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Avoiding extractive journalism

At Mongabay, we frequently document the harm extractive industries inflict on the environment, wildlife, and communities globally. However, journalism itself can sometimes be extractive. This issue arises when journalists enter a community to report a story, gather context, and then leave. Despite the journalist’s best intentions, if the story isn’t accessible to the community in their language and format, the community may never benefit from its contributions.

In more severe cases, such reporting can endanger community members. While a journalist can leave, local community members cannot. This reality underscores the importance of avoiding extractive journalism.

In general, here are some strategies to avoid extractive journalism:

  • Collaborative Journalism: Partner with local journalists and communities to ensure accurate and respectful storytelling.
  • Solutions Journalism: Focus on not just the problems but also the responses and potential solutions, often engaging with local stakeholders.
  • Long-Term Engagement: Invest in sustained coverage and relationship-building with the communities being reported on.
  • Build Relationships: Establish long-term connections with the community. Spend time getting to know the people, their stories, and their context.
  • Involve Locals: Collaborate with local journalists, fixers, and community members. They can provide valuable insights, context, and access that outsiders might miss.
  • Spend Time: Invest in longer stays in the community to understand the nuances and complexities of the issues you are covering.
  • Follow Up: Continue reporting on the story after the initial coverage to follow developments and assess the impact.
  • Seek Consent: Always get informed consent from people you interview or photograph. Ensure they understand how their stories and images will be used.
  • Respect Privacy: Be mindful of personal and cultural sensitivities. Avoid exploiting vulnerabilities for the sake of the story.
  • Provide Context: Offer a comprehensive view that includes historical, social, and cultural background. Avoid sensationalism and stereotyping.
  • Be Transparent: Be open about your intentions, methods, and affiliations. This builds trust and accountability.
  • Share Credit: Acknowledge the contributions of local journalists and community members in your stories.
  • Educate and Empower: Help communities understand how the media works and empower them to tell their own stories through training and resources.
  • Follow Standards: Adhere to established ethical guidelines and standards for journalism, such as those set by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) or the Ethical Journalism Network.
  • Create Policies: Media organizations should develop and enforce policies that promote ethical reporting and discourage extractive practices.

By embracing these strategies, journalists can produce more accurate, respectful, and impactful stories while fostering trust and collaboration with the communities they cover.

Mongabay’s Initiatives

At Mongabay, we have implemented several initiatives to support these ambitions:

  • Our Indigenous News Desk and Fellowship programs are designed to foster collaboration with local journalists and communities. 
  • We have policies that extend safety considerations beyond our staff and contributors to our sources. 
  • We’re investing in formats, such as short-form text and audio, to reach community members more effectively. 
  • We are exploring partnerships to adapt content into relevant languages.

We recognize these efforts are just the beginning but through these efforts, Mongabay aims to ensure that stories involving local communities benefit those communities, reinforcing our commitment to ethical journalism.

By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.