The Future Of America’s Free Press Is In Our Hands

Turning #GivingTuesday into #GivingNewsDay — a new national campaign will match donations to nonprofit journalism.

(This article was originally published at HuffPost.)

Marie McCausland said Reddit saved her life, but it was actually nonprofit journalism.

Days after delivering her first child, the 27-year-old was having terrible pain, but ER doctors suggested nothing was wrong. However, she had read a story on maternal deaths from ProPublica that had been recently posted to Reddit and recognized her symptoms as preeclampsia. She insisted on a second opinion and got the treatment she needed, likely saving her life.

Across the United States, nonprofit newsrooms like ProPublica report on life and death issues every day. Most of these outlets are small, and just a few years old, but they are already having a huge impact on the communities they serve. They are tackling local corruption, water quality in schools, veterans health, and much, much more. And they are doing it under increasing pressure. The old models that sustained journalism for a long time are eroding, and local and investigative newsrooms are facing a perfect storm of economic challenges and political threats.

Every year, millions of Americans mark the Tuesday after Thanksgiving by donating to nonprofit and philanthropic causes as part of Giving Tuesday. This year, News Match, the largest-ever grassroots campaign to strengthen nonprofit journalism, is celebrating #GivingNewsDay — a nationwide call-to-action for all who are concerned about the news and information needs of our communities and falling trust in news media in our in our democracy. From now through the end of the year, a group of foundations is doubling donations to more than 100 newsrooms that produce stories that make a difference.

How to Find and Support Trustworthy Journalism

If you are hungry for news you can trust, journalism that helps you make decisions about your community, reporting that holds power to account, then this is for you. This is my personal advice for people who want to support journalism that matters. It is just a starting point, it is not comprehensive, and it’ll become stronger and more useful if you add your ideas to it. Use the comments to add your list of newsrooms you subscribe to and support.

Now more than ever, it is important to our democracy that we seek out and support good journalism. Every person is going to construct their media diet differently, so any list I create will be incomplete. My goal here is to provide a framework for you to find the news that will challenge, inspire, inform and engage you.

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Lessons from The New York Times Super Tuesday hoax: Five ways to spot fake news

Fake articles mostly go under the radar, but have the potential to cause lasting damage. Here are some red flags to help spot them

(This article was originally published by the First Draft News Coalition. Check out their site for guides, tips and tools for debunking misinformation online.)

On the eve of Super Tuesday, a New York Times article made the rounds on social media reporting that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. The only problem: It was fake.

The New York Times released a statement and others debunked the fake on Tuesday, as people were headed to the polls, but by that point the fake article “had been viewed more than 50,000 times, with 15,000 shares on Facebook,” the Times reported.

This is just the most recent in a long line of fake news reports which have swept through social media in recent years. Last year Twitter’s share price spiked after a fake Bloomberg article claimed that Google was considering buying the social media platform. In 2012, Wikileaks created a fake New York Times op-ed from then-Times-editor Bill Keller defending Wikileaks in what appeared to be a change of position from his earlier statements about the group. The fake was so convincing that even New York Times journalists were sharing it on Twitter.

This kind of hoax isn’t limited to the web. Just a few weeks ago a pro-Palestinian grouphanded out fake versions of the New York Times to highlight what it believes is the Time’s bias against Palestinians. In 2008 the Yes Men distributed thousands of copies of a 14-page fake New York Times all over New York City. The paper declared the end of the Iraq war on the front page.

Online it is increasingly simple for activists and pranksters to spoof the look and feel of a major news website and these fakes can have real impacts from Wall Street to the voting booth. However, in each of these past cases there has been some clear giveaways that are instructive for anyone who wants to spot fakes in the future. Continue reading

From Chat Apps to Town Halls: Why More Newsrooms are Designing Journalism for Conversation

A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” — Arthur Miller

At a panel on “The Hunt for News Products of the Future” hosted by CUNY and the New School last week, Aron Pilhofer, the Interim Chief Digital Officer of The Guardian, said he is fascinated with the intersection of messaging, bots and artificial intelligence in apps like Facebook’s project M, and how that might change how we enter into a conversation with the news. The comment came on the heels of Pilhofer discussing the new mobile app from Quartz, which uses a messaging interface to deliver news via interactions with the user. He said using the Quartz app was “the first time I opened up a news app and felt like it had a soul.”

I felt that too — perhaps not a soul, but a sense of connection.

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The Best Online Journalism and Storytelling of 2015

40 Amazing Reporting Projects You Might Have Missed

by Josh Stearns and Luis Gomez

Every year storytelling and journalism on the web gets better. For the past three years I have rounded up the most compelling examples of reporting online (here is 20142013, and 2012). This year I had the good fortune to collaborate with Luis Gomez on this project.

This is a labor of love. Our hope is that by shining a spotlight on this important work, we can help you discover things you might have missed and that you’ll share them and support the journalists who made them possible.

There is no formal criteria for what makes the list. We tried to focus on stories that leverage the unique potential of the web, stories that come to life on the web in ways they never could have otherwise. But we also look for stories that — while not technically groundbreaking — still hit us in the gut and stick with us.

Sometimes it is about using the right tools for the story, not every tool in the toolbox.

We know we’ve likely missed amazing pieces that deserve to be recognized — which is why we ask you to add yours to the comments here. And if you like these stories, sign up for the weekly Local Fix newsletter for more case studies on innovation and community engagement in journalism.

RACE

#BlackLivesMatter has helped fuel renewed attention to issues of race and justice in media. The following projects reflect that but it is worth also recognizing the way #BlackLivesMatter has used creative storytelling and social media to report on these issues when others wouldn’t. That is also online journalism and should be included here. 

Screenshot from Tampa Bay Times

“Failure Factories” — Tampa Bay Times
Failure Factories tells the story of the end of integration at the Pinellas County School District in Florida. To tell this investigative multi-story series, the Tampa Bay Times visualizes data to illustrate the impact of desegregation in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the district. The opening prologue is simple, but powerful and effective.

The 45 Minute Mystery of Freddie Gray’s Death — Baltimore Sun
One of the biggest stories that set the tone for race and justice conversations in the media was the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore’s police. The challenge of telling the story, which started out as a local story and later evolved into a national story, is sorting out much of what happened in the minutes and hours before and after Gray’s death. The Baltimore Sun zeroes in on those moments with compelling video and details often not visible from a bird’s eye view.

#InTheirWords — USA Today
In writing about USA Today’s #InTheirWords project the American Journalism Review wrote that “one way to tell the stories about race [is] to remove the journalists.” Of course USA Today did not remove journalism from this piece but they did change the relationship between journalist, reader and subject. The audience can create a self-driven documentary drawing on a set of interviews with young leaders in the civil rights organizing. The project is similar to the Washington Post’s 2014 N-Word project.

SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

Screenshot from Science News

The Martian Diaries — Science News
If the Mars Rover kept a diary, what would it look like? That is the question designers and journalists at Science News set out to answer in this great piece which draws on two and half years of photos and data from the exploration of Mars.

After the Storm — Washington Post, Independent Lens and other partners
Blurring the line between journalism and documentary film, this partnership between the Washington Post and PBS’s Independent Lens is described in the opening seconds as a “letter to future disaster survivors.” With narration, looping music and an aesthetic like a scrapbook with maps, photos and snippets of text the piece is like sitting down across from someone and listening to them tell you their story.

Primer Stories — Joe Alterio and Tim Lillis
Primer Stories is a collection of unique stories, many though not all focus on science. Alterio and Lillis invite authors to contribute short pieces and then use GIFs, illustrations, videos, and photos to bring them to life. The results feel like a kind of bespoke journalism, each one creatively and lovingly designed in ways that add richness and meaning. See for example Dragons of the AlpsYou Are HereOn Ice and How to Build a Brain. (Hat tip @MollydeAguiar for this one)

Every Active Satellite Orbiting Earth — Quartz
When the Union of Concerned Scientists released a database of the 1,300 satellites currently in orbit over earth, Quartz took the data and created a visualization. Organized by size of the satellite and the country it belongs to, this interactive graphic give us a glimpse of each satellite’s launch date, users, and owners.

Greenland is Melting Away — New York Times
The New York Times used a drone to bring readers high above the melting glaciers of Greenland in this beautiful piece that was published the month before the UN climate talks in Paris. The drone footage is accompanied by scroll-to-zoom aerial imagery and data that maps of all the glacial rivers including flow rates. (See also After Years of Drought, Wildfires Rage in California from New York Times)

Japan’s New Satellite Captures an Image of Earth Every 10 Minutes — The New York Times
The graphic presents a view of the globe, in the Times words, “as a massive organic system, pulsing with continuous movement.” It is hypnotic.

VIRTUAL REALITY

Screenshot from the New York Times

It is impossible to talk about online storytelling in 2015 without talking about the rise of virtual reality. While not a technology that was invented or pioneered in 2015, last year did mark a tipping point in the adoption of virtual reality inside newsrooms. This was perhaps most evident in the Google Cardboard/New York Times partnership in which every New York Times subscriber recieved a virtual reality viewer with their Sunday paper.

Those who are experimenting with journalism and virtual reality have set up good pages that collect all their reporting in one place. Check out the stories and apps from journalists at ABCVice and the New York Times, media organizations like Discovery and KCRW, and local news companies like Gannett and Digital First. On the university side, see projects by Robert HernandezNonny de la Peña, the University of Arizona, and Dan Pacheco. (See more stories at the VRSE website)

IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEES

GIF via Medium

Ghost Boat — Medium
Ghost Boat, published on Medium, is nicely designed but it is worth including here not only because of how it looks but also because of how it was written. Medium set out to crowdsource the investigation into a missing ship carrying 243 migrants. The effort included many individual contributors as well as group hackathons, where teams tried to surface new evidence.

Exodus — Washington Post
Giant photos and maps welcome the reader through a multipage slideshow before this long piece begins. It traces the journey of one Syrian family’s trip to Europe. Other parts of the series used data to extrapolate out from this one family and give a larger picture of people’s movements and migrations.

Rape on the Night Shift — Reveal / Center for Investigative Reporting
Read. Watch. Listen. Those are the invitations at the beginning of this investigation from CIR’s Reveal and PBS’s Frontline. The story unfolds via an online article, a TV series and a podcast, each giving the audience a different look at the sexual violence perpetrated against immigrant workers. Original artwork, short videos and text are woven together in each part of the story.

Where Would 10.8 Million Displaced Syrians Fit? — Al Jazeera America
First created in 2013 but updated in 2015 during the refugee crisis in Europe and the ensuing debates here in the US, Al Jazeera tries to put the scale of the Syrian migration using population data from US cities. The project then allowed people to submit snapshots of their own area with comments reflecting on the crisis.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY

 

Screenshot from the Guardian

Homan Square: A Portrait of Chicago’s Detainees — The Guardian
Spencer Ackerman and Zach Stafford’s groundbreaking report on a secret interrogation facility in Chicago where at least 3,500 Americans have been detained is harrowing enough on its own. But the Guardian also created an interactive feature that provides individual details of many of the detainees and a number of video interviews where former detainees talk about abuse inside the building.

The Drone Papers — The Intercept
One of the most detailed looks at the US Drone program we’ve ever seen came from a cache of documents leaked to the Intercept. Weaving together source documents, photographs and animations that spill off the edges of the screen this series gives the you the feel of flipping through the files yourself.

The Demolition of Worker’s Comp — ProPublica
The poignant original illustrations that ProPublica commissioned for this piece are powerful enough, but then, when paired with interactive data visualization and photography, the piece drives home the struggle and the injustice people who are injured on the job often face.

The Making of a Narco-Terrorist — ProPublica
Using original illustrations and an interactive site that feels like a card game, ProPublica raises questions about sting operations carried out by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the agency’s claims that drug smugglers are funding terror. This project stood out for us because it is encouraging to see the use of hand-made illustrations in journalism as a way to guide a reader into the story similar to the way comics have done so for ages.

Missed Signs. Fatal Consequences — Austin American Statesman
In a massive three-part series, journalists at the Austin American Statesman create a damning narrative about the state of child protective services in Texas. Weaving together original source documents, data, photos and video the heartbreaking series covers the story from many different angles. What makes this project especially compelling is the Stateman’s use of sidebars that include comments and photos from its Facebook community.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND POLICE

Screenshot from The Marshall Project

The Next to Die — The Marshall Project
If you want to know who is on death row and next to be executed, this Marshall Project presentation keeps a visual timeline of each death and the statistics in each state currently practicing the death penalty. It’s grim, it’s up-to-the-date, and takes data journalism to a new dimension. The project uses data and reporting from local partners around the country.

More than 900 people have been fatally shot by police officers in 2015 — Washington Post
There was no one source of data on police shootings so the Washington Post built their own database from “news reports, public records, Internet databases and original reporting.” The result is an unprecedented shooting database where the body count links to tiny profiles of each person who was killed.

The Counted — The Guardian
The Guardian launched their police shooting database about the same time as the Washington Post, but took a very different approach. Building off a few existing datasets, the Guardian turned to the community to help submit tips about police shootings. The project combines reporting with verified crowdsourced information (and you can see their methodology here).

The Empty Chair — New York Magazine
The story of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault allegations was one of the biggest stories of the year, and New York Magazine tackled the issue in a dramatic way: By putting each of his 35 accusers on the cover of the magazine with the exception of one empty chair. While the magazine’s print cover caught everyone’s attention upon release, the publication was even more impressive on the web where it told each of the women’s stories.

Unsolved — Journal Sentinel
Capitalizing on the crowdsourcing sleuthing fever that Serial started in 2014, the Journal Sentinel published this multimedia mystery series — paired with podcasts and videos — about a 14-year-old high school freshman who went missing in the suburbs of Milwaukee 40 years ago.

An Unbelievable Story of Rape — ProPublica / The Marshall Project
The story is about a young woman who was punished by police for reporting a rape they didn’t believe happen, one that was eventually proven true once the serial rapist was caught. But the story is also about two nonprofit news organizations coming together by mere happenstance as two investigative reporters sort of stumbled upon each other as they quietly looked into the same story.

(There is a lot of notable criminal justice reporting that happens at the local level and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It may not be as flashy as others, but see these two pieces by the Daytona News Journal and Atlanta Journal Constitution)

THE ANNIVERSARY OF HURRICANE KATRINA

Screenshot from The Lens/The Nation

Missing Home: What We Demolished in New Orleans After Katrina — The Lens
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it is gone. Through data, maps and photos the New Orleans-based nonprofit The Lens created this amazing database of all the homes that were demolished after Hurricane Katrina. And through the lens of these properties they told the stories of people who lost their homes.

The Re-Education of New Orleans — Education Week
On the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Education Week focused in on how schools have changed in the city since the storm. Building on personal stories, strong photos and revealing data the piece tells the story in the voice of the people most affected.

10 Years After Katrina — New York Times
The New York Times took a neighborhood approach to telling the story of Katrina’s anniversary by going back to some of the areas hardest hit by the flooding. With full screen videos and maps that compare flooded areas and demographic changes in the city, the Times tries to put a face on a city that is still in transition.

The Next Big One — Washington Post
This piece weaves together a lot of the elements we’ve come to expect from big online stories including video, maps and stunning photos. However, Washington Post’s coverage also included drone footage and a touching series of profiles of Katrina survivors ten years after the storm.

MISCELLANEOUS

Screenshot from Do Not Track web documentary

Do Not Track — Upian, AJ+, ONF, ARTE, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Tribeca and others
In many ways, Do Not Track epitomizes the kind of creative, interactive storytelling that could only be executed on the web. The makes of Do Not Track call it “a personalized documentary series” which adapts to the person watching it. People are invited to share their data with the project, and in return it will show you “what the web knows about you.” (See also this great report on journalism and online documentaries from MIT)

A New Whitney — New York Times
This piece on the new Whitney museum is a rollercoaster of visuals that zooms the reader high above the city and through the glass walls of the new building. (See also A Gift to New York, In Time for the Pope for another interesting architecture piece.)

A Clash in the Name of Care — Boston Globe
The Boston Globe Spotlight team, subjects of one of the 2015’s best movies, delivers a powerful piece of watchdog reporting on surgeons who conduct two procedures at once. The investigation includes a clever feature where names turn into buttons that pop-up background info about the person. The piece pulls together source documents, graphics and video into a powerful package.

The Presidential Election in Emoji — The Atlantic
In a year in which Oxford Dictionaries chose an emoji for it’s “word of the year” it seems only fitting that a news organization should mine the pulse of the American public through the emojis they use to discuss political candidates. The Atlantic’s tracking of emojis in tweets about the candidates is a fascinating look at both social media and shifts in political discourse.

The Life and Times of Strider Wolf — Boston Globe
It is just text and photos with a companion documentary, but it is still one the most heart wrenching and memorable stories from the past year.

Tapered Throne — Brandon Tauszik
Tauszik brings photojournalism to life through subtle and carefully crafted GIFs of Oakland’s black barbershops. The technique extends the emotion of the moment just enough to reveal little details in the motion that you might not get in a still image.

A Walk Through the Gallery: “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” — New York Times
As you scroll down the Museum of Modern Art’s recent Matisse exhibit unfolds across the screen, as if you are walking down the hall staring at the artwork yourself.

Is the Nasdaq in Another Bubble? — Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal turns the ups and downs of the stock market throughout history into a rollercoaster which readers can scroll through on the screen. As you watch you begin to feel the climbs and falls in a way that puts today’s stock market unrest into perspective.

World Bank Projects Leave a Trail of Misery Around the Globe — Huffington Post and ICIJ
In this multi-part investigation by the Huffington Post and ICIJ different episodes employ different tactics from data visualizations to videos. The reporting spans five countries, each with photos and data about the impact of World Bank Projects in those countries.

Social Reporting if Charlie Hebdo — Reported.ly
Reported.ly had just gotten staffed up and running when news broke of the massacre at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In their coverage of those events they began to show the power and potential of their distributed social reporting approach. Be sure to read their debrief on the coverage.


What did we miss? Help us continue to shine a spotlight on great reporting by adding links and your thoughts in the comments. (We know this list is very US-centric, so we’d love to see more examples of non-US journalism and multilingual reporting.)

Follow us on Twitter @jcstearns and @rungomez and sign up for the Local Fix newsletter for more great examples of amazing journalism and tips for how to create your own.

BEYOND THE NUMBERS: MEDIA DIVERSITY AND LOCAL NEWS

Creating more diverse journalism can’t just be about slotting people of color into the newsrooms we have, it has to be about transforming our institutions, our culture, and our storytelling.

I’ve written before about the need for newsrooms to better reflect the diversity of their communities. This work isn’t tangential to creating more sustainable, impactful and engaged journalism, it is central to it.

You may have seen the headline this week over at the Columbia Journalism Review: “At many local newspapers, there are no reporters of color.” The piece is a follow-up to an earlier article where Alex William examined how unequal hiring practices, not the number of qualified candidates, contribute to lack of diversity in America’s newsrooms. While the Columbia Journalism Review piece focuses on local newsrooms, the International Business Times reported on the percentage of people of color working at the biggest new digital media outlets, concluding that most lag behind legacy media.

Chart by Alex William and the Columbia Journalism Review.

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Can Old School Low-Power Radio Help Digital Newsrooms Thrive?

August 20, WAs National Radio Day. In this post I explore why radio remains relevant and how local newsrooms are partnering with community radio stations to reach new audiences.

Across the country new Low Power FM community radio stations are taking to the airwaves. This new burgeoning of local media was made possible by ten years of advocacy and organizing that culminated in the passage of the Local Community Radio Act in 2010. The Act made hundreds of new radio licenses available to nonprofits across the nation.

I’ve long been interested in the potential for low power radio stations to collaborate with other local media and news operations to better serve community information needs. In 2012 I published a report with Craig Aaron and Candace Clement of Free Press exploring the potential of a more connected and collaborative local media ecosystem. In that report we wrote, “Changes in technology, the economy and the needs of communities make it increasingly important for community and public media stakeholders to come together and find common ground in their concern for the health of local media.”

As this new generation of LPFM radio stations emerge there is a unique opportunity to build a more networked and collaborative local media. Two recent articles explore how nonprofit newsrooms, arts organizations and community radio can join forces.

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29 Journalism Sessions Worth Voting for at SXSW

The deadline for voting on SXSW sessions is September 4th. Below I’ve rounded up a few session ideas that caught my attention. Go forth, vote, comment and share.

Community Engagement and Public Powered Journalism

I’m most interested in sessions that look at the role of media and technology on the lives of people and communities and that explore how communities and journalists can work more closeing to co-create the future of news.

Building Journalism and Civic Tech With Community

If civic tech and journalism are about creating a more just and equitable democracy, we need to reorient our work towards building with communities, not just for them. The future of civic work is not about investing in technology, it is about investing in community. This interactive panel is designed to address this gap, demonstrating through play and dialogue how journalism and technology practices can be reconfigured to work collaboratively with diverse publics. We’ll present case studies and community-driven strategies from sectors like public art, social justice organizing and design thinking. Attendees will leave with models they can put to use and iterate on in their work. (Disclosure: I submitted this one)

Let the People In: How to Democratize Local News

We believe everyone has a stake in the future of journalism. That’s why Free Press is applying the tools of community organizing to local news engagement. Our News Voices pilot project in New Jersey brings community leaders and residents together with media makers to explore the role journalism can and must play in helping communities shape their own futures. By treating residents as active partners, we’re building a model where newsrooms respond to local needs and residents advocate for quality sustainable journalism in their hometowns. Our panel can speak from different perspectives — as journalists and community organizers — about how and why this approach works. (Disclosure: we at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fund this project)

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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

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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Five Kinds of Listening for Newsrooms and Communities

In 2002 NPR’s vice president for diversity, then a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, described an idea he called “The Listening Post.” “Journalists interested in telling more of a community’s ‘truth’ need to establish listening posts in the places that fall outside the routine of journalism,” he wrote. “They have to leave the office, the neighborhood, maybe even the comfort of personal likes and dislikes in order to make this happen.”

More than ten years later Internews and local New Orleans public radio station WWNO launched a project with the same name and built on some of the shared values. The New Orleans Listening Post combines digital recording stations across the community with text messages and online engagement to “establish a two-way conversation with the citizens of New Orleans” where they can both contribute ideas and commentary to the newsroom and also receive news and information about their community. Internews and WWNO partners with Groundsource for the project which is building a mobile first, text message based platform for listening.

Almost 1,000 miles to the north, Jenn Brandel is pioneering a different kind of listening project called Curious City at Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ. Curious City is part journalism project, part listening platform, and in the words of Brandel, is “powered by open questions.” The Curious City team has collected thousands of questions from Chicago residents in the field, via a toll-free number and online via their custom-built platform. The public gets to vote on what questions journalists pursue, and the Curious City team brings the public into the reporting project along the way.

From Transactional to Transformational Listening

Last November I wrote about the need for listening and empathy in journalism, arguing that “better reflecting and responding to our communities has to start with better listening.” A year later, I’m encouraged by the growth of projects like The Listening Post and Curious City as well as the many newsrooms who are hosting events dedicated to listening to the diverse voices of their communities.

While these promising experiments and new start-ups a proving the value of deeper forms of listening, as an industry we still have a lot to learn. Listening is after all not a passive act, but rather an active skill that we can learn and employ strategically. As the examples above make clear there are many different kinds of listening with different goals and outcomes. Below I’ve tried to map out five models for listening at the intersection of newsrooms and communities. Continue reading

How To Get Your News From Poems

I came to journalism by way of poetry.

For a long time, poems were my workshop. Through poetry I experimented with language, learned how to make meaning and build empathy. Poetry, like so much good journalism, helped me see the world in new ways.

This week, the nation’s largest poetry festival kicks off in Newark, New Jersey. Over four days, on nine stages, more than 70 poets will take part in 120 events. In a preview of the festival, the New York Times called it “a literary bonanza.”

For me, the festival feels like a homecoming. Six months ago I began working as the Director for Journalism and Sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the hosts of the Dodge Poetry Festival. I’ll spend the weekend surrounded by some of the people whose poetry sparked my love of writing early on.

“It is difficult / to get the news from poems,” wrote American poet William Carlos Williams, “yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” And yet, we are seeing more and more efforts to combine poetry and reporting. Recently, the Center for Investigative Journalism partnered with the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks to create the Off/Page project mix spoken word with investigative reporting. In 2009 Haaretz newspaper in Israel replaced its reporters with leading poets and authors for a day, and later in 2012 NPR invited poets into the newsroom to translate the day’s news into verse. Continue reading

The Rise of Hands-On Journalism

Digital journalism has made possible some incredible storytelling in recent years. Visually stunning reports on issues as diverse as gun violence, environmental disasters, and surveillance have brought stories to life on the screen. Increasingly, however, journalists are experimenting with innovations that move journalism off the screen and into people’s hands.

This spring RadioLab did a story about an ancient skull and the questions it helped answer about the origins of human history. It is a fascinating story, but it revolved around minute details scientists discovered in the skull, details a radio audience couldn’t see. So the RadioLab team took a scan of the skull, printed it out with a 3D printer, and made the scan available online for others to print out. So, now you could hypothetically feel the groves and markings on the skull as the scientists discuss them, discovering new facets of the skull alongside the narrators.

I am fascinated by the potential for these sorts of journalism-objects to help engage communities around stories and foster empathy with audiences. So I began collecting examples of what I call, “hands on journalism.”

I see this hands-on journalism as a particular kind of community engagement, one that may involve collaboration with community, but puts an emphasis on discovery and learning. Specifically the kind of learning that comes from doing. Continue reading

Video: Journalism Sustainability and Community Engagement

About one month ago I took the wraps off of the new project I had been developing with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. We called it “The Local News Lab” because we wanted to emphasize the sense of experimentation that animates much of the project. We are working with six local news sites in New Jersey and New York City to test new revenue models, new strategies for community engagement, and new collaborative projects to strengthen the journalism ecosystem.

The project is not only an experiment in supporting and expanding local journalism, but also an effort test new ideas in media funding and philanthropy. At Dodge we are testing how a place-based foundation can strengthen the infrastructure for local journalism in a way that encourages long-term sustainability and deep civic engagement. While Dodge does fund non-commercial journalism, this project focuses on mentoring six commercial news start-ups and helping build tools and resources that serve all journalists and newsrooms. We describe this as an ecosystem approach.

I wanted to come work at the Dodge Foundation because I was really excited about the approach they were taking, investing in networks and infrastructure and putting community and civic engagement at the center of their work. In the video below, an interview with Dan Kennedy, I talk more about the details of the project and how we will measure success. Continue reading