Underdogs, Honours and Finding Solutions Through Media

Twice a year, the Queen’s honours list is published. Among the sportspeople, artists and politicians who get an invite to the Palace, are people whose work doesn’t ordinarily bring with it any fame, glory, money or prestige. They are often volunteers and community workers. People who’ve done hard work with great generosity and quiet dedication over many years. Invariably they do so in response to a systemic social issue that they care deeply about.

The honours list always makes the news. It stands to reason, as it contains two things us Brits love: celebrity (just glance at a magazine shelf or TV listings for proof of this) and underdogs (Eddie the Eagle, Del Boy and Leicester City come to mind).

But each time it’s published, most news coverage doesn’t give the underdogs a look-in. Last month, the Queen’s birthday honours saw global phenomena JK Rowling, Paul McCartney and Ed Sheeran make national news. But the Palace press release also named local people whose voluntary work focuses on disability, women’s rights, homelessness, and drug and alcohol dependency. All pressing social issues. All disregarded, save for a mention in the relevant local newspaper.

For eight years I have worked in a technical role in local and national newsrooms. I’ve learnt a lot, but I struggle to explain how and why the news agenda is decided. 

In the last year however, I’ve spent less time in newsrooms, and more time in local communities. The perspective this has offered has been enlightening.

I now have two jobs. I work part-time as a studio director in news. And part-time doing comms for a small network of community development workers in Africa and Asia. I have also enrolled on a part-time course in church-related community development. 

In these new roles, I meet exactly the kind of people who win awards for voluntary service. I hear about their work, and I tell their stories. I suppose I’ve become a journalist, but one whose focus is solely on people pursuing solutions to problems where they live. 

This has enriched me in all sorts of ways, and has given me a newfound excitement at what is possible in our newsrooms. I’d like to quickly share two ways it has helped me.

Firstly, it has given me greater hope.

The world seems increasingly to be a troubled and troubling place. The climate is changing, politics is splintering, refugee numbers are growing. And some of these stories saturate our TV screens. In my news job, I’m often in a windowless studio surrounded by these screens, and it becomes necessary to suppress normal human reactions to the suffering and chaos I see. The alternative is to feel overwhelmed at its scale and prevalence, reducing my capacity to do a decent job. From conversations with colleagues, I know I’m not alone in feeling the tussle between engaging emotionally with the stories we cover, and the need to efficiently get on with the job.

But in my new job and on my course, I have been able to directly and emotionally engage in many such issues, whilst simultaneously developing a greater sense of hope. From the foothills of the Himalayas to the suburbs of Stoke, and from the tea plantations of Kenya to the centre of Warrington, I have got to know people who share a certain quality, one that I find hard to pin down. It seems to involve having a deep understanding of an entrenched problem that affects the people around them, but also a deep sense of possibility at their God-given capacity to invoke change. In each person, these two things lead to a quiet and humble perseverance to bring this change about. It’s a quality that I want to be infected by, and I want others to succumb to it too.

Secondly, it has given me greater understanding of how news should work.

A big part of my newer job is to interview people in our network about what they do. I try to understand the issues they face in their community, from FGM to climate change, and teenage pregnancies to disability rights. I hear how they work collaboratively to address them, and hear about the challenges they face in doing so. I then try to tease out the universal lessons in their story, and share it with others in our network, so that we are all better equipped to make progress where we live. 

This approach is almost identical to a growing trend for ‘solutions journalism’ in news. The Solutions Journalism Network seeks to show not just the problems in the world, but how people are working to respond to these problems. In their own words, news should help us ‘navigate the world, so we can make informed decisions about our lives and contribute to society’. Sadly that aspiration often feels far removed from our news programmes, which sometimes leave me, and I’m sure many others, with a sense of powerlessness. My new job has given me an understanding of why Solutions Journalism is needed, and an enthusiasm for what it could mean if we embrace it. 

And so let’s return to the Queen’s honours, as it seems like a good place to start. Twice each year, we the media are given a chance to deviate from our usual diet of war, poverty and corruption, and instead to explore the lives of people who are at the coal face of some of our country’s social problems. Though these people are normally hidden from view as they hack away at tough, dark matters, I now know from personal experience that if we join them, celebrate what they do, and learn from them, hope and understanding will spread. 

Jake Lloyd is Communications Co-ordinator at www.chgn.org and a Studio Director at the BBC