Making Change By Telling True Stories

Written by Dan Lamont of Tatoosh Media

Family and personalAs a late-stage baby-boomer, I grew up in the heady, impassioned paradigm shift of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. I was drawn into my career as a photojournalist with the belief that I had the responsibility and the capacity to help build progressive social change. For those of us who shamelessly accepted the label of “liberal media” there was not any big ethical dilemma about the desire to make the world a little better because there was no need to bias our reporting. The facts spoke for themselves.

Years on and with a longer view, I am encouraged that the social order has improved – somewhat. The war in Southeast Asia ended – but it has been replaced the contemporary debacles in the Middle East and Central Asia. We no longer live in a world of unapologetic racism but racial profiling and racial inequities in the criminal justice and economic systems still plague us. In the late 1970s many of my stories were about economic injustice. Gentrification of urban neighborhoods, loss of affordable housing and “red-lining” that deprived some ethnic and economic groups of access to mortgages and insurance were hot topics. Sadly this situation has only gotten worse. Income disparity is at all time highs, the middle class is vanishing and increasingly families are facing economic catastrophe and homelessness. Clearly there is more work to be done.

But the mechanisms and avenues for telling these stories have changed. The old publishing venues and supporting business structures have crumbled. What has come to take their place is exciting and rife with potential but still unformed and unpredictable. Those of us who want to report on important social issues must find new ways to support our efforts in this noisy new media environment.

Effectively leveraging the opportunities of new media will require new ways of thinking and new types of collaboration. One example is the Seattle University Journalism Fellowships on Family Homelessness, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2010 I was among a group of journalists  who participated in this fellowship. We received resources to research our topic and some support to enable our coverage and were unfettered in our ability to report as we saw fit.

photo credit, Dan Lamont, part of fellowship series
photo credit, Dan Lamont, part of fellowship series

This was a trend setting example of the innovations we must explore if we hope to sustainably report about tough social dilemmas. Next month, on May 4th and 5th,  journalists, documentarians, communications professionals, representatives of NGOs,  philanthropic funders and engaged citizens are invited to participate in a retreat  called Collaborations for Cause  The event is being created by the non-profit Blue Earth Alliance  in collaboration with the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media program and produced on Whidbey Island by the Langley Center for New Media.  We’ll be looking at ways we can all work together creating new partnerships to successfully and sustainably get our stories told while maintaining credibility and authenticity and achieving our cause-driven goals. It is a difficult needle to thread but it is worth the effort – because there is a lot more work to be done.

The event is open to all who are passionate and concerned and want to help inform our culture in ways that will lead to progressive social change. As a participant in the Firesteel community you already have placed your stake in the ground.  Please consider joining us in Langley.

I’m attending the Collaborations for Cause and excited to get lots of input for our Firesteel efforts! I’m especially looking forward to the Game Strategy session and how gaming tactics tie into multi-platform narratives. View all the sessions HERE and get connected to a creative social change community.  – Erin, Firesteel Director

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