The Ethics in Advocacy Concerning Multimedia Storytelling

What are possible ethical concerns with multimedia storytelling? How can it impact a community both positively and negatively and how does anonymity change effective storytelling?

My 5 week project for Social Role of the Mass Media will deal with ethical guidelines concerning community multimedia storytelling.

For this week’s post I wanted to share a project that deals with advocacy ethics in storytelling and community impact. I found a project called Exhale, that offers outreach and support for individuals dealing with after-abortion issues.

Here is the description from Exhale’s website:

“Now a growing community of women and men with personal abortion experiences, Exhale’s trend-setting pro-voice strategies provide support, facilitate connections, and develop forums where our members feel heard, supported and respected. We stand with one another as we shape what’s next in our own lives and as we shape new conversations with our friends, families, and communities about our emotional wellbeing after abortion.”

“A community-led organization, Exhale is at the forefront of creating the cultural change our members want and need. We partner with the media to shift public dialogue; we advise advocates on communications strategies; we back efforts for new emotional health research; and we educate health providers in order to increase the quality and availability of post-abortion counseling. The impact of our work is felt by each person who feels loved and supported after an abortion, and who hears messages of support and respect from the media, political advocates, academic researchers, and health providers.”

There is a strong presence of storytelling as a mode of advocacy and education on their website. I feel some students might not always understand a clear difference between advocacy and journalism. Both have potential for sparking change, but through far different methods. I could focus this post on the difference between advocacy and journalism, but that’s not what I found most interesting about this project.

As a reference, Exhale has an informative PDF on the ethical considerations of storytelling. In the guide, concerns of interview subject safety and privacy are discussed. One of the main concerns regarding their advocacy is protection of their subjects. Protecting and respecting sources and subjects is a major ethical concern. Is the discipline of objectivity what separates journalism from advocacy?

A storytelling branch of Exhale called Project Voice, gives individuals who have experienced abortions to share their stories, hiding their identity and those involved in the story. Co-founder Maya Pindyck writes on Exhale’s website about the process of creating Project Voice.

“Only after I began to speak candidly about my own experience did I become aware of my gross misconception. Close friends started to come out of the abortion closet… “I actually had one too…” A couple of family members confided in me as well, and I vividly recall a conversation with an older relative, whose story of her covert, illegal termination came as a shock. These were women who were so open about other personal experiences. How could I have not known this fact about people so close to me?”A hunger for information seized me. I wanted to learn more about the kinds of experiences women had with abortion. I scoured the internet for personal narratives, but, to my disappointment, the story sites I came across seemed to function as mouthpieces for one political agenda or another, including either “regret stories” or “relief stories” but not both.”

Was this due to poor reporting by news outlets of the effects of abortion? Does the traditional news gathering approach work for dealing with the sensitive issue of abortion?

It’s through anonymity that Project Voice and Exhale are able to share the stories of hundreds of people who have all experienced abortion. It’s clear that it provides tremendous support for those in need, but does it help to change public opinion or simply provide support? Identifying sources is paramount in journalism. Could this same project have been done in a newsroom? Where can journalism step in to provide support for this demographic?

Without identification of subjects how can their personal testimonies be trusted?

Is advocacy storytelling better for a community than the traditional model of reporting? Which outlet serves the greater good?

I will be looking more into these issues over the next few weeks, stay tuned!