence Follow All the Citizens on Twitter Investigative Journalism MA at City University Investigative Reporting MA at Birkbeck University
4: There is a price you pay as a foreign correspondent - Iain Overton, writer and campaigner
51:34This episode features Iain Overton, a multi-award-winning investigative journalist based in the UK who has worked in over 80 countries around the world unearthing hard truths about human rights and gun violence. Iain was the founding editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism where he worked with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to uncover the Iraq war logs. His films have been broadcast by the likes of the BBC, Al Jazeera and ITN and he has worked with The Guardian, Independent, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sunday Times. He is now Executive Director of the charity Action on Armed Violence as well as a lecturer in human rights investigations at the UK’s Birkbeck and City universities and the author of two books – the latest of which, the Price of Paradise, he has generously offered to give away to one lucky listener.* We talk with Iain about the merits of journalism for someone who wants to use their career to do as much good as they can in the world; the emotional sacrifices Iain made through his work reporting human rights abuses; and what it was like to be detained by terrorist group Hezbollah during a reporting trip to Lebanon. *To win a copy of the Price of Paradise, described by The Guardian as 'provocative and timely.... highly readable,' please leave a rating and a review of Storytelling for Impact on Apple Podcasts and send a screenshot of it to [email protected] before 16 May. Resources mentioned in this episode include: Iain’s first book Gun Baby Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of the Gun Iain’s second book The Price of Paradise: How the suicide bomber shaped the modern age Action on Armed Violence report which found that black people living in Greater London are over three times more likely to be a murder victim Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting of the Iraq War Logs Iain’s charity, Action on Armed Violence Find out more about Iain: Iain’s website Iain’s Wikipedia Follow Iain on Twitter
3: I did things I wouldn’t do now - Rachel Erskine, ethical storytelling expert
37:39In episode 3, we meet Rachel Erskine, an NGO story gatherer whose work has taken her to everywhere from Afghanistan to Myanmar. Rachel is co-chair of People in the Pictures – a UK-based group which is trying to encourage NGOs to give more thought to the way they represent the people they work with in their storytelling. The group was set up in response to research published by Save the Children in 2017 which asked the people who featured in their photographs about both their experience and their perception of the images. Rachel also manages communications at the UK office of Africa’s leading health NGO, Amref Health Africa – an organisation which has a policy of only hiring in-country photographers to document its work and which recently carried out an in-depth review of its process for gathering consent from contributors. In this thought-provoking interview, we chat about the 2019 row over the sharing of an image of a Ugandan child by British journalist Stacey Dooley; about the mental health needs of humanitarian content gatherers; and Rachel’s top tips on how NGOs can be more ethical in their storytelling. Resources mentioned in this episode include: The People in the Pictures group’s Ethical guidelines for the collection and use of content The People in the Pictures group’s webinar on Race and Representation Save the Children’s 2017 report, The People in the Pictures: Vital perspectives on Save the Children’s image making
2: We mustn't exploit communities – Jason Houston, conservation photographer
46:42In this episode, we hear from Jason Houston, a ‘Concerned Photographer’ who demonstrates in his work a humanitarian impulse to use pictures to educate and change the world, not just to record it. A senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, Jason has worked in over 30 countries for media outlets such as the New York Times and numerous NGOs. Jason is a big advocate for participatory photography as a way of establishing a more equal relationship with communities and here he shares tips on using this technique to tell more authentic stories.
1: I fear for my safety – Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch Philippines
42:21In our first episode we speak to the brilliant and brave Carlos Conde, an investigative journalist specialising in human rights in the Philippines, about what it’s like to do this work in one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists. Before joining Human Rights Watch, Carlos worked as a journalist for 20 years, mainly for The New York Times. His job has taken him into some dicey and traumatic situations, from interviewing state-sponsored assassins to children who’ve seen their entire families gunned down in front of their eyes. In this deeply personal interview, Carlos reveals what it takes to do a job where the threats to his safety are constant.