In a rapidly-changing media world, how do we avoid creating ‘poverty porn’?

Arete
Arete
Feb 8, 2018 · 4 min read

- by Peter Burdin

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Ed Sheeran’s video for Comic relief was criticised as ‘poverty porn’. Image: Comic Relief

When the superhero Batman visited a child in a Syria refugee camp he was widely applauded. But when the music superstar Ed Sheeran met street children in Liberia, he fell flat.

This tale of two global icons was a key point at Arete’s latest media training workshop to help charity media teams navigate and prosper in the fast-changing social media world.

War Child’s ‘Batman’ video

Batman appeared in a War Child video carrying an eight-year-old Syrian refugee to make the point that fantasy is often the only way for children in war to escape the reality of their daily lives. Last month the video was named the best fundraising film at the Golden Radiator Awards.

In contrast Ed Sheeran’s attempt to pay for hotel accommodation for several street children was slated as “irresponsible”. The judges called the video for Comic Relief the worst example of “poverty tourism”.

Ed Sheeran’s video for Comic Relief

The Golden Radiator Award recognises charity videos that get away from stereotypes about poverty. It seeks to stop NGO videos showing locals as “victims” and perpetuating a negative view of development.

Arete media workshops can help NGOs to avoid these traps and produce campaigns that are effective and don’t distort the narrative they are seeking to share.

How Arete workshops can help

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Arete’s senior media trainers — including Peter Burdin, Clár Ní Chonghaile and Kate Holt — use their international news experience to show how much the modern news agenda is influenced by social media, and how agencies can use their press releases and campaign videos for maximum impact.

The workshops demonstrate how to pitch effectively to news desks and reveals what the elements you need to make your pitches irresistible.

Attendees look at the latest trends in mainstream media, and how many newsrooms are trying to shift from a narrative that only reports problems to a new ‘solutions-focussed’ journalism that is equally rigorous but also highlights efforts to address problems.

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Peter Burdin helps Arete’s workshop attendees to get maximum impact from their press releases

On social media the workshops provide a range of tips of how to make your story stand out in a competitive environment, where the volume of incoming content can be overwhelming.

How do you stop people’s thumbs flicking over your content? Where should you place your stories? What are the relative merits of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter? What are the future platforms and techniques you also need to be aware of? These discussions form a key part of the workshop, giving media teams tools to navigate the digital landscape.

We all think video is king — but we discuss why the still image is often more effective for getting your message across.

The seemingly minimalist combination of text over good still photographs really can make the biggest impact. The still image forces you to look at it in a way that video can wash over you.

Likewise the triumph of the audio podcast is another good example of how a basic message well told can penetrate the noise of social media.

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The media world is changing more rapidly than ever and charities’ media campaigns need to change with it. Well-meaning images demonstrating poverty are all too frequently dismissed as “poverty porn” perpetuating “white saviour” myths — charities need a new set of tools and guidelines to get their messages flying in the modern media.

At Arete media workshops, you’ll discover why Batman flies and why Ed Sheeran doesn’t.

If you want to learn how to pitch effective humanitarian and NGO stories, join our workshop on 6 April at the Frontline Club — more information here. If you feel your organisation could benefit from a private workshop, simply drop us an email.

Biographies

Peter Burdin is the BBC’s former Africa Bureau Chief. He lived in Johannesburg and Nairobi from 2009 to 2014, where he travelled and worked extensively around the continent. Peter has thirty five years experience as a senior leader of the BBC’s International News team.

Kate Holt is the founder and director of Arete. For the last twelve years she has photographed regularly for numerous NGOs — including UNICEF, Care International, Jhpiego, the International Red Cross, MSF and OXFAM. She is a regular contributor to The BBC, The Guardian and The Mail on Sunday and has also had work published in The Independent, The Times, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Financial Times.

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Arete Stories

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for…

Arete

Written by

Arete

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations.

Arete Stories

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations.

Arete

Written by

Arete

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations.

Arete Stories

Arete is the expert storytelling and training agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations.

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