Guardian ‘international development journalism’ contest excludes journalists from developing nations — again

[I am reposting this piece from 12 March 2012 today, as once again the contest is for UK writers only.  Once again it invites writers who 'have never been to the developing world' to submit articles rather than inviting journalists who know their stories intimitately. ]

Once again The Guardian has announced a journalism competition that has international development as its theme, but which excludes journalists in developing countries from entering.

When this happened in 2011, journalists in such countries were dismayed. “I’m wondering why developing countries are omitted,” one journalist in Malawi told me. “I ran through the themes and they’re all about developing countries.”

Another, in the Caribbean, wrote: “It indeed speaks to an international problem of journalists not necessarily talking with the voice of the communities on whom they are reporting, especially on development issues, and a competition like this ought to aim to redress exactly that!”

I blogged about this at the time, and included the Guardian’s response to my query (see You’ve got to be in it to win it).  I had hoped that the Guardian could redesign the  competition, or convince their donors to dig a little deeper into their wallets to pay for a truly international contest this year:

“Given that the sponsors are Barclays and GlaxoSmithKline, I can’t imagine that it should be too difficult for them to fund a more inclusive competition that allows the journalists who are best placed to report on development challenges to join in.”

But once again, the competition is only open to UK residents and once again it invites entries from people who have “never been to the developing world.”

I’ll repeat what I said last year:

I am a big fan of the Guardian — (disclosure: part of my job is to encourage Guardian journalists to report on the research done by my colleagues at IIED)  — and I know the paper is trying to do the right thing by promoting more and better reporting of international development from UK-based writers.

But why not level the playing field and create a platform for journalists from the countries whose stories the competition aims to tell?

The backlash against the Kony 2012 video has shown how important this is. It took hold when Rosebell Kagumire and other journalists in Uganda began to kick back against the way the video misrepresented their country and its complex conflict.

As I said last year, I wish the competition’s entrants well and I know that the winning stories will be of high quality.

But I’m puzzled by a journalism competition that aims to highlight crucial issues facing the developing world yet excludes that world’s journalists — the ones who are best placed to report on complex local challenges and what people there think and do about them.

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6 Responses to Guardian ‘international development journalism’ contest excludes journalists from developing nations — again

  1. Well, as only “UK residents” are permitted to join, the correct title of this post would be “…excludes everyone except UK journalists.

    I’m in the excluded group as well (German national, currently residing in Burkina Faso), so I’m not wild about this rule, but the Guardian will have it’s reasons to bring it up.

    The competition seems to be designed to increase interest in development-related topics within the group of British journalists/amateurs. This is a worthwhile effort and should not be dismissed.

    There are other competitions and scholarships out there, which aim at journalists from developing countries. Quite a few of them, actually. So I think it’s ok that journos from developing nations have to pass on this one – even though they are of course highly competent to write on topics concerning their own countries. But sometimes it can be important for the “pros” to stand back and let others try their hand at something new.

  2. mikeshanahan says:

    Hi Peter, You’re right in that this is a worthwhile effort — and I don’t mean to dismiss it entirely. But I think that while the Guardian does a fantastic job on development journalism, there is always room for improvement and this competition with its massively well-endowed donors would be an easy place to start.

  3. I think it is a good initiative – encouraging awareness of international development – but I certainly see where you’re coming from, and I absolutely agree that between The Guardian, Barclays, and GSK, they should not only have enough funds, but also incentives, to widen the eligibility criteria. As it is, it reminds me a bit of the journalism diversity fund, but I admit I’m no expert on these matters.

  4. Zain Mahmood says:

    As a Guardian contributor, and a development journalist based in Bangladesh, I’m really disappointed that the Guardian continues to limit the scope of its international journalism competition. The argument that it would cost too much to fly contestants to the UK doesn’t hold water for me. As Mike says, the sponsors have deep pockets and widening the scope would make it a truly prestigious global contest. Peter Dorrie says there are “quite a few” international competitions aimed at developing country journalists. I don’t think there are that many, Peter!

  5. It’s horses for courses. This award is about stimulating informed reporting about the developing world in the UK and quite reasonably the Guardian might be helping to hoover up any young talent that they find (which is harder for them to do if the talent is overseas). Also, it’s about producing writing that is about the developing world but relevant to a UK audience and written with them in mind which journalists not in the UK may struggle to do. Should there be other ways in which developing country journalists are aided? Absolutely.

  6. Dan says:

    I quite agree with you. I find it ridiculous that a journalist could write about the developing world without actually having been there. People who live in a particular situation are surely best-placed to write about it. Isn’t this an important principle of journalism? The whole development discourse is afflicted with the problem of the rich world talking to the poor without knowing enough about their subjective situation. I am reminded of Pierre Bourdieu’s view that only insofar as one does things is it possible to know about things.

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