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On Wednesday 4th December, I travelled to Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly Circus to attend the screening of The Cave, on behalf of Global Girl Media UK.

The Cave is a Syrian- Danish documentary directed by Syrian filmmaker, Feras Fayyad, and produced by Kirstine Barfod, exploring the underground hospital run by Dr Amani and her team in Ghouta, Syria.

Dr Amani trained to be a doctor at university and began her specialisation in paediatric care until the Syrian civil war started. Her devotion to helping children was apparent throughout the whole documentary. She consoled a young girl who was crying because of the continual bombing from the Russian war planes. She gave the girl hope for the future through asking her what she wanted to be when she got older, to which she replied: a teacher. It links to the common theme running throughout: that women deserve to work in Syria because they are influential, strong and equal to men.

These values are demonstrated through Amani, as well as nurse Samaher and Dr Alaa, who we meet in the documentary. Dr Salim, a senior male doctor, must also be praised for his strong work ethic and sticking up for Dr Amani when she was berated for working instead of getting married.

They all found solace in pastimes and each other, to help them deal with the everyday trials and tribulations of working in the middle of a war zone. Dr Amani loved plants, which her parents repeatedly told her they were watering until she reunited with them.

Samaher loved cooking and doubled up as a chef at the hospital. She regularly made dishes such as falafel and rice to feed her fellow staff members, even though some were quick to complain about the rice being hard. However, Samaher used her sharp wit to quickly retort.

Dr Alaa oozed happiness and dedication for her profession. One extremely relatable scene took place on Dr Amani’s 30th birthday. She spoke about wanting to get her teeth fixed and put on some mascara to make her feel better. I often take for granted the power that makeup has on my mood. As many good friends do, Dr Alaa ensured Dr Amani that she already looked beautiful.

Dr Salim listened to classical music whilst operating on patients. Music was used in a creative way in the documentary. In one part, as Dr Salim was listening to music, the music intensified over the course of the next scene, which showed a staff member at the hospital trying to bring Dr Amani food whilst battling with the sound and lack of awareness of where and when bombs could fall. It showed how difficult simple tasks can become when you are situated in the middle of a war zone.

What made the documentary truly powerful was its ability to unite the audience through their emotions. I listened as we as an audience, in tandem with each other, cried when young Syrian children died from over- exposure to chlorine, laughed at Samaher’s comments about loving food and tutted when one of the patients at the hospital felt that Dr. Amani should look after her home rather than managing a hospital.

The end of the documentary revealed that Dr Alaa was the only one out of the four to stay in Syria. It is not known what will happen to the remaining three. They all tearfully said they had to leave because the bombs were getting ever closer to the hospital, and resources and medicine had become a fantasy.

The question and answer session with the director and producer following on from the screening was insightful.

Fayyad stated some of the unseen footage was so graphic that everyone involved with the project needed therapy. One image that remains etched on my mind is of a child’s torn breast, revealing their beating heart; an image that did not feature in the documentary but is a very poignant symbol of how the documentary is aimed at tugging on people’s heartstrings.

One audience member asked if people in the west really care about the plight of Syrians. Neither Fayyad not Barfod could answer the questions. I don’t think anyone really can. However, leaving a place that was your home must be one of the most difficult things for humans to do. We need to think, what would we do in the position of a Syrian?

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On February 27th, I attended One World Media’s Solutions Journalism workshop at Channel 4, on behalf of GlobalGirl Media UK.

‘Solutions journalism’ is an approach to news which acknowledges that there are problems in the world, but also provides solutions. Three speakers were present: Jodie Jackson, author of You Are What You Read, a book which examines the psychological impact of reading the news; Mark Rice-Oxley, a journalist from the Guardian, and Estelle Doyle, a senior journalist for BBC News and Current Affairs.

One phrase which Jodie said was imprinted on my brain throughout the workshop: “If it bleeds, it leads,” to demonstrate that the news continually gives more coverage to negative and fear-breeding articles. For example, the number of people infected with coronavirus (Covid-19) is rising globally each day. The repetitive reporting on this event multiple times a day, every day of the week, can be detrimental to the public, who continually live in fear of their fellow members of society and their surroundings.

The psychological impact of the news has not gone unnoticed. A clip from the series The Secret Life of 6 year olds, a show which follows the lives of six-year-olds at a day nursery, was shown in Jodie’s presentation. A group of children pretended to be news anchors and were reporting on issues such as death and terrorism, highlighting the impact that the news has on children as young as six. This negativity has resulted in increased levels of anxiety, pessimism, depression and helplessness amongst the majority of news watchers, as well as desensitivity to violence.

Jodie cited availability theory: a theory which demonstrates that there is an overrepresentation of problems and underrepresentation of solutions. The media needs to change this! Statistically, readers spend an average of six minutes on solutions journalism compared to two minutes on other stories, so there is a large space for solutions journalism to flourish.

Mark spoke about the Upside, the positive news section of the Guardian. Mark started off his presentation with a series of graphs without titles and axis labels, prompting the audience to guess what they were showing. One graph illustrated that poverty is decreasing globally, but it is a story that we do not really hear much about. What makes this story any less newsworthy than one on terrorism? I knew the answer. “If it bleeds, it leads,” and a story on the reduction of poverty does not bleed.

The Upside tries to make something extraordinary from the ordinary. It features stories on subjects such as the MeToo movement in Mongolia, and a local man who helps to fix roads in India. It makes viewers an active part of the stories they watch. They feel empowered; no longer powerless.

With this type of journalism, however, comes new problems, such as the need for more data journalists. However, there has been a rise in initiatives that link journalism with data, such as the Google News Initiative, which is promising for the future of solutions journalism.

Mark reiterated the importance of the “element of surprise” in winning over readers in the field of journalism as a whole, something which can help solutions journalism to make a statement.

Estelle spoke about how the BBC are injecting the element of surprise in their programmes. She has been working on a new endeavour: Crossing Divides, a programme that seeks to bring together two polar opposites to create a mutual respect for what is different to how we are and what we believe.

The show has a public purpose: to create social cohesion and create solutions from conflict and opposition.

Additionally, Estelle noted that the BBC are failing to win over young audiences, who crave real people’s stories, the exact stories that Crossing Divides focus on.

On the Move was a previous initiative conducted by the BBC. They created a “chatty carriage” to spark conversations on public transport, shifting solutions journalism from a screen into the real world.

Solutions journalism is an upcoming field, but one which poses several problems. There are locations in which the field is not appropriate, such as China due to the potential for journalism to be exploited as a propaganda tool. Furthermore, “what bleeds leads” has been a central part of journalism, one which may take several years to change.

However, every problem has a solution. The high level of interest amongst the audience for this field was encouraging to see; an audience filled with potential solutions journalists. America is leading the way in this field, demonstrating that solutions journalism will continue to reach more people over time and pave its way into the mainstream media.

Article by GlobalGirl, Danielle Desouza