Truth-Telling: Exploring problems and possible solutions in the media industry

Re-Picture launches an 8-part series that questions factors contributing to issues such as sensationalism, reductionism, racism, underrepresentation, and sexism — not only within journalism and society, but also within ourselves.

Photos by contributors to the The Everyday Projects

Power structures such as racism and patriarchy, strengthened by colonization and privilege, have affected our global society since time immemorial and remain deeply and boundlessly entrenched in our world. Though journalism is a path that many pursue for altruistic reasons — in order to tell the truth and expose injustices — it is also susceptible to, if not complicit in, these unjust systems.

While there are countless examples of journalism’s positive impact on history, there is also a long list of ways the media has grotesquely portrayed and taken advantage of underrepresented people worldwide. The damaging effects of these actions are far-reaching. Among them are the challenges that underrepresented people face when trying to break into the powerful position of storyteller — the disseminator of news, of “truth.”

Society has progressed and storytelling has become more layered (see the current National Geographic issue on race), but the immense lack of opportunity for underrepresented storytellers is one of the most dangerous and persistent flaws of the journalism industry — and one that ultimately contributes to a homogenized, Eurocentric worldview.

Though The Everyday Projects was founded to challenge stereotypes and narratives of people and places in the media, we recognize that we can also fall short of that goal and are constantly working to improve.

As one way to address that, we started Re-Picture in 2016 to highlight storytellers and projects — both within and outside the Everyday community — that demonstrate a commitment to going beyond the mainstream (and often sensational) narrative.

And now we’re launching a series that will explore some of the important issues the journalism industry faces today. We will question factors that contribute to problems such as sensationalism, reductionism, racism, underrepresentation, and sexism — not only within society, but also within ourselves.

Select images from “Truth-Telling” series. From top, left to right: 1) Assitou Mudiay, 20, says boxing helps her deal with her daily life challenges as a single mother in Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province. Photo by Ley Uwera, GPJ DRC, @leyuwera1 2) Justin, 8, right, who is a transgender boy, sits with his cisgender brother in Northern California. Photo by Annie Tritt, @trittscamera, from “Transcending Self” 3) A girl under a darkened sky in Qayyarah, Iraq, herds a flock of sheep, their fleece blackened by the smoke from oil fires that have been burning nearby since August. Oil wells were set on fire by retreating ISIS fighters over the summer before the start of the Mosul offensive. The oil from the town provided a huge source of income for ISIS to help it finance its activities. Many civilians remained during the Iraqi Army’s mission to retake Qayyarah and continue their daily lives despite months of smoke clouds hanging over the town. Photo by Nicole Tung, @nicoletung 4) A family protests against the presence of the Ukranian army near the city of Slaviansk in the rebel held controlled regions in Eastern Ukraine in May 2014. Photo by Francesca Volpi, @francesca_volpi_photo

Neeta Satam, who has worked behind-the-scenes of major photo competitions, discusses combating colonialism and sensationalism in photographing “the other.” Danielle Jackson examines how fractured news consumption has made the walls between us higher than ever, particularly for people of color in the media. Elie Gardner highlights the benefits of covering conflict with a civilian focus. Bradley Secker shares challenges of staying safe as an LGBT+ journalist and criticizes the narrow portrayal of LGBT+ individuals in the media.

Ricci Shryock speaks with African journalists about the need for more resources, better pay, and more equality. I speak with women about the evolution of women in the media and barriers they still face from harassment to lack of representation. Andrew Quilty reflects on his place as an outsider in Afghanistan and themes of reductionism that plague perspectives in the media. And, Shaminder Dulai highlights blind spots in coverage due to lack of newsroom diversity.

In order for journalism to fulfill its purpose toward the betterment and advancement of society, it’s important to continuously revisit the ethics and practices behind the work we create and consume. We must all — editors, photographers, writers, and news consumers — question ourselves, our power, and our privilege.

By examining how we have benefited from these systems, we also have the potential to actively create and participate in a more honest, layered, and inclusive media environment—one that works to dismantle the dangerous narratives that have helped power structures remain in place. But, if we fail to have these discussions and take responsibility, the media will continue to serve only a small fraction of the world and misrepresent the majority.

Although we can’t cover everything in this series, we hope it offers constructive thoughts on how we tell stories, who is telling them, and other factors within the climate of journalism today. Over the next few weeks we will identify problems and discuss possible solutions. Perhaps in doing so we can help turn these industry-wide conversations into further action.

Danielle Villasana is an independent photojournalist focusing on human rights, women, identity, and health around the world. She’s a member of The Everyday Projects Community Team and is based in Istanbul. Follow Danielle on Instagram.

Next up in “Truth-Telling”: Neeta Satam on combatting sensationalism in photographing “the other.”

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Re-Picture is produced by The Everyday Projects, working in partnership with PhotoWings.