Today is World Press Freedom Day:
Importance of Development Journalism
Most people would agree that the conventional definition of
journalism is the reporting of news though there is much debate and
controversy over how the reporting should be conducted and what is news.
But only few of them know that there is a special type of journalism
that goes beyond conventional journalism that does more than just tell
the news. It is known as 'development journalism' and is practiced
mostly in developing countries. This article attempts to offer a brief
analysis of it in both theory and practice.
A journalist at work
During the 1960s, in Asia, a group of journalists began to promote
the concept of development journalism - in a bid to reach rural areas
with information which was relevant, clear and competent; and to steer
journalism towards informed discussion of the economic and social
problem central to developing countries' situations.
Jo Ellen Fair, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication,
conceptualises 'development journalism' as reporting that relates to the
primary, secondary and tertiary needs of a country’s population. She
describes it as news that satisfies the needs of a country’s population
and enhances self-reliance, i.e. news that relates to development or to
social, economic or political problems.
More contemporary educators like Johan Galtung and Richard Vincent
provide a refined concept of development journalism. According to them
the journalist’s task is to unravel the threads of the development drama
that take place both in the centre and on the periphery, pick them out
of the intricate web of relationships, hold them up in the sunlight, and
demonstrate the connections to readers, listeners and viewers.
In essence, therefore, development journalism must give individuals a
voice to articulate alternative visions of society.
Mission to fulfil
From the above description we can see that development journalism
arose from dissatisfaction with conventional journalism. Development
journalists believe that conventional journalism is ineffective in
helping a nation, especially rural areas, develop.
They are convinced that conventional journalism is not reaching the
rural areas with 'relevant' and 'clear' information. The background of
development journalism clearly demonstrates that unlike conventional
journalism which only aims at reporting the news, while development
journalism has a mission to fulfil.
The call from Third World countries for a New World Information and
Communication Order, which reached its height in 1970s, gave further
impetus to the promotion of development journalism. The call for the New
Order is the result of serious criticism by the Third World countries of
Western conventional journalism, especially international news by wire
services, which focus on spot news, negative events while providing
little information relevant and helpful to the national development of
Third World countries.
To redress this negative news and spot news bias, Third World
countries began to promote development journalism, which aimed to report
more news concerning the development process. They believed that it is
no longer enough to get people informed. To get people involved and act
on information has become the goal. Reporting the news becomes a tool,
rather than an end in itself. Thus, journalists become organizers,
mobilizers and players rather than merely observers. Tired of
negativism, journalists opt for activism.
To achieve the objectives of development journalism, new ways of
practicing journalism have to be created and new values of news have to
Rather than highlighting spot news or events, development journalists
spend more time and efforts on covering process news.
This is only natural because both national development and community
revitalization and reintegration are processes. To cover process news,
journalists have to collect information over more extended period of
time and do some research. They are engaged in, what is known as
To do a good job, development journalists have to expand their
horizon. They have to understand the development process, provide
information or knowledge helpful to the development, and look at the
process critically and find out the problems. They have to raise the
consciousness of the people about national development and mobilize
people to participate in the development process.
Instead of focusing on events, development journalists talk with the
people in the communities, find out their concerns and report them.
They invite or even force politicians to address these concerns if
necessary. The journalists are promoters of a healthy community life.
They mobilize people in a community to participate in solving their own
To be a development journalist is really a challenge because places
on him very high demands. Besides traditional journalistic training,
they have to expand their knowledge base to be competent and
well-informed enough to cover the complicated processes of national
development or of community reintegration. Development journalists have
to understand complex economic, technical, scientific and sociological
information and translate and interpret it to their generally lay
audiences (readers, listeners or viewers, depending on the media).
To some members of the audience, however, development news may not be
as interesting or exciting as breaking news or spot news.
Extra effort and talent are needed to make development news become
relevant to the people and interesting to the readers. Further studies
are needed on how to achieve this goal. Prof. Johan Galtung, the
Norwegian sociologist proposes that development journalism requires a
re-orientation of conventional journalistic principles on following
*Whenever there is a reference to development, try to make it
concrete in terms of human experience. Journalists should write about
people as subjects, actors and agents rather than as objects or victims
with 'needs deficits'.
*A development-oriented journalist would never forget the dimension
of democracy. The task of the media is to report what the system is
doing. Democracy can only function when there is a free flow of
information between people, the system and the media. Using the media to
make people visible, both as objects and as subjects, becomes one task.
Using it to expose the system through investigative reporting is the
second and using the media to expose media that fail to do their job, is
*Consider the possibility of reporting about development, not
critically in terms of problems, but constructively in terms of positive
programmes. Success stories may contribute to a general sense of
optimism that can generate more momentum for democracy and development.
People in similar situations elsewhere can benefit from such success
stories if the report is adequately concrete.
*Allow the 'people' to talk. This means giving them a voice. A useful
approach is for journalists to sit down with a range of people to
discuss the meaning of development to generate 'an enormous range of
visions' as well as 'how-to' insights.
Sri Lankan context
For development journalism to catch on in Sri Lanka, I believe there
needs a fundamental change in the newsrooms. News Editors should start
promoting the development journalism philosophy, at least adopting some,
if not all of its operative principles.
I think to some degree, there is a growing appreciation for
development journalism although many newsrooms still feel that it would
entail a lot of effort and resources to rethink journalism in the face
of day-to-day editorial realities.
Our newsroom editors should examine how the community dialogues can
be organized, and process of producing the stories - that sets it apart
from 'conventional' journalism.
Finally, as a tool for social justice, development journalism can be
very valuable. By speaking for those who cannot, a development
journalist can inform the rest of the country about important national
issues confronted by the nation. Looking at the strengths and weaknesses
of the country may also help identify ways in which the nation can be
helped. Thus, this style of journalism is a tool for empowerment of the
ordinary people to improve their own lives.