Read “Betrayal of Trust”, the report by the “Family and Community Development Committee” of the Victorian Parliament, into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, and you will understand James Campbell’s concern for vulnerable children in Victoria. You can even understand the anger in his report.
But I don’t think James gets to the heart of the problem. There is one phrase on page 205 of Volume 1 of the report, which is telling. “… (T)here is no overarching policy direction to prevent and respond to the criminal abuse of children in non-government institutions.” If this is true, what makes it different for general culture, families and local communities?
In framing his ‘story’, I wonder if James’ approached sources who have a deep ground-level understanding of ‘child abuse’, rather than bureaucratic sources?
James’ article offers no explanation of the primary causes of this huge social problem, which is so big and so prolonged it can’t be just process ‘break down’! Then, are these ’causes’ within our cultural values? Our family values? Our self-ish values? Or, the beliefs our culture is promoting? If journalists don’t report on the causes, is the ‘story’ worth any more than just filling up space?
Going beyond causes, I think James’ readers would buy into his ‘story’ much more, if he presented solutions to the problem, which can only be truly known by sources close to the problem. I think his ‘story’ would be much more compelling if it reported on a child, family or local community who were actually solving the problem of “vulnerability”. Particularly, if he also reported on the “how to” of the solution!
Rather than just being confronted, and over time desensitized, would this journalistic approach cause readers to become more aware of people around them, particularly those who are vulnerable? And, become involved with ‘solutions’? To make a difference?
Even more, if the ‘story’ gives me important insights or teachable lessons, wouldn’t my respect and trust for the journalist grow?
For this new approach to gain traction, solutions need to be central to the ‘story’.
Could it happen? I think it could! If journalists questioned what really motivates their readers! Do we skim to pick up an interesting thread? If we find one, do we explore the ‘story’, more, to the end? If we don’t do we move onto another writer’s ‘story’?
But, when others do good things, we usually need some evidence that reported solutions work. It might require a testimonial from a beneficiary. An expert’s corroboration might help! Quotes from local community leaders might be good. If expansion of the project has been funded, the reasons from financial supporters will add weight.
On the negative side, the ‘story’ can’t read like a puff piece for the project leader. Nor, for a politician, bureaucrat or celebrity! The latter never solve a problem.
Finally, deep down the reader will probably think “this is good journalism!”. I want more!
But, I don’t think James could easily write stories like this. Much as he might like! Could the business model of the Herald Sun live with the extra time required for an experienced journalist to do this type of work?
If media advertisers sense more time is being spent on reading the ‘stories’, and readers want to act upon them, they know this means less time is being spent on and acting on their advertisements. It works against the quest of News Corporation, which I believe is “empathy with our audiences and advertisers”. But should this satisfy us, the audience?
How could you change this? Well, you could regularly tell Herald Sun editors that you want more “solutions centred” stories. You could measure proportions of (a) reporting on “Facts”, (b) insightful commentary, (c) trivia, and (d) advertising. Armed with this you could approach editors and media regulators! You could email journalists about their ‘stories’, and ask, “what causes the problem?”. If problems are defined, email them, congratulate them, and then ask, “what on-the-ground solutions are working?”
Remember, be polite! Journalists respond much better this way!
You can change the media narrative if you try, try, try and try again, and again!
BTW: News Corporation journalists can be emailed on ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.