2019.03.28 donna senzatetto, povertà, povera

‘Ethical storytelling’ a way to preserve dignity of people in difficulty

As the Catholic Media Conference wraps up in the US city of Baltimore, Dooshima Tsee invites Catholic journalists to respectfully tell the stories of people in difficult situations who receive humanitarian aid.

By Devin Watkins – Baltimore, USA

Catholic media professionals gathered in the US city of Baltimore for the annual Catholic Media Conference on 6-9 June.

Besides a chance to network and share ideas, Catholic reporters and editors from across the United States enjoyed several opportunities to receive professional formation, including in ethical storytelling.

Dooshima Tsee, the Regional Information Officer for Southern African of Catholic Relief Services, offered a course in how Western media outlets can better tell the stories of people on the receiving end of the Church’s charitable efforts.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, and a member of the Caritas Internationalis federation.

Respecting human dignity in Catholic reporting

In an interview with Vatican News, Ms. Tsee said ethical storytelling means respecting people’s human dignity by telling their whole story rather than glorifying poverty or the difficulties they face.

“Ethical storytelling is particularly important for Catholic media, because we have these guiding principles as Catholics to make sure that we're respecting human dignity and we're respecting the people that we work with and the communities that we serve,” she said.

Ms. Tsee added that “ethical” storytelling means focusing on equity and telling a “context-aware story” that focuses on people and not their situation.

Catholic reporters, she said, need to take care not to deepen divides or inequities by making sure they focus on “the whole person”.

Focus on people, not situations

In her presentation at the conference, Ms. Tsee offered the example of a social media post showcasing a program serving people with HIV/AIDS.

Rather than focusing on the people offering the aid, a post written from an ethical storytelling standpoint would uplift those receiving the aid as the subjects of the descriptive sentence and therefore of their own story.

“We shouldn’t label people or define them by their circumstances or the situations we find them in,” she said. “We should tell stories that give a 360-degree view of what their circumstances are, and how they're responding to it.”

Ms. Tsee said this form of storytelling “showcases the dignity and resilience that they have and what they have done to respond to the situations that they are in.”

Preserving agency and identity

In conclusion, Ms. Tsee urged Catholic media professionals to preserve the agency of people on whom they report.

Instead of using terms like “the poor” or “people who are mentally ill”, she said ethical storytelling should reveal the nuance of their situations and show their resilience.

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10 June 2023, 09:49