Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Find Those Affected

It's Journalism 101. When shit happens, find the people affected and tell their stories.

Or as this Washington Post blog today points out (last graf):
The cure for all of this is reporting: Go out and find people who are affected or not affected by the health care law and the shutdown. And shut up the pundits and the cable hosts. Why should anyone trust them to evaluate what’s going on in this country?
I'm sympathetic. It is Journalism 101 to go out and find folks hurt by a decision, or government stupidity, or a natural disaster, and tell their stories in a compassionate manner.

It also doesn't always work the way you think it works.

Research suggests the poor little person story can boomerang. The best example of this is a book-length treatment entitled News That Matters. A set of experiments found that those stories can often lead to people blaming the victim for being out of work, out of luck, having a hard time of it. There's basic psychology at play here. When things go poorly for ourselves, we blame external forces. When things go poorly for others, we blame it on some failing on their part. It's the fundamental attribution error.

We still do the stories. They're necessary. They need to be told. But what we need is research on how we can write or broadcast them in such a way that does not lead into a blame-the-victim mentality on the part of our audience. I'm certain in our storytelling we can find ways to offset such a psychological tendency, probably by asserting our "victim" doesn't want to be thought of as such, just wants to get back to work, or have access to some governmental service, etc. Like a lot of good journalism, the trick is in how you craft the story.

Just doing a poor-little-person story is not enough, and indeed it may make things worse.

No comments: