It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong in the media industry. But if you actively seek out the good in something, you can usually find it.
There are lots of examples of how the media is acting as a force for good – by raising awareness; telling stories of resilience instead of only focusing on tragedy; highlighting solutions to social problems; and mobilizing people to act in ways that benefit society. We’re seeing these examples in all types of media: photography, gaming, advertising, social media, and journalism.
Here are some recent examples that will make you hopeful about the media’s ability to create meaningful awareness and change:
- In the earthquakes’ aftermath, people creatively used social media to connect and inform those affected by the tragedy. “Saroj Karki, 23, who founded a blood donation group Youth for Blood in 2011, immediately transformed his team into a social media-driven relief vehicle: the Rapid Response Team. He began fielding digital requests from Nepalis — inside and outside the country—who couldn’t contact family and friends due to overwhelmed phone networks. They started a texting app for receiving earthquake updates (still important as large aftershocks continue) and shared it via Facebook.”
- In addition to reducing stress, cultivating empathy, and bringing families together, gaming can also strengthen people’s social skills. “Texas Tech researchers think that cooperative gameplay, whether in violent or non-violent games, makes people nicer. ‘We found that playing with a helpful partner increases the expectation of others to reciprocate that pro-social behavior,’ said author John Velez. He added that teaming up even makes you ‘nicer to the other team… that just tried to beat you.’ Playing cooperatively, rather than alone — even online — can stimulate gamers’ empathy so much that it negates the aggressive effects of violent games and even carries over into the real world.”
- Spotify’s latest ad campaign raises awareness about how deafness affects people worldwide. “Spotify recently took a trip to Puerto Princesa, Philippines, with hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Hearing Foundation, to deliver hearing aids and free music to poor communities. This emotional spot from Night Agency and Tool director Alec Helm highlights a few of those stories.”
Looking at Appalachia (The New York Times)
- Photographer Roger May has created an Instagram project, “Looking at Appalachia,” in which he’s inviting amateur and professional photographers to submit photos that reflect life in Appalachia. “For too long, images that defined it were dominated by the usual visual tropes — of barefoot kids, rundown shacks and rutted roads — made at the dawn of the federal government’s war on poverty in the 1960s. ‘Those pictures created this visual definition of Appalachia,’ said. ‘It became so easy to say: ‘Yeah, I know Appalachia. I know the Bronx. I know East L.A.’ In any of those places we have visual cues that immediately take us there, yet they are in no way representative of those places.'”
How can poems transform the world? (The Washington Post)
- Award-winning poet Jane Hirshfield has just published a book titled “Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World,” along with a new book of poems called “The Beauty.” “One of the current great problems in the world is fundamentalism of every kind — political, spiritual — and poetry is an antidote to fundamentalism,” Hirshfield tells the Post. “Poetry is about the clarities that you find when you don’t simplify. Poetry is about complexity, nuance, subtlety. Poems also create larger fields of possibility. The imagination is limitless, so even when a person is confronted with an unchangeable outer circumstance, one thing poems give you is the sense that there’s always, still, a changeability, a malleability, of inner circumstance. That’s the beginning of freedom.”
- In the documentary film “Clouds over Sidra,” the UN is using virtual reality technology to raise awareness about Syrian refugee camps and cultivate a sense of empathy. “Using special VR headsets, viewers feel like they are transported inside the Zaatari refugee camp that has been the 12-year-old’s home for the past one and a half years. In a scene in which children stream into a makeshift school, the technology makes the viewer feel like they could reach out and interact with the smiling children who seem to be approaching to greet.”
Journalism and the power of emotions (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Three CJR reporters are working on a research project about how empathy factors into storytelling. They looked at a variety of stories as part of their research, including The New York Times “Invisible Child” series on child homelessness: “The story’s reporter, Andrea Elliott, says she never could have anticipated such reactions to her story. Her own inbox crashed, while readers sent envelopes of cash to Dasani and her family, and offers for trips to Disney World. Support and donations extended beyond the family and were offered to Dasani’s school, as well as the Brooklyn shelter where they lived. ‘Invisible Child’ is an example of the power of storytelling. It’s also an example of what motivates many journalists, what we believe is possible through our narratives: to extend empathy for the individual to the group, to correct injustice and inspire change, or at least awareness.”
Elliott and “Invisible Child” photographer Ruth Fremson spoke at ivoh’s 2014 media summit. We will be talking about empathy and storytelling in a related panel at our 2015 media summit from June 25-28.