The front-page article “Girl, 11, saves friends from deadly blaze” published in The Times (10/02/2010) is about an 11 year-old girl who saved a number of fellow orphans from a blazing building. The story by Teneshia Naidoo is one to be glad of.
Identifying orphans and vulnerable children in the media is generally a questionable practice, with orphans generally shown as part of fundraising drives or to demonstrate the good work being done by charities. In both cases, children are generally portrayed as passive beneficiaries.
Naming an orphan is often the wrong decision to make as they are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This story could have focused on the injuries of some of the poor children at the orphanage, with gratuitous pictures of bloody children. But rather, it depicts Zandile Nkosi as a heroin who saved the lives of her fellow orphans.
In addition, Nkosi was given a voice in the story, narrating to the reader exactly how she felt and what occurred on the day in question. Naming and giving a voice to her is particularly good practice in this case and adds credibility while giving the child a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The photograph used was very positive as it did not show trauma or fear in the heroine. A close up angle of Nkosi’s face as well as other shots of the burnt orphanage added deeper understanding of the story.
Stories such as these are rare, yet inspiring. Portraying children as heroes and giving them the opportunity to speak challenges traditional reporting where children are typically victims. The position of the story in the newspaper also shows how stories about children can be newsworthy. For these reasons, the journalist and other staff of The Times are congratulated on the great job.