Festival Recap: News & Journalism for Social Change

September 24, 2017 | 10:17 am by Mandar Apte
From left to right: Robert Samuels, Rudaba Nasir, Kem Knapp Sawyer, Jon Sawyer

From left to right: Robert Samuels, Rudaba Nasir, Kem Knapp Sawyer, Jon Sawyer

Written by Brittany Dawson.

More than 75 people gathered at Impact Hub DC on Saturday for the Media Rise Forum, a daylong series of presentations and workshops focused on media as a tool for social change. Saturday’s penultimate session before the Keynote Address was the “News & Journalism” panel. The speakers included:

Jon Sawyer began the discussion by highlighting the importance of collaboration, a recurring theme throughout the Forum.

“People have been talking about collaboration all day, and that’s very much at the heart of what the Pulitzer Center does,” he said.

The Pulitzer Center connects with journalists, major media outlets, NGOs and educational institutions to create reporting and education projects about under-reported, systemic global issues. The projects range from collaborative photography to eBooks, and from video games to data visualization.

Kem Knapp Sawyer provided an in-depth look at the organization’s projects. “We are based on statistics at the Pulitzer Center, but we are looking at ways to tell stories about what is behind those stats,” she explained. One such project is the documentary film “Seeds of Hope.”

The film tells the story of a woman in eastern Congo who, herself a victim of rape, founded a center for other rape survivors. This film has been screened internationally and is just one example of the center’s diverse work.

Also focused on the global impact of storytelling, Rudaba Zehra Nasir of Voice of America shared her work on women’s issues in Pakistan. After the Taliban’s attempted assassination of Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2012, Nasir realized that “there is so much work that needs to be done in Pakistan in terms of women’s empowerment.” Her TV and radio broadcasts through Voice of America’s Urdu service, like this segment on Pakistani female artists, present Pakistani women as strong female role models who, as Nasir put it, audiences will learn from and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”

The session’s final speaker, Robert Samuels, spoke to attendees about the impact journalism can have right here in Washington, D.C. At a time when new residents are excited about the District’s rapid transformation, there’s “a dualism that happens,” he said.

Samuels said he aims to tell the stories of the city’s most vulnerable residents through his reports on social issues, such as homelessness and affordable housing. He claimed that, as a reporter, “the most I can do is tell their stories.” However, his inspiring mentorship work with the nonprofit organization Press Pass Mentors exemplifies the creative ways in which journalism can directly effect social change, by pairing Washington Post journalists with local high school students, to help them achieve academic and professional success during college.

While the Q&A addressed many of the structural impediments that exist in mass media today, the panelists also discussed ways the Internet and social media have, as Jon Sawyer put it, “flattened the playing field” and created space for less empowered voices to be heard.