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How does media responsibly tell stories about people who want to help after Fort McMurray fires?

Posted on 9 May 2016

Note: the below musings are mine, and they aren’t so much stating an opinion as thinking out loud about an ongoing situation

We’ve all seen them, at this point: Facebook posts and Twitter pictures of someone standing in front of a truckload of donations, ready to haul it up to help those displaced by the Fort McMurray fire.

These are heart-warming, and they speak to the better instincts of humankind: you see people in a time of crisis, and you want to help. It’s a lovely thing.

But it’s also not necessarily the most effective way to help. Edward McIntyre has written a good post about why on his own site, but the short version is the cost of storing and sorting physical goods often causes more problems for volunteers than simply receiving the money that would allow organizations to purchase what is needed as the need arises. Already, groups helping Fort Mac evacuees say they are being overwhelmed by physical goods that may or may not wind up actually being useful.

Which has me wondering about media responsibility when it comes to covering those heart-warming stories. They are great narratives, regular people stepping up to the plate to help friends, family, and strangers, often with their own personal anecdotes and motivations to go with them. But there is also a risk: the more these stories get shared, the more it might prompt other people to do the same, contributing to a problem for organizations on the ground and having the opposite effect of what everyone involved would like to see happen.

So does media ignore the stories? Cover them, but include the information about the potential problems this can cause? I think it’s an interesting conversation, and one worth having.

Filed under: media

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