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ivoh | October 16, 2017

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Highlights from ivoh’s Inaugural Restorative Narrative Fellowship

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In December 2014, Images & Voices of Hope launched a six-month-long national fellowship centered on a genre called Restorative Narrative – stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover in the aftermath, or midst of, difficult times.

Five exceptional journalists (listed below) took part in ivoh’s inaugural Restorative Narrative Fellowship, which ran December through May. Our fellowship provided each of the journalists with a stipend to spend six months telling Restorative Narratives in various communities.

  • Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times reporter and Pulitzer finalist
  • Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press columnist
  • Alex Tizon, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, author, and University of Oregon journalism professor
  • Jake Harper, WFYI reporter in Indiana
  • Elissa Yancey, journalist & University of Cincinnati journalism professor

WHAT WE DID & WHY

Restorative Narratives don’t ignore the difficulties that a person or a community has endured; they explore the rough emotional terrain of the situation but focus on recovery and resilience more than devastation and despair.

The fellowship enabled five seasoned storytellers to produce in-depth Restorative Narratives.

The fellowship generated awareness about the value of Restorative Narratives and deepened our understanding of the impact they can have. Drawing upon the work we’ve already done, as well as the lessons we’ll learn from the fellows, we were able to clarify some of the distinctions and key elements of Restorative Narratives. We want to continue clarifying this genre through the second iteration of the fellowship, and would ultimately like to develop teaching materials and models that we can take into newsrooms and classrooms. Our goal is to expand the reach and practice of this genre because we see a growing need for it.

We believe Restorative Narratives can influence and mobilize people in ways that traditional news stories haven’t. A new study conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard School of Public Health found that one in four people say they experienced a “great deal” of stress over the past month. Consuming news, they said, was one of the biggest contributors to their day-to-day stress.

Photojournalist documenting war and conflict

New research has also found that photojournalists who cover traumatic news have experienced anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, and more.

 

When people are stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, they often feel paralyzed, which means that the news coverage of disruption and breakdown may actually interfere with a community’s (or a person’s) ability to respond to crisis in creative and effective ways. Our hypothesis about Restorative Narratives is that they can provide crucial information about what happened and shine a light on the strength and resilience that will allow people to find constructive ways forward.

Positive psychologist Barbara Frederickson has found that witnessing and hearing about acts that elicit positive emotions such as kindness, generosity, compassion, gratitude, etc., can “broaden the scopes of attention, cognition and action and build physical, intellectual and social resources — enduring personal resources, which function as reserves to be drawn on later to manage future threats.” In other words, people who experience positive emotions are more likely to form connections with people and play a more active role in their community.

A 2011 University of Pennsylvania study looked at the intersection of positive psychology and journalism and found that “negative” stories make people feel hopeless and passive. By contrast, “positive” stories make people feel more energetic and engaged.

While Restorative Narratives often stem from tragedy, they’re positive in the sense that they focus on recovery and resilience and move away from the traditional “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. By broadening the focus beyond “what happened” to include “what’s possible,” Restorative Narratives can compel people to become more engaged in their community and act in ways that benefit society. This type of engagement is especially important in the aftermath of tragedy.

On a similar level, we believe Restorative Narratives can teach resilience, which is an acquired skill. By telling stories about how a particular community has learned to become resilient, the media can help other communities learn what it means to be resilient.

Our hope is that the second iteration of the fellowship and related research we want to do will deepen our thinking about the powerful impact that Restorative Narratives can have on people and communities and allow us to build a portfolio of key elements and best practices.

WHAT WE OFFERED

A stipend

ivoh offered fellows a $2,500 stipend to cover the costs of their work, which involved travel, data analysis, and more. Fellows were free to tell one large comprehensive piece or a series of shorter stories.

Involvement at our annual media summit

Fellows spoke at our annual media summit in the Catskills, N.Y., in June. They had the opportunity to share their work with summit attendees and build relationships with the ivoh community. The summit attracts media practitioners from around the world in fields such as journalism, documentary film, photography, gaming, advertising and more.

Support and coaching

In addition to hearing from media makers during the first dialogue, fellows learned from experienced writing and editing coach Jacqui Banaszynski. She was an instrumental part of both dialogues and available by phone and email to answer fellows’ questions throughout the course of the fellowship. ivoh staff were also readily available for check-ins as needed. Though they received guidance from ivoh, fellows maintained autonomy in their reporting and were not be beholden to funders.

 

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The fellows’ story coach — Pulitzer winner and University of Missouri journalism professor Jacqui Banaszynski — at the Impact Media workshop in Kiev, Ukraine. (To her left is Romanian magazine founder Cristian Luspa.)

 

Two reflective dialogues

The fellowship involved two all-expenses-paid dialogues — one at the beginning of the fellowship and one at the end. During the first dialogue, which was held at the University of Missouri in January, fellows met to discuss their projects and seek feedback on their reporting thus far. They also received a full day of storytelling training from Jacqui Banaszynski. The fellows were given helpful guides — such as critical questions to ask when reporting on Restorative Narratives, and best practices for this type of storytelling.

During the second day-long dialogue in June, fellows presented their projects and explained what they learned about Restorative Narratives and the impact their work is having. The second dialogue was held in the Catskills, the day before ivoh’s annual summit. Both dialogues made use of Appreciative Inquiry — a type of reflective dialogue that built upon the group’s strengths.

Additionally, we held monthly group calls for fellows to check in with one another, share feedback and ideas, etc. The fellowship gave the fellows a chance to build connections with each other and their story coach. These connections are important to us, so we plan to keep them alive through a fellowship alumni program.

A glimpse at one our previous summits in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

A glimpse at one our previous summits in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

 

Valuable recognition

The fellows’ stories were published on their news organizations’ websites and on an ivoh microsite. ivoh was proactive about publicizing the work and sharing it on social media. We also notified key stakeholders about the stories so that they could help spread the word about them. The fellows’ stories were of a high caliber and generated widespread attention.

STAY POSTED ON THE 2016 FELLOWSHIP: We see the fellowship as an integral part of our programming at ivoh. In Fall 2015, you can visit ivoh.org/fellows for more details on how to become involved in the second iteration of ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Fellowship. Please email ivoh’s Executive Director Mallary Tenore with questions or comments.