20 Of The Best Nonprofit News Stories Of 2017

This was an amazing year for investigative journalism — especially around the country at the local level where nonprofit newsrooms are holding leaders accountable and covering the issues communities care about. Here are 20 important stories that had an impact around the United States in 2017.

Standing Up For Quality News

This year has reminded us why quality journalism matters like never before. From ProPublica’s investigation into why the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world to Centro de Periodismo Investigativo’s journalists who faced incredible challenges and personal disasters while tirelessly covering their communities across Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. From MinnPost’s coverage of sexual harassment in the Minnesota Capitol, which led to the resignation of two legislators, to InvestigateWest’s reporting on the disarray at Washington State’s foster care program that prompt six new laws and $48 million in funding to keep kids safe.

As nonprofits, these newsrooms depend on donations to bring these stories to light. This kind of public powered reporting helps newsrooms take on the biggest stories facing our community and our nation, without fear or favor. That is why News Match is doubling donations to these newsrooms until the end of 2017. National and local funders have contributed more than $3 million to match your donations but time is running out!

The Institute for Nonprofit News has collected more than 60 of the most important local and investigative stories from nonprofit journalists this year. Below are 20 great examples from that list. Donate today to double your contribution — otherwise stories like these might not get told. Continue reading

Why Quality Journalism Matters When We Talk About Honoring Veterans

Ahead of Veterans Day, News Match 2017 — the largest-ever grassroots campaign to strengthen non-profit journalism across the United States — is shining a spotlight on journalists and newsrooms whose work has lifted up critical issues impacting veterans and their families. News Match is doubling donations to these organizations, and more than 100 others, between now and the end of the year. You can support quality reporting on veterans issues by visiting www.newsmatch.org.

“Every Veterans Day, Americans come together to recognize the sacrifice and valor of our veterans throughout the country,” said Sue Cross, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News. “Non-profit news organizations do this daily through their groundbreaking reporting—ensuring our nation lives up to our commitment to those who have served.”

From Colorado to Connecticut the stories below remind us of the incredible sacrifices veterans have made, and the powerful role journalists play in telling their stories. Continue reading

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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Why Journalists Need to Take Reader Privacy More Seriously

(A version of this post originally appeared on Medium)

Last week longtime local publisher Howard Owens, founder of the online news site the Batavian, launched a new publication covering Wyoming County in upstate New York. Buried in a parenthetical within his welcome message to readers was a fascinating promise: “We’ll also respect your privacy by not gathering personal data to distribute to multinational media conglomerates for so-called ‘targeted advertising.’”

This kind of explicit promise regarding reader privacy is increasingly important and all too rare.

Even though stories about government surveillance, commercial tracking and financial data theft have become commonplace in the press over the last two years, news organizations are still loath to talk about their own practices in regards to reader privacy. It’s time for some real talk about what we owe our readers in the age of big data and mass surveillance.

Just last week this blog published an analysis of news organizations’ use of encrypted HTTPS connections. “Virtually none of the top news websites,” writes Kevin Gallagher, “including all those who have reported on the Snowden documents — have adopted the most basic of security measures to protect the integrity of their content and the privacy of their readers.” Without this encrypted connection it becomes possible to essentially eavesdrop on what people are reading online, as the NSA did with people who visited the Wikileaks website.

Earlier this year, in a report on the challenges of encrypting news websites, theWashington Post pointed out how much this kind of surveillance can reveal about someone. “Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings.”

And yet, the use of encrypted connections on news websites is just one part of a much larger and more complex issue. Continue reading

Thirteen Questions About the Future of Participatory Journalism

At this year’s Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications conference I moderated a panel on legal, educational and practical debates about participatory journalism and citizen reporting. I had the good fortune to be joined by a terrific group of scholars and activists: Amanda Hickman of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Lisa Lynch of Concordia University, Madeleine Bair of Witness.org and Morgan Weiland of Stanford University.

I posted a preview of the discussion before the panel. But the panel itself was a lively and engaged debate where a number of important new issues were debated. Below are recordings of the panel’s opening remarks. You can listen to the entire half hour on Soundcloud, but below I’ve split it up into short three and four minute clips, highlighting a few key themes that emerged. Continue reading

Media Making as Participatory Democracy: Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street

“If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said,
then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.” 
– The Port Huron Statement, 1962

 We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.”
– Occupy Wall Street, 2012

Fifty years ago, the authors of the Port Huron Statement wrote that “Every generation inherits from the past a set of problems – personal and social – and a dominant set of insights and perspectives by which the problems are to be understood and, hopefully, managed.” 

Today, the generation that sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement has likewise inherited a distinctive set of problems and generated its own new insights and approaches to them. One of the most important characteristics of the Occupy movement is the expanding universe of media makers – citizen journalists, livestreamers, artists and others – who see their work as overtly political and a central part of the movement itself. 

New tools and technologies are empowering more and more people to commit acts of journalism – many for the first time – as their preferred mode of engaging with the movement. For many, grassroots media is not just a means to forward the goals of Occupy Wall Street. Creating media and telling a new story about our society is also an ends in and of itself. Media making is increasingly a political act as important as the occupations themselves. Continue reading

Covert Consolidation Undercuts Supposed Growth in TV News

Two recent reports paint a rosy picture of local TV news. Stations are launching new programs, jobs are coming back and revenues are up. Bolstering these reports are stats from the Radio Television Digital News Association, which called 2010 a record year for local news.

I just wish that were the whole picture. However, neither of these reports fully grapples with the impact covert consolidation — in which a station signs away control of its newsroom to a competitor — is having on the media ecosystem. Continue reading

An Architectural Framework for Public Life

I have been increasingly interested in the connection between the civic health and the information infrastructure of our communities. The intersection of these two ideas raises important questions about the role of journalists and news organizations in constructing civic discourse and civic spaces – both real and virtual.

For those interested in this line of thought, Megan Garber’s post “Energy-efficient journalism — urban planning for news” over at the Nieman Journalism Lab is a must read. She uses urban planning and architecture as a metaphor for how we might construct the future of journalism. One thing I found attractive about the vision she describes is the way in which it aspires to be comprehensive (she describes the project that inspired her approach as “An approach to civic space that is strategically comprehensive — the product not merely of collective efforts, but of collaborative ones.”).

With so much experimentation and so many emergent tools, models, and projects in the journalism space, it is often necessary – and useful – to focus in on one trend, one model, one question. To paraphrase from Garber’s post, this leaves us with a view of journalism and our communities that is full of small pieces, loosely joined. Continue reading

Imagined Communities and the Future of News

There’s a great blog post from Chris O’Brien over at Next Newsroom on the role of passion and community in the future of news.

In his post “How Passion For Newspapers Points To A Way Forward” O’Brien taps into a vital aspect of the work we are all doing in media reform and the future of journalism. Like so many current social movements we get bogged down in the stats, figures, and data and lose sight of the role of emotion in the fights we wage. It doesn’t just matter how people read the news or where advertisers spend their money – we also need to be concerned with how people feel about news organizations and why people read the news.

“Too often, we boil a newspaper down to the idea that it’s just about journalism. In fact, at their peak, a printed newspaper provided about 50 different services to readers, one of which was journalism. Taken together, these things created not just a product, but also an experience. This is where the emotional component kicks in.”

While it is easy to talk about the vital role of journalism in democracy, and we have to keep doing so. By focusing on such huge abstract issues, we risking missing the more local direct way that people experience the news and the immediate role journalism plays in our lives. As O’Brien notes, this role is not just about providing news and information. And its not just about creating a local marketplace. The sum is greater than its parts here. News orgs are vital civic orgs – they organize information (or help people organize information) and in so doing they help organize people themselves. This is the community building power of the media – that has for the most part been forgotten (or abandoned). This is what the best community newspapers, community radio stations, and community access TV still do. Continue reading

Journalism Policy in the Spotlight

Free Press created SaveTheNews.org to argue for the importance of public policy in discussions about the future of journalism. Last week, however, policy took center stage with three articles examining our government’s possible role in fostering a robust and diverse free press in America. The articles came from an array of sources – a scholar, a journalist and a pair of advocates – and appeared in newspapers across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Seattle. Continue reading

Thinking Across the Issues, Part Two

A Report Out from the Free Press Summit: Changing Media (www.freepress.net/summit)

The mid-day panel at the Free Press Summit: Changing Media, raised vital questions about the future of American media: Will our new media system be a resource for all Americans, an engine for economic growth, and a platform for new forms of art, entertainment, education and information? Or will we let the digital divide grow, expanding the information gap and cutting more people off from the benefits of the Web?

Moderated by Ray Suarez, of PBS’ The NewsHour, the panel included two former FCC chairmen, Reed Hundt and Michael Powell, as well as Jessica Rosenworcel from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, venture capitalist Ram Shriram and Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott.

Together, the panel took a hard look at the role of government in shaping the media in America. Since our nation’s founding, government – recognizing the vital role of a robust media system – has developed policies that have had an impact on everything we see, read and hear. If we are at a turning point for the media in America – what role will the government play? Continue reading

Rilke on Love and Work

Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure were more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work.

Rainer Maria Rilke

The Best We Can Do is Listen

As usual I am about a month behind in my reading, and so am just now getting through the December edition of Orion Magazine. There are a few fantastic articles in it (as usual) but one focuses on an art exhibit called Human/Nature and has some great quotes. Read the whole areticle here: Human/Nature. And subscribe to Orion here.

“The only thing we have to protect nature with is culture,” Wendell Berry has observed. And yet, nature is a particularly human idea. Culture is how we come to it.

In 1944, Richard Wright wrote in American Hunger, “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” So it is, perhaps, with art-making, with the work of conservation, with the act of simply getting by—consciously and with integrity—in this uneven world that is our heritage. We hope for echoes. We hunger for recognition and response. This is what the artists of Human/Nature have done in concert. They have made soundings in eight different places in eight wildly different ways, and they are tracing them home. The best we can do is listen.