For the past year and a half, news outlets have dedicated significant time and resources to reporting on COVID-19. In that coverage, women and other underrepresented groups were often overlooked. Unfortunately, this isn't limited to the pandemic: just 25% of all stories published in the media feature women, according to the latest Who Makes the News report.
We at Chicas Poderosas wanted to put women’s voices back on the agenda, while promoting collaborative journalism in Latin America. With support from Open Society Foundations, we created a storytelling initiative called Laboratorio de Historias Poderosas (Powerful Stories Lab, in English).
In the Laboratorio, Chicas Poderosas provides independent teams of journalists with training, funding and editorial guidance. We support participants in telling stories about underrepresented topics and communities, incorporating an intersectional, feminist perspective, and a human rights approach. We edit and fact check their articles, partner with regional outlets to get them published, and implement a communications campaign to help with distribution.
In Colombia, we opened a call for pitches to report on women and LGBTQI+ people’s access to sexual and reproductive rights in the country’s suburbs and rural areas. We received over 60 proposals from interdisciplinary teams of journalists, communications professionals, designers and more across the country, ultimately selecting five to support.
The resulting stories were published at the following outlets, covering a diversity of issues:
- Feminist outlet Volcánicas ran a digital fanzine that explained the barriers trans men face when trying to access abortions.
- Cerosetenta published a podcast that told the stories of teenage and young adult women who were sexually exploited after migrating from Venezuela to Colombia.
- Cosecha Roja featured a fanzine and podcasts focusing on Afro-Colombian midwives in the Chocó region of Colombia.
- Colombia’s Manifiesta published a podcast that featured the stories of women who tried to access abortions and other reproductive rights in Sumapaz, Bogotá’s largest locality.
- Regional outlet Distintas Latitudes, featured a podcast about women who joined a group called Las Quibanas to inform themselves about their sexual and reproductive rights.
This first Laboratorio experimented with a different way of practicing journalism — one that left us with four important lessons we’d like to pass along:
1) The future of journalism is collaborative
This has been said before, yet every time we carry out a collaborative journalism project we confirm it once more: Joining forces to find, pitch and develop a story isn’t just a learning experience for those involved — it offers opportunities to conduct more complex reporting, and incorporate new storytelling methods and narratives.
In the Laboratorio, collaboration enabled journalists to work on stories happening outside major cities, and to merge skills to produce innovative reporting in different formats. They were also able to conduct more interviews and reporting from the field, finding new data and elevating underrepresented voices along the way.
Working with an editor and the Chicas Poderosas team helped these journalists approach complex issues with sensitivity and verified information, and improve their reporting experience.
2) Let’s reflect on how we do journalism
The debate around the importance of including a gender perspective in media coverage has gained momentum in recent years. However, there remain too few spaces where a feminist approach is incorporated effectively in reporting.
With guidance from editor Catalina Ruiz Navarro, questions about how best to include women’s voices in reporting became a big part of the Laboratorio teams’ concerns and priorities. In weekly meetings, reporters would discuss with Ruiz Navarro the most effective ways to approach interviewees whose rights had been violated, how to make sure they felt safe and respected, and how to grant them agency in telling their stories.
Participants highlighted this space as a way to carry out journalistic practices away from the extractivism we sometimes see in coverage of vulnerable populations — that is, journalists approaching communities they aren’t familiar with to tell their stories and then promptly leaving. This results in unequal relationships that deprive the story subjects of a voice in their own narratives.
Opening up the conversation to share questions and doubts – and to think more deeply about how we as journalists approach the communities we report on and our interview subjects – can importantly nurture our reporting.
3) Eliminating boundaries can inspire innovation
Often, journalists face a series of constraints when reporting. From the lack of time they can spend on a story to an outlet’s editorial agenda to the pressure to drive traffic to a news website, there are many factors that condition the stories we tell — and how we tell them.
In the Laboratorio, teams were given freedom to propose and work with the formats they wanted, without restrictions. This allowed journalists to think outside the box to generate new ideas.
For example, the audible fanzine that Cosecha Roja published uses images, voices and local music of Nuqui, a town in the Colombian region of Chocó, to teach readers about the importance of the work done by midwives.
4) The importance of supporting journalists to implement fact-checking
In the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about the vital role fact-checking plays in countering mis- and disinformation. Countless talks, workshops and articles have been published on the topic. This can be especially important for feminist journalism, which experiences no shortage of online attacks.
Chicas Poderosas ran a workshop before the participants started working on their stories, to introduce them to this practice. Once their reporting was edited, journalist Luisa Fernanda Gómez verified all the data and quotes they used in their reporting. For many of the journalists, this was their first experience with fact-checking.
When dealing with controversial social issues and human rights violations, like access to abortion, it’s critical that our data and facts are supported. It’s equally important to guide journalists along this process.