Yasmin Ibrahim, Anita Howarth

The third narrative space: The human interest story and the crisis of the human form

Between the different models of broadcasting and publishing is an interstitial space of countering dominant paradigms. Their existence is both a symbolic and material affirmation of human struggles and narratives. Through a strand of medical humanitarianism, we examine the so-called 'migrant crisis in Europe'. While media reported the 'migrant' through their transgressions of state boundaries and as unnecessary entities in 'civilised Europe', there has been a quest to reconstitute the human from the third sector. While the conjoining of capital (i.e. the commercialisation of news) and the commodification of the human is a sustained endeavour in private and public models of publishing, the 'third narrative space' seeks to thwart and resist these imperatives by re-humanising refugee struggles as 'human struggles'. This reconstitution of the human works to gain both public attention and funding, and in the process invites both moral and altruistic challenges for these organisations

Keywords: human interest story, migrant crisis, commodification of the human, commercialisation


  1. AFP (2015) French court orders water, latrines and garbage pickup at Calais refugee camp. Guardian, 2 November. Available online at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/02/france-calais-refugee-camp-improvements
  2. Allen, T. and Styan, D. (2000) A right to interfere? Bernard Kouchner and the new humanitarianism, Journal of International Development, Vol. 12, No. 6 pp 825-842
  3. Barnett, M. (2011a) Empire of humanity, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press
  4. Bent, S. (1927) The invasion of privacy, The North American Review, Vol. 224, No. 836 pp 399-405
  5. Bosworth, M. (2008) Border control and the limits of the sovereign state, Social & Legal Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2 pp 199-215
  6. Buchanan, S. (2003) What's the story? Sangatte: A case study of media coverage of asylum and refugee issues, Article 19. Available online at https://www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/publications/refugees-what-s-the-story-case-study-.pdf
  7. Conboy, M. (2013) Celebrity journalism: An oxymoron? Forms and functions of a genre, Journalism, Vol. 15, No. 2 pp 171-185. Available online at http://jou.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/1464884913488722, accessed on 15 October 2014
  8. Cottle, S. and Nolan, D. (2007) Global humanitarianism and the changing aid-media field, Journalism Studies, Vol. 8, No. 6 pp 862-878. Available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616700701556104
  9. Cox, H. (2015) Life in the Calais migrant 'Jungle' with Sultan from Sudan, Financial Times, 27 August. Available online at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d46bc7ee-468b-11e5-af2f-4d6e0e5eda22.html#slide11
  10. Curran, J., Douglas, A. and Whannel, G. (1980) The political economy of the human interest story, Smith, A. (ed.) Newspapers and democracy: International essays on a changing medium, MIT Press pp 288-347
  11. Dahlberg, L. (2005) The Habermasian public sphere: Taking difference seriously? Theory and Society, Vol. 34, No. 2 pp 111-136
  12. Daynes, L. (2015) Gangrene and razor wire: Charity in Calais is no different to a disaster zone, Guardian, 6 August. Available online at: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2015/aug/06/gangrene-razor-wire-charity-calais-no-different-to-a-disaster-zone
  13. Dhesi, S. K., Davies, T. and Isakjee, A. (2015) An environmental health assessment of the new migrant camp in Calais. Available online at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-les/gees/research/calais-report-oct-2015.pdf
  14. Evans, V. (2015) Bearing witness: To see or not to see? Doctors of the World (UK). Available online at https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/blog/entry/bearing-witness-to-see-or-not-to-see
  15. Express (2014) Migrant threat 'made UK pay Calais £12m, 22 September. Available online at http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/513618/Migrant-threat-forced-UK-to-pay-Calais-12m.
  16. Fagge, N. (2009) Migrants from the 'Jungle' set up a dozen new camps, Express, 24 September. Available online at http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/129467/Migrants-from-the-Jungle-set-up-a-dozen-new-camps
  17. Fassin, D. and D'Halluin, E. (2007) Critical evidence: The politics of trauma in French asylum policies, Ethos, Vol. 35, No. 3 pp 300-329.
  18. Finan, T. and Allen, P. (2010) Stop being so generous to migrants: French plea to Britain after Dunkirk suburb is over-run, MailOnline, 19 November. Available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1331013/Stop-generous-migrants-French-plea-Britain-Dunkirk-suburb-run.html
  19. Financial Times (2015) Europe must take the long view on migration, 31 July. Available online at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2da061b8-3777-11e5-b05b-b01debd57852.html#axzz3k8NoXHSd.
  20. Fine, G. and White, R. (2002) Creating collective attention in the public domain: Human interest narratives and the rescue of Floyd Collis, Social Forces, Vol. 81, No. 1 pp 57-85
  21. Fox, R. (1995a) Medical humanitarianism and human rights: Reflections on Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World, Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 41, No. 12 pp 1607-1616
  22. Fox, R. (1995b) Reaction paper: Medical humanitarianism and human rights: Reflections on doctors without borders and doctors of the world, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 41, No. 95 pp 1621-1622
  23. Gander, K. (2015) Songs of Praise filmed in Calais migrant camp described as 'inspirational' and 'humane' by viewers, Independent, 16 August. Available online at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/songs-of-praise-episode-filmed-in-calais-migrant-camp-described-as-inspirational-and-humane-by-viewers-10458142.html?origin=internalSearch
  24. Geddes, A. (2005) Getting the best of both worlds? Britain, the EU and migration policy, International Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 4 pp 723-740
  25. Greenslade, R. (2004) Press gang: How newspapers make profits from propaganda, Basingstoke, Pan Macmillan
  26. Greenslade, R. (2005) Seeking scapegoats: The coverage of asylum in the UK press, London, IPPR. Available online at http://www.ippr.org/files/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/wp5_scapegoats_1359.pdf?noredirect=1
  27. Habermas, J., Lennox, S. and Lennox, F. (1974) The public sphere: An encyclopaedia article, New German Critique, Vol. 3 pp 49-55
  28. Hall, F. S. (1910) Child labor statistics, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 1, Vol. 35 (Supplement: Child Employment Industries) pp 114-126
  29. Harbers, F. and Broersma, M. (2014) Between engagement and ironic ambiguity: Mediating subjectivity in narrative journalism, Journalism, Vol. 15, No. 5 pp 639-654
  30. Hinnant, A., Len-Ríos, M. E. and Young, R. (2013) Journalistic use of exemplars to humanize health news, Journalism Studies, Vol. 14, No. 4 pp 37-41
  31. Howarth, Anita and Ibrahim, Y. (2012) Threat and suffering: The liminal space of the 'Jungle', Andrews, L. and Roberts, H. (eds) Liminal landscapes: Travel, experience and spaces in-between, London, Routledge pp 200-216
  32. Hughes, H. (1937) Human interest stories and democracy, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 2 pp 73-83
  33. Hughes, H. M. (1940) News and the human interest story, Transaction Publishers. Available online at http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Pn5rAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR21&dq=(human+interest+news+story&ots=vAGVfrdCwv&sig=gzdcyrZuM-hBA1GhHuA_D2alUqU#v=onepage&q=(human interest news story&f=false
  34. Ibrahim, Y. (2009) Holocaust as the visual subject?: The problematics of memory making through visual culture, Nebula, Vol. 6, No. 4 pp 94-113. Available online at https://qmul.academia.edu/yasminibrahim
  35. Ibrahim, Y. (2011) Constructing the 'Jungle': Distance framing in the Daily Mail, International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, Vol. 7, No. 3 pp 315-331
  36. Ibrahim, Y. and Howarth, A. (2015a) Imaging the Jungles of Calais: Media visuality and the refugee camp, Networking Knowledge, Vol. 9, No. 4. Available online at http://ojs.meccsa.org.uk/index.php/netknow/article/view/446
  37. Ibrahim, Y. and Howarth, A. (2015b) Sounds of the Jungle: Re-humanizing the migrant, JOMEC, Vol. 7. Available online at http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/research/journalsandpublications/jomecjournal/7 - june2015/index.html
  38. Ibrahim, Y. and Howarth, A. (2015c) Space construction in media reporting: A study of the migrant space in the 'Jungles' of Calais, Fast Capitalism, Vol. 1, No. 12. Available online at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/11323
  39. Isakjee, A., Davies, T. and Dhesi, S. K. (2015) Independent report into conditions in Calais migrant camps outlines failure to meet recommended standards, Available online at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2015/10/calais-migrant-camps-.aspx
  40. Lewis, L. (2015) Invisible scars: Mental health in Calais, Doctors of the World (UK). Available onlinr at https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/blog/entry/invisible-scars-mental-health-in-calais, accessed on 17 December 2015
  41. Liebes, T. and Kampf, Z. (2009) Black and white and shades of gray: Palestinians in the Israeli media during the 2nd intifada, The International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 14, No. 4
  42. Lunt, P. (2005) The Jerry Springer Show as an emotional public sphere, Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 27, No. 1 pp 59-81
  43. Marc, J. (2015) Journalists reporting on the refugee crisis are acting unethically. I've seen it first hand in Calais, Independent, 21 October. Available online at http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/journalists-reporting-on-the-refugee-crisis-are-acting-unethically-ive-seen-it-first-hand-in-calais-a6702861.html
  44. Mather, G. (1934) A use for human interest stories, The North American Review, Vol. 238, No. 6 pp 543-545
  45. Migration Observatory (2013) Migration in the news: Portrayals of immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the national British newspapers, 2010-2012, Oxford. Available online at http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/migobs/Report - migration in the news.pdf
  46. Milmo, C. (2015) Calais crisis: UN official slams the UK government for accepting fewer refugees than neighbours, Independent, 30 July. Available online at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/calais-crisis-un-official-slams-uk-government-for-accepting-fewer-refugees-than-neighbours-10428554.html
  47. Mulvey, G. (2010) When policy creates politics: The problematizing of immigration and the consequences for refugee integration in the UK, Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 23, No. 4 pp 437-462. Available online at http://jrs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jrs/feq045
  48. Neuman, W. R. (1992) Common knowledge: News and the construction of political meaning, Chicago, University of Chicago Press
  49. Papacharissi, Z. and de Fatima Oliveira, M. (2008) News frames terrorism: A comparative analysis of frames employed in terrorism coverage in US and UK newspapers, The International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 13, No.1 pp 52-74
  50. Park, R. E. (1923) The natural history of the newspaper, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 29, No. 3 pp 273-289
  51. Park, R. E. (1938) Reflections on communication and culture, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 44, No. 2 pp 187-205
  52. Parliament (2007a) Travis, P. Oral evidence to Joint Committee on Human Rights: The treatment of asylum seekers, London
  53. Parliament (2007b) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Written evidence to Joint Committee on Human Rights: The treatment of asylum seekers, London
  54. Perring, R. (2015) Calais life inside the 'Jungle': Migrant camp boasts shop, barbers and phone charge points, Express, 5 August. Available online at http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/596239/Calais-migrant-crisis-Jungle-camp-shop-barbers-phone-charger-mosque
  55. Roggenkamp, K. (1998) A front seat to Lizzie Borden: Julian Ralph, literary journalism and the construction of criminal fact, American Periodicals, Vol. 8 pp 60-77
  56. Rothwell, J. (2015) Calais migrant camp priest pulls out of BBC's Songs of Praise, Telegraph, 9 August. Available online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11793492/Calais-migrant-camp-priest-pulls-out-of-BBCs-Songs-of-Praise.html
  57. Samuel, H. (2014) Calais migrants vow to try to reach Britain despite camp demolitions, Telegraph, 28 May. Available online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10861080/Calais-migrants-vow-to-try-to-reach-Britain-despite-camp-demolitions.html
  58. Samuel, H. (2015) BBC defends Songs of Praise in Calais, likening migrants' plight to Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, Telegraph, 14 August. Available online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11804193/BBC-defends-Songs-of-Praise-in-Calais-likening-migrants-plight-to-Joseph-Mary-and-the-baby-Jesus.html.
  59. Semetko, H. and Valkenburg, P.M. (2000) Framing European politics?: A content analysis of press and television news, Journal of Communication, Vol. 50, No. 2 pp 93-109
  60. Snelle, M. (2015) Inside the Calais 'Jungle' where men live in shame and solidarity, Telegraph. Available online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/11801006/Inside-the-Calais-Jungle-where-men-live-in-solidarity-and-shame.html
  61. Steimel, S. J. (2010) Refugees as people: The portrayal of refugees in American human interest stories, Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 pp 219-237. Available online at http://jrs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jrs/feq019, accessed on 30 April 2014
  62. Stephens, M. (2007) Human interests (faits divers): Such a deal of wonder, A history of news, New York, New York University pp 90-111
  63. Stephens, P. (2015) The Calais migrants are Europe's shame, Financial Times, 30 July. Available online at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5ebf2d16-360e-11e5-b05b-b01debd57852.html#axzz3k8NoXHSd
  64. Steuter, E. and Wills, D. (2009) Discourses of dehumanization: Enemy construction and Canadian media complicity in the framing of the war on terror, Global Media Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2 pp 7-24
  65. Taithe, B. (2004) Reinventing (French) universalism: Religion, humanitarianism and the 'French doctors', Modern & Contemporary France, Vol. 12, No. 2 pp 147-158. Available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09639480410001693025
  66. Taylor, M. (2015) UN migration representative: Calais camp is an indictment on society, Guardian, 23 September. Available online at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/23/un-migration-calais-jungle-camp-peter-sutherland
  67. Thomas, D. (2013) Into the European 'Jungle', Bloomington, Indiana University Press. Available online at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tZoFkV9LqBwC&pg=PA183&dq=barthes+into+the+european+jungle+calais+migration&hl=en&sa=X&ei=sGG8UserCsPy7Ab65ICIDQ&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=barthes into the european jungle calais migration&f=false.
  68. Thompson, D. (2015) Songs of Praise from the Calais migrant camp ... with NO songs! DAMIAN THOMPSON on a BBC stunt gone wrong, Mail Online, 17 August. Available online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3200315/Songs-Praise-Calais-migrant-camp-NO-songs-DAMIAN-THOMPSON-BBC-stunt-gone-wrong.html
  69. Ticktin, M. (2006) Where ethics and politics meet: The violence of humanitarianism in France, American Ethnologist, Vol. 33, No. 1 pp 33-49
  70. Topping, A. (2015) UK to support French centre to house asylum applicants away from Calais, Guardian, 21 August. Available online at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/20/uk-support-french-centre-house-asylum-applicants-away-from-calais
  71. Tristem, A. (2007) The return of Sangatte, Sunday Express, 18 February
  72. Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2013) Subjectivity and story-telling in journalism, Journalism Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 pp 305-320
  73. White, A. (ed.) (2015) Moving stories: International review of how media cover migration, London, Ethical Journalism Network. Available online at http://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/assets/docs/038/141/6adda26-23eaf8d.pdf

Note on the contributor

Dr Yasmin Ibrahim is a Reader in International Business and Communications at Queen Mary, University of London. Her ongoing research on new media technologies explores the cultural dimensions and social implications of the appropriation of ICTs in different contexts. Beyond new media and digital technologies, she writes on political communication and political mobilisation from cultural perspectives. Her other research interests include globalisation, Islam, visual culture and memory studies.
Dr Anita Howarth is a senior lecturer at Brunel University and researches on political communication particularly issues that become politicised around perceptions of policy failure, conflict and social justice. Her particular concern is to investigate how and why the media legitimise or challenge, resist and disrupt policy. Her published work encompasses food as communication, the contested spaces of migration and environmental health risks.