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A taste of ethical journalism: What it’s like to work for the Editorial team at Comic Relief

March 11th, 2016

In this blog piece, our Comic Relief intern Martha Salhotra talks about her experiences with the charity and how she discovered the true meaning of ethical journalism. 

Working in the charity sector is something I had never considered – but that was until I saw a role advertised by Creative Access to work in the Editorial team at Comic Relief. I have gravitated towards a career in journalism for a few years now, and when this opportunity came up, I jumped to apply.

It was during my interview that my manager mentioned how Comic Relief was about ‘ethical journalism’, a phrase that has really stayed with me. It’s only more than halfway through my placement that I’m beginning to learn the ropes and understand exactly what ethical journalism means for a charity as big as this.

As an Editorial Assistant, I’ve had to play a huge part in creating relationships of trust between the editorial team and the beneficiaries Comic Relief supports – especially since they are the ones we rely on to make a campaign successful. Without people willing to reveal their personal stories, we would not be able to show how the funds that are raised eventually transform lives. I very quickly learned that the Editorial team are the guardians of both the people and the brand, and our priority is always to take care of those we work with.

Through working with some of the most advanced journalists at Comic Relief, I have learned that nothing matters more than the welfare of those we write a story on. Journalism here is about assessing risk and making the individual the absolute centrepiece of your work. It’s about not victimising people but remembering to humanise individuals who haven’t had much control over certain situations.

Since working at Comic Relief, I have had the chance to visit projects we fund and see first-hand who it is we help through the money that is raised. After sitting in on interviews and helping to write stories, I was given the chance to interview and write a story on a domestic violence survivor who used a Comic Relief-funded food bank to get her life back on track. Gathering such stories has been an eye-opening and extremely humbling experience, and I have left many project visits feeling Martha - Comic Reliefoverwhelmed after meeting those that Comic Relief helps. During the story-gathering process I have learned how to craft questions carefully in order to dig deeper, but also learned how to be careful and consider that those on the other side are often fragile, needing time and patience when they are asked personal questions by a journalist. One thing I have had to understand is how to adequately respond to people who have had a rough life – I’ve been taught that it’s important to remain objective but continue to empower the individual. In terms of writing a story, my mentor summed up journalism at Comic Relief in one sentence: ‘‘what would you tell your friends?”. I think this will help not just when I write emotively, but when I write any story at all.

I have also been heavily involved with sourcing the all-important fundraisers who bring in both awareness of the Sport Relief campaign but also, raise essential funds to support those struggling across the UK and internationally too. Finding fundraisers through social media has been an exercise in researching and picking out stories to drive our campaign forward. Sussing out a story has been a skill I have honed during my time here, and to then write and see it in print in national or regional outlets has been ever more fulfilling. I’ve had the chance to speak to a range of different people, all united by one thing: Comic Relief and its aim to help people. It is a direct result of the ethics behind our journalism here that we begin to garner support and trust with both our fundraisers and those we help.

Not only has this placement taught me about the human side of journalism that the charity sector embodies, but it has taught me the basics of organisation, attention-to-detail, accuracy and being a team-player that can work under pressure and support the rest of the team. In the next few weeks I will be assisting with some celebrity visits to projects and gathering fundraiser stories at the Sport Relief games weekend. As someone who is still finding her way, I think the charity sector is stimulating, increasingly challenging but most of all, exceptionally rewarding. An ethical brand of journalism is something I would encourage anyone starting their journalism career to pursue.