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Building Journalism With Community, Not For It

At the end of last year Kristin Hare of the Poynter Institute was collecting tech resolutions for 2015 and asked for mine. Here is what I wrote:

In 2015 I want to help more journalists build with their communities, not just for their communities.

At so many publications, journalists are rebuilding their newsrooms around new technologies from smartphones to social networks. But for the most part, the community is left on the other side of the screen. In 2015 there is a huge opportunity to engage communities in the work of helping build powerful journalism.

I want to help newsrooms design reporting projects, engagement strategies, web apps and more, through deeper collaboration, listening and empathy with our communities. Building for the community puts people at the end of the process. Building with community puts them at the start.

In the new year, let’s start the debate about journalism and technology with our communities.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation we believe that journalism sustainability is rooted in building stronger relationships between communities and newsrooms. The distinction between “building with” instead of “building for” feels at first like semantics. However, when we begin to use it as a lens to examine journalism as both a process and a product, we see numerous small and large ways it challenges the status quo. Continue reading

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A Secret History of Unmanned Bombing

Last week America’s drone war was brought back into sharp focus when President Obama admitted that a US drone strike in January killed two al Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian. “It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally, and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” Obama told the nation.

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Baker noted that the apology underscored “the perils of a largely invisible, long-distance war waged through video screens, joysticks and sometimes incomplete intelligence.” Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post put it more directly in their piece, “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets.”

Two days before Obama’s press conference I was on a long drive, binging on podcasts, and found myself immersed in a kind of secret history of unmanned bombing. Two random podcasts came on almost back-to-back that were haunting in their description of the lengths humans will go to drop bombs on each other. The two stories are powerful in and of themselves, but were made all the more striking in light of Obama’s comments.

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The Art of the Commons

(This essay was originally published in Orion Magazine’s spring 2015 issue)

There is a growing recognition that the solutions to some of our greatest struggles are rooted in our relationships to one another. They are built by hand, often slowly, and begin in our communities. From the environment to the economy, conservation to culture, people are developing creative networks to tackle wicked problems at a human scale. New digital tools have helped catalyze many of these efforts, but this tendency towards cooperative, participatory, and equitable problem-solving has a long and rich history.

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Building Journalism With Community Starts With Building Trust

In early 2015 I wrote a post about why journalists should focus on building the future of news with communities, not just for them. I’m following up on that post with a series of profiles of people trying to embody this community-first approach.

Profile One: Jeremy Hay and EPA Now

Jeremy Hay is a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University who has been covering local news from San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to Sonoma County for more than two decades. Before getting started in journalism Hay worked as a tenant organizer, union staff member and house cleaner in New York City.

Through his fellowship Hay is exploring how journalists can build on “the native talents in low-income communities to create their own source of media coverage” But when I sat down with Hay in San Mateo, California, last month it was clear that he didn’t want to just build on those talents, he wanted to build with the community. His first project is designing a local news service with residents in East Palo Alto, but Hay hopes he can take what he learns there and extrapolate it out to help other communities develop their own media infrastructure.

It is still early but Hay has already learned some valuable lessons about building with community, not for it.  Continue reading

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Je Suis Charlie: Defending Freedom of Expression Depends on All of Us

When I heard about the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo I was speechless. I have been writing about press freedom and violence against journalists for half a decade, but in the wake of these killings words failed me.

Words did not fail others however.

Within an hour of hearing about the attack I saw the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie gaining traction online. A few hours after that, journalists in newsrooms around the globe began posting pictures of themselves holding Je Suis Charlie signs. And by that night people were in the streets from Paris to San Francisco chanting “Je Suis Charlie.” Continue reading

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The Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2014

Each year I post a round-up of the best online journalism of the year. Below you will find links to more than 30 amazing, immersive journalism projects that caught my attention in 2014. But each year, my readers augment the list with their own favorites.

In 2012, the list included a lot of stunning visuals and designs that wove together text, audio, images and videos. That year, many of the innovations focused on how stories could be displayed online (think Snow Fall). In 2013, the projects tended to be more data driven and participatory.

This year new digital tools and networks seemed to influence every aspect of the storytelling process. From sensors to structured journalism, crowdsourcing to podcasting, new modes of journalism that have been emerging over the last decade took huge strides forward this year. Communities of practice grew up around new models of storytelling to formalize norms, grapple with ethical and technical questions and tackle issues of sustainability.

Unlike past lists, this year I’m grouping stories around key themes. I’ve also included new organizations and storytelling strategies in addition to great individual stories. Please add your own favorites in the comments or make the case for other trends you think defined online storytelling in 2014.

1) The Year Audio Went Viral

There was one story that didn’t fit well in my categories, but was also impossible to not include in my round-up this year: Serial. If you only listened to Serial then you missed a lot of great aspects of the story which were only available on the podcast’s website in blog posts, source documents, maps and more. Serial got so popular, so quick, Slate even created a meta podcast about the podcast.

But Serial is only part of a larger story about the resurgence of podcasts as digital audio gets woven deeply into the web, mobile phones and car radios. 2014 was also the year that Alex Blumberg created an addictive podcast about launching his new start-up (which produces podcasts). It was also the year that the podcast network Radiotopia raised $620,000 on Kickstarter, promising to reinvent public radio. There were so many good stories from the podcasts that make up Radiotopia this year that I couldn’t pick just one — go, listen, subscribe and support them.

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