6 Commitments for More Ethical Storytelling

Since 2011, Define American has been telling the stories of people who have made America their new home so that they will be recognized first as people before they are demeaned by a label like illegals. Earlier this year, Define American released the report, “American Dreaming: The Roadmap to Resilience for Undocumented Storytellers,” culminating two years of research into the experiences of 40 storytellers from the immigrant rights movement.

For any organization that collects and shares stories of people whom it serves, the report offers practical advice for ensuring those stories are told in a fair, respectful, and ethical manner. You can download the full report here, and this month we’re pleased to reprint six commitments which Define American recommends making to anyone with the courage and generosity to share their story with you.

We will ask: Is now a good time to share your story? How have you been since we last connected? We will offer ways to scale down the work or provide a way of stepping away from the project if necessary.

We will ask: What do you feel comfortable sharing now? We will use the answer as a guide for healthy boundaries in our collaborations and will not ask for additional details or efforts.

We will ask: Have you shared your/this story before? We will facilitate training and give guidance to lay a foundation for good health and well-being in the storytelling community.

We will offer a scope of work, compensation, and a timeline for involvement, and ask if it feels in line with your expectations.

We will design ways of seeking feedback and suggestions for nurturing storytellers’ mental health and well-being within our work.

We will hold others we work with, particularly in the media, accountable for honoring your contributions:

  • For pronouncing and spelling your names correctly
  • For honoring your gender identity and pronouns
  • For being forthcoming and transparent about when conversations are “on the record” or “off the record”
  • For including you in the decision-making process around your stories
  • When possible, sending you a draft of the story write-up before it publishes or being open to edits after a story has published if you, as the storyteller, feel uneasy about story details
  • For following up with a link to a written/recorded story once it is published
  • For simply thanking a storyteller for their time and vulnerability when sharing their story

(Special thanks to Define American and especially report authors Sarah E. Lowe, Adrián Escárate, and Valeria Rodriguez for permission to reprint these recommendations.)