One of the main issues with covering human interest stories is that remaining completely detached is difficult – journalists who interview people with crippling diseases and mutilations, victims of torture, those living in abject conditions, will all tell the same thing. Turning off a Dictaphone, walking out of a door and heading back to a relatively privileged life to finish typing copy is a damn hard thing to do.
It is only very rarely that journalists use their column inches to ask the public for support. The last time I can recall that happening was after the 2011 Japanese tsunami. These are catastrophes where millions of people are affected and the calls for support are of course completely necessary.
But what about the hundreds of individuals who are afflicted in terrible ways but do not have the chance for newspaper-based pleas for altruism?
It’s with this in mind that I draw my attention to journalismwithoutborders.com. It was featured on the Press Gazette’s website yesterday and caught my eye. Started in 2010, the basic concept is this: the site finds reports about suffering individuals and helps to raise money for them – as Roy Greenslade wrote not long after the site’s launch - “after the reporters have moved on.”
The site operates with the help of Vienna-based news agency Central European News and the Austrian charity ‘We Help’.
The organisation’s work has received mixed results so far. Talking to Press Gazette, one of the minds behind the project, Michael Leidig, an ex-Telegraph hack, said: “The first few stories we did were to build up the network and we didn’t actively campaign – sometimes we pull out all the stops and will only get a couple of euros – other times we make no effort and can raise several thousand. Sometimes we get very few readers on a story but lots of money – sometimes it’s the other way round. The story about the man left with metal chains embedded under his skin after eight years in an illegal prison was read by half a million people – but just six people donated. But that was enough for him to have the operation he needed.”
The site only runs a few campaigns at a time, such as raising money for the terrible case of Wang Xingao’s facial deformity.
The JWB website states that their aim is not to replace regular charity donations but “as an additional avenue for money to be paid to individuals that those who have heard of their stories would like to help directly.”
It is an interesting organisation that fills what I can see as a gap in the media. Journalists don’t swear to a Hippocratic duty of care when going out on stories – our job is to tell the truth. But there is little that should stop us from drawing to attention to a way of helping those we report on and whose lives we so personally engage with.
What do you think? Is Journalism Without Borders a worthwhile operation? Should journalists remain completely detached from their work or do we have a duty of care like doctors? Let us know. Comment below or tweet us @WannabeHacks.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look