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