Participation – a threat?

Is participation a threat to independence? Is it at all possible to offer participation without loosing independence? And what is independence?
Recently, I have been struggling with these questions. I work with the intent to offer a great extent of participation within my projects – from external as well as internal parties, but it seems it is not something easily accepted. At least not within the organisation. Of course, we are journalists. We are publicists. We are supposed to present stories, taking both “sides” into consideration. Letting accused respond and following the rules of independent journalism.

Of course.

But what if?
What if we are colored by prejudice? Colored by fear. Colored by ideas of how to present. How to “do things”. How to produce. People of the majority, are often unaware of the ways in which society has colored their minds. The notion of one self as neutral, open and the master of non-judgmental storytelling is strong within the journalistic profession. The fear of having someone telling you that you are telling a story from one perspective, leaving another perspective out – is also an attack on the very core of the journalistic mind –

Say, you are presented with a mission. A mission to produce a set of tv-programs involving the actual groups of people you are going to portray within the series. Letting them participate.
Say these groups are minority groups. Groups, consisting of people who are used to fighting an uneven battle to get their story out there. How are you going to be able to keep a neutral position?


Can you remain neutral?
My answer, of course, is yes. I believe in participation.

I understand why many are afraid of it. I understand the mechanism to shut those out, who you are talking about. It is simply so much easier. You can present the story as you see it. You don’t need to hear uncomfortable remarks about being of the majority, not understanding the minority issues.

I understand. But I don’t accept it as an excuse for not offering participation. If you truly want to tell a story about being part of a minority, but refuse to listen to that same minority – except for the one person you choose to interview, well then you are balancing on a very thin line.

If you, on the other hand, invite many different representatives from different groups within the minority in order to get the whole picture of the reality of being part of the minority – you will have a wider perspective and a better basis to draw your conclusions from. Of course, this does not prevent you from having prejudices or portraying the story in an exotifiyng manner, but it does help you to avoid the worst mistakes.

My belief is that

the fear of participation is in fact fear of loosing power.

In a way, it seems, it is also a manifestation of not being clear enough – not transparent enough – about everyone’s role in the project.
Of course, a journalist with a mission to tell a story will have the final say in how this story is told. That is important, not only to maintain the journalistic independence, but also to protect the participants from having to shoulder the great burden of publicist decisions.

It is my experience, that the not so comfortable “talk” you need to have when starting a participation process – the talk about who has what role, who has the final say and what we all want to accomplish together – is something many people want to avoid. It seems they would rather have no participation, than laying down the rules so that participation can take place. To me, that is a loss for democracy, for media literacy and for storytelling.

I am a strong advocate of participation. And I am a strong advocate of being humble in that you really can’t claim to be the all-knowledgable journalist, especially when it comes to such individual and delicate experiences as being part of a minority.

My stance is simply that if you are transparent, if you allow the process to take time, if you keep an open mind and realise that you have prejudices no matter who you are, then you can achieve participation without loosing independence. AND you will be a much better storyteller for it.

Go, participate, let others in and enjoy the new perspectives it will give you. Broaden your horizon and make room for more stories out there.

To me, stories are like love – there is no limit to how much we can take. ❤



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