GLOBAL PRESS HQ — I was no journalism newbie when I joined Global Press as a fact-checker last year.
I’m nearing two decades of experience in copy editing and fact-checking for several media companies, including local and legal newspapers, an investigative reporting organization and a sustainable business website. But, in spite of this variety, most of the stories I scoured for errors were focused on the U.S. and the rest of the Western world. When I did work on international articles, they were collected from wire services and often had to do with war. And they created the unfortunate perception that the citizens of these countries had nothing but chaos and misery in store for them.
This is what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the “danger of a single story.”
In a 2009 TED Talk, Adichie, who is perhaps best known for her novel “Americanah,” shares a story from her childhood in Nigeria. Her family had live-in domestic help, including a boy named Fide. Whenever Adichie’s mother spoke of Fide and his family, she described them as very poor. So when she and her mother went to visit Fide’s family, she was shocked to see an artfully woven basket that his brother had made. It simply hadn’t occurred to her that someone from a family that destitute could create anything.
“Their poverty,” she says, “was my single story of them.”
Between 1998 and 2011, at least 20 media outlets in the U.S. shuttered all their foreign bureaus, according to the American Journalism Review. And the bureaus that still exist have seen their staffs shrink. As international coverage drops, so does our understanding of and empathy for cultures beyond our borders. We unthinkingly accept the single, often negative, stories we hear about Muslims, undocumented immigrants, Syrian refugees and other groups that are unfamiliar to us.
Global Press trains female journalists in underreported regions to write about their own communities. This is significant and necessary in a world where men hold nearly two-thirds of all reporting jobs, while women hold only 36 percent. In addition to creating a more diverse pool of international reporters, the program also provides a closer look at nations through the eyes of their citizens, in their own words.
I’ve been fascinated, shocked and moved by the stories these journalists tell: Sri Lanka’s status as a leading global provider of corneas for transplants and research; the transgender people in Chiapas, Mexico, who are fighting for the legal right to change their gender on official identification documents; and the widows pushing for the stipends promised to them after their husbands were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-running civil unrest.
“Stories matter. Many stories matter,” Adichie says. “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
This is how we resist the danger of a single story.