Development journalism can 'give power back to an individual or a community', such as by reporting on topics such as children getting back to school in Sindh, Pakistan

Credit: DFID - UK Department for International Development on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

International development is a thriving, expanding sector. But it is still in its relative youth. For journalists, it can offer new frontiers, scattered with stories and the chance to chronicle real change.

Since the end of the Second World War, international development has tied together the loose threads between policy, governance, health, education, poverty, gender equality, infrastructure, economics, human rights, and the environment.

The term 'development journalism' was coined in the 1960s as media outlets in Asia and Africa responded to the influx of humanitarian agencies.

Today, it is striking how under-reported development is by the national press, considering that the UK spent over £13 billion on international development in 2010, the most up-to-date figures available.

As an emerging niche, development journalism promises all the rewards of reporting across borders. But unlike other forms of foreign reporting, it lends itself to a more lingering, in-depth analysis of complex issues affecting people worldwide.

What gives development journalism its edge are the quieter stories that can be heard after the conflict or crisis dies down and the cameras leave.Libby Powell
That might be the failure of public health information that has led to disabled children being outcast from their communities, the fatal silence around hidden abortions or the proud beginnings of an agricultural union.

There are often breaking news situations, but what gives development journalism its edge are the quieter stories that can be heard after the conflict or crisis dies down and the cameras leave.
NGOs and development agencies are valuable as sources for journalists. They are subjects, fixers and guides. Their trusted local networks of health-workers, educators, specialists, decision-makers, and community leaders can open door after door. They often have a bank of critical information and research available, which can be a gift for data journalists in particular.   

Collaboration between NGOs and the media is a matter of mutual aid. For many NGOs reliant on donations, being able to raise their public profile is essential. Others have a mandate for advocacy, or are actively trying to publicise a particular issue with the aim of influencing policy.

They often have dedicated press teams to encourage and support newsgathering and regularly seek trained journalists to join as media and communications officers. Relief Web and Third Sector list these jobs daily.

But independent and investigative journalism also has an essential part to play in promoting accountability within development.

The aid and development sector has suffered in the past from a lack of scrutiny. Rules and regulations can be overlooked in times of crisis, leaving beneficiaries vulnerable to abuse, corruption or simply an erosion of dignity.

In 2002, the British press broke news of a report by Save the Children that accused aid agency staff of sexual abuse or exploitation of refugees in Sierra Leone. The extensive coverage of this story meant that the report could not be hushed up and it prompted the establishment of the first international watchdog of the aid and development sector. The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership now has a section of its website dedicated to high quality journalism in humanitarian crises.

A journalist who fails to respect the fragile framework surrounding a development programme can also do serious damage.

Successful development restores strength, dignity and rights. Bombarding any survivor with questions about the loss of their home or family members will be destructive if they have only just begun to deal with these memories through therapy.

While children should be given an equal chance to tell their stories and can bring a wealth of information and honesty, journalists can come dangerously close to shattering child protection policies put in place by development agencies.

Taking a child aside, recording their words and photographing them without a parent's consent would not be acceptable anywhere yet, in the chaos following a crisis, this simple safeguard is often forgotten.

Regurgitating stereotypes can also be damaging. Development agencies are struggling with their own battle to raise funds yet steer away from the portrayal of disempowered victims in their marketing material. Development journalism allows the space and freedom to move beyond pity to give way to a more nuanced debate about problems and solutions. In this way, it can play a major part in giving power back to an individual or a community.  

In 2010, the Guardian launched a new development website following the progress towards the United Nations millennium development goals which 192 countries signed up to in 2000. These are due for revision in 2015, making the next few years critical for development journalism.

At the time of the launch, the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: "It is essential to have a place where some of the biggest questions facing humanity are analysed and debated".

Contributors to the site and the Poverty Matters blog are a mix of journalists, researchers and aid workers. There are established Guardian correspondents such as former US correspondent, Mark Tran; associate editor, Madeleine Bunting and Guardian health editor, Sarah Boseley, who writes regularly for the site, particularly on HIV and AIDS.

There are also expert contributions from the field such as Jonathan Glennie, former manager of Christian Aid's Colombia programme and Jayati Ghosh, one of the world's leading economists. Claire Provost covers a lot of the data journalism while Jaz Cummins is the community co-ordinator and manages the social media networks. Global development editor Lucy Lamble and deputy editor Liz Ford cover their own specialist areas.

They are on the look out for new voices too. Each year, the Guardian runs an International Development Journalism Competition, selecting both a professional and an amateur winner. Sixteen short-listed candidates pair up with an NGO and have the chance to report on a development issue for the Guardian from another country.

Sue George, who edits the competition, said it was set up to help encourage and inspire writers to think about the coverage of developing world issues.

"It provides an opportunity to publish some good news stories about the developing world, and that's something that doesn't happen often enough," she told

Both the website and the competition have attracted wide support from NGOs, donors and international writers who recognise that journalism is, in itself, a tool for development.

When judicial or political systems have failed a community, the media can be a powerful platform for debate and testimony.

Correction: We initially reported that the UK spent £9 million in international aid in 2010/2011. This is the figure for Scotland's expenditure on development. The figure has been corrected to £13 billion spent in 2010.

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