January 6, 2017

As we’ve seen with our three-country virtual exchange (Ukraine, Indonesia, Italy), our Limerick intergenerational exchange, and our work in Tampico, Mexico, Narrative 4 is building a global community through empathy. At the end of last year, the Rich Coast Project hosted a N4 story exchange between fourteen Indiana University Media School students and six local residents of south Caribbean Costa Rica.

The Rich Coast Project supports projects that document the history, identity, and human rights of the Afro-descendants and other communities of Caribe Sur. The IU students traveled to Costa Rica to produce a series of podcasts on topics related to land, development, and identity.

Held on the students’ first day in Costa Rica, the N4 story exchange highlighted the importance of active listening and empathy for journalists charged with sharing the stories of others. The students used their story exchange skills as they interviewed community members for their podcast series.

Below, participating student Tori Ziege shares the importance of empathy in journalism. A senior majoring in journalism and business, Tori writes about how her experience with N4 has inspired her to take empathy forward in her career. 

Everyone has a story.

That’s why I became a journalist. I’ve never felt represented by what is immediately tangible to those who meet me: my appearance, my interests, my polite speech. I feel the majority of my interactions (and all interactions) exist within this safe little bubble – trite and cursory. No one is harmed, but no one is fulfilled. We part feeling disconnected. We part without being known.

So I became a journalist. I wanted to see past first impressions. I wanted to bypass social niceties and engage others in meaningful conversation. I wanted to be known and to know others.

Of course, I quickly found out that there’s a lot more to being a journalist. Throughout my four years at IU, I’ve had the opportunity to tell some truly profound and moving tales. I’ve also repeated stories that are frankly more of the same, contributing to the ongoing problem of social disconnect. Not untrue, necessarily. That wouldn’t be journalism. But it’s not the whole truth. That’s the reporter’s conundrum. Wielding our microphones, we have the power to open people up, but we also have the power, inadvertently, to make them shut down.

Enter Narrative 4, a nonprofit that seeks to “build a community of empathic global citizens who improve the world through the exchange of personal narratives.”

On Monday, Nov. 21, myself and fellow Media School students had the opportunity to take part in a Narrative 4 story exchange led by our host, Katie Beck. Each student was paired off with a local of Puerto Viejo, both of whom were asked to share a story about where they came from. Then the pairs came back together into large groups and, in the first person, told their partner’s story.

To me, this experience is the essence of journalism. It asks participants to hold space for one another without judgement and then charges them with the tremendous responsibility of telling someone else’s story fully and honestly. It reminded me of why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place.

My favorite moment came during small group, when IU senior Taylor Hurt and her partner, Mike, shared one another’s stories about racial identity. Listening to Mike, a middle-aged white man, give his “first person” account of the challenges Taylor experienced growing up as a young, black woman was truly moving. Taylor followed by telling her “first person” account of Mike’s upbringing in the Deep South, where he grew up with segregated drinking fountains, bathrooms, and restaurants.

This is what journalism is all about: bridging race, class, age, and ethnicity to tell true stories, connecting people across borders and most importantly – across the bubbles that limit our everyday conversation.

It’s what the world needs, now more than ever. To listen without judgment to those who are different than us about the issues that matter to them and to do our best to communicate those sentiments with compassion and sincerity.After my experience with Narrative 4, I will continue to do my best to inspire those conversations – regardless of whether my recorder is rolling or not.

Special thanks to Katie Beck (Director of The Rich Coast Project),Tori Ziege for sharing, and Teaira Charlton for photos. Photo captions: Fatjona Hasani (IU Media School) and Stash Golas (local resident); Hai Phung Tran (local resident); Arielle Soussan (IU Media School)

Best wishes until next week,
The N4 Team

Read last week’s One Minute Weekly here.