This week, Gallatin has been hosting a three-day Human Rights Conference with five separate panels. Yesterday afternoon, four panelists assembled at the Human Rights and Media panel to discuss the coverage of human rights issues in this age of new media.
The panelists were all filmmakers and photojournalists seeking to push socially conscious messages. But instead of utilizing traditional print media, they emphasized new media’s ability to spread and inspire awareness.
Each of the four speakers gave individual lectures and then congregated as a panel to answer questions from the audience. Brian Storm, founder of Brooklyn-based production studio MediaStorm, has worked on films about removing land mines in Laos and Rwandan children born of rape. NYU Tisch professor Fred Ritchin walked us through his New York Times digital photography exhibit on post-war Bosnia. Nina Berman photographs and interviews American war veterans; her work includes the famous photograph of Tyler Ziegel and his former wife. Ed Kashi, a member of VII Photo Agency, published photographs of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and the oil industry in the Niger Delta.
All four talked about a variety of subjects, but these are the tips that stood out the most:
Remember the value of powerful storytelling: “What makes a good story hasn’t changed,” said Brian Storm. “What has changed are the tools and techniques to tell these stories.”
At MediaStorm, he and his colleagues utilize every type of digital technology to distribute their films to as many people as possible. He encourages viewers to share his films on every platform and welcomes the diversity of opinions that inevitably emerge. But ultimately, the films that are going to get the most hits are the ones with the most compelling stories.
Despite whatever personal opinions about the KONY 2012 campaign, Storm recognized that the KONY video told a powerful story. With this story, Invisible Children simply shared the video once and let social media do the rest. “The thing that is going to save journalism is storytelling… Go tell a great story and enable all the viral elements to share it,” he said. New media has changed how we gather and share stories, but has not changed how we understand them.
It’s okay to keep your opinions to yourself: Both Ritchen and Berman discussed the non-necessity of inserting your personal opinion into your work. When creating his Bosnia photography project, Ritchen purposely excluded extensive captions in order to allow his viewers to create opinions for themselves. “We’re here to provoke questions and discussions, not provide definitive answers,” he said.
Berman, too, experienced a similar feeling when people asked her opinions on the war in Iraq. “I think it’s more interesting to hear [the subjects] talk than for me to talk about them,” she said. When photographing war veterans, she always asks her subjects to pose as they like. “Almost always, they turn away.”
Compromise on copyright laws: With so many platforms for file sharing, it’s incredibly difficult to protect your work. Berman was incredibly surprised when her Tyler Ziegler photographs appeared all over Facebook, cropped and re-colored, without any credits. Naturally, her first instinct was to protect her photographs from copyright violations.
However, Berman realized that photo sharing, in any capacity, allows her stories and her subjects’ stories to be told. With the Internet, more and more people have access to her photographs, even if her work is slightly compromised. Despite the potential for copyright infringement, Berman feels that print pages are limiting compared to the Internet, which provides so many more creative opportunities.
Funding is essential: Kashi creates short films instead of full-length documentaries for many reasons, one of the most obvious being that full-length films simply cost more. The truth is that these projects require enormous funding, which is difficult to come by.
As much as these journalists would love to hop from country to country to document powerful human stories, finances simply don’t permit. Investors are hard to find and media publications don’t pay much to document stories. Yet, it’s impossible to do this kind of work without funding, which leads to the final point.
Have passion for your work, especially since you won’t be making any money: People don’t participate in human rights advocacy and journalism for the money. Therefore, you must believe in your work and care deeply for it because you won’t be getting much else from it.
With that being said, these journalists have traveled to some beautiful places, met some phenomenal people, and witnessed both heartbreaking and inspiring events. They have had unique experiences that one simply doesn’t get while working for a hedge fund. Regarding his work, Storm stated: “You don’t get rich, but you lead a rich life.”