Keeping empathy alive: New media and storytelling on disasters


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Keeping empathy alive: New media and storytelling on disasters looks at how the media can frame stories on disasters, and use new media to get information on them.

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  • I appreciate the perspectives you brought in. Journalists, largely because of the nature of their work tend to overlook this aspect. The need to keep empathy alive, and I speak for my self and rely on my personal experiences as a journalist here, often hits home only when affected persons are those we do know at a personal level and part of our lives.
    This is something for all of us to cultivate. Some of us still have not acquired taste for it.
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
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Keeping empathy alive: New media and storytelling on disasters

  1. 1. Keeping empathy alive: New media and storytelling on disasters Sanjana Hattotuwa Editor, Groundviews (
  2. 2. disasters
  3. 3. reporting disasters Protracted ethno-political conflict is difficult to report Sudden onset disasters are easier to cover, but attention difficult to sustain over time Competing disasters, limited attention Fatigue, hopelessness are enemies of charity and humanitarian aid
  4. 4. what is empathy? Noun, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  5. 5. why empathy? Guilt-tripping people doesn’t work, nor does jumping and down about millions of people dying or destitute. Helps media consumers connect. Highlights shared concerns over basic human needs - food, security, shelter. Focuses on individuals, not groups. Positive stories of success and transformation generates and sustains interest.
  6. 6. free mandela
  7. 7. social psychology One experiment found that people are quite willing to pay for a water-treatment facility to save 4,500 lives in a refugee camp with 11,000 people in it, but they are much less willing to pay for the same facility to save 4,500 lives with 250,000 inhabitants. Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon who has pioneered this field of research, notes that saving a large proportion of a group is very satisfying, while saving a small proportion seems like a failure—even if it's a high number.
  8. 8. greater proportion = lesser proportion = more attention limited attention IDPs saved Total IDPs IDPs saved Total IDPs 4500 4500 11000 250000
  9. 9. feeling good or feeling guilty Make people feel good for helping and intervening. Show them how they can help. Acknowledge both the desperate needs and also tangible progress. Flag the prospect of improvement in real people's lives if the help goes forward.
  10. 10. impact on women Carolyn McAskie, Acting Head of UN OCHA notes in 1999, “While both men and women are affected by conflict, crisis situations have a differentiated impact on them. Conflict and war are not gender neutral. Thus, eighty percent of the internally displaced persons and refugees around the world are women and children. Women are in flight, adapting to life in camps, or are directly caught up in the midst of conflict. In many cases, women and teenage girls in conflict zones are the sole providers and protectors for their families, since most men have either been killed or are away on combat duty. This situation leads to a shift in gender roles with a dramatic increase in the number of women heads of households.”
  11. 11. what works? shock? Pablo Bartholomew, 1984, Bhopal
  12. 12. what works? shock? James Nachtwey, 1992, Somalia
  13. 13. what works? symbolism? Arko Datta, 2004
  14. 14. what works? symbolism? James Nachtwey, 1994, Rwanda
  15. 15. what works? symbolism? Mike Wells, 1980, Uganda
  16. 16. new technology & new media
  17. 17. new technologies Blogs Social networks (Twitter, Facebook) Web 2.0 Mobiles | SMS | MMS | Mobile video VoIP / Skype
  18. 18. what’s new Ubiquity of two way communications Addressable peoples, even those displaced Victims no longer mere passive recipients of aid Disaster early warning, preparation, response and recovery tied to communications and technology First stories from disasters come from victims and witnesses
  19. 19. what’s new Low resolution content broadcast on high definition media Content from ordinary peoples juxtaposed with professional journalists Technology now accessible and produced by women, children and even those who are illiterate
  20. 20. enduring challenges Impartial, accurate coverage still vital, increasingly hard to ascertain Torrent of information. Trickle of knowledge. Post-disaster communications can be unreliable and difficult Early warning does not save lives without disaster preparedness
  21. 21. power of sms “My name is Mohammed Sokor, writing to you from Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab. Dear Sir, there is an alarming issue here. People are given too few kilogrammes of food. You must help.” What if mobile phones were also handed out with aid? SMS text messages from IDPs / refugees could become an effective SOS for millions
  22. 22. power of sms The web is littered with examples on how SMS helped in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. “I'm standing on the Galle road in Aluthgama and looking at 5 ton trawlers tossed onto the road. Scary shit.” “Found 5 of my friends, 2 dead. Of the 5, 4 are back in Colombo. The last one is stranded because of a broken bridge. Broken his leg. But he's alive.” “Made contact. He got swept away but swam ashore. Said he's been burying people all day.” “Just dragging them off the beach and digging holes with his hands.”
  23. 23. london bombings | CJ 7 July 2005 Within 24 hours, the BBC had received 1,000 stills and videos, 3,000 texts and 20,000 e-mails.
  24. 24. flickr
  25. 25. visualisations | google earth
  26. 26. visualisations | google earth
  27. 27. pc broadcasting |
  28. 28. mobile broadcasting |
  29. 29. twitter First reports of Chinese earthquake in May 2008 were from Twitter Mexico City earthquake in 2007 Minneapolis Bridge collapse in 2007 Post-election violence in Iran in 2009
  30. 30.
  31. 31. facebook
  32. 32. facebook for disasters Australia to use Facebook, Twitter to issue disaster warnings Social networking sites are to be trialed for issuing urgent messages about natural disasters in the Cairns region in far north Queensland. Many young people access their social networking websites several times per day. Using Facebook and Twitter as a way of communicating with young people.
  33. 33. wikipedia
  34. 34. wikipedia on mumbai attacks 400+ edits / updates, including emergency evac information 100+ authors including eye-witness testimonies Less than 24 hours after first attack
  35. 35. reliefweb
  36. 36. irin
  37. 37. prevention web
  38. 38. reuters alertnet
  39. 39. google reader
  40. 40. reporting toolkit Both ways: YouTube, SMS + mobiles, Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc Pull: RSS, Web, Wikipedia, Publish: Vodcasts, Podcasts, Vodcasts, Podcasts, Blog, Flickr, Google News alerts, SMS, Mobile video/photos Alertnet, IRIN, Reliefweb etc etc
  41. 41. recap Highlight shared concerns and basic human needs - food, security, shelter. Focus on individuals, not groups. Write positive stories of success and transformation to generate and sustain interest.
  42. 42. recap New technologies give voice to the illiterate and voiceless Be sceptical of information, but use new media Develop media literacy to embrace new technologies
  43. 43. thank you