If you had the ability to build a news organization from scratch, what would you include? What would you do differently?
I examined this issue alongside two dozen journalists and people close to journalism – activists, educators and nonprofit leaders – at the American Press Institute’s Connecting with Diverse Communities summit, which is held at Temple University on June 8-9.
Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to attend the summit. I am on summits, conversations and forums about diversity. I am ready to act knowingly.
But, given the opportunity to start from scratch, I would build a new base by reconfiguring an old one: our new values.
Opportunity. Impact. Proximity. Conflict. Unusual. Importance. Magnitude. Emotional Impact. These are a little different from the ones I learned over ten years ago, but these are the ones taught to my alma mater.
As a Generation X black woman, I wonder why I too often teach these values as if they have been revealed to me through divine intervention.
Part of the promise of greater diversity in the classroom, newsroom, and community is that more people from different backgrounds can offer different perspectives, different lenses to see the world.
After all, the “mainstream” and “old” media and “mainstream journalism” are products of an era when few like me had a seat at the table.
The 24 hour news cycle has forever transformed our sense of news; The Internet is destroying our sense of closeness with its ability to connect the four corners of the globe. Notoriety has unfortunately given way to fame. Impact is more than just a matter of following the dollar or asking how much or how much. It requires an examination of how a change in a system affects the people involved in its network and the lasting effects that these changes can have.
As Mizell Stewart, my former Tallahassee Democrat editor, now vice president of information operations for USA Today Network (and new professor at Poynter, to boot), said at the summit: Our Values as society have evolved, why shouldn’t we t our new values?
Certainly, our core news values endure. Nothing replaces truth, accuracy and the timely delivery of relevant news. But for businesses serving hyperlocal, niche, niche, and digital audiences, there are unspoken and perhaps unchallenged values that should be discussed. Any outlet that seeks to scale and remain viable should examine its values.
Let’s start with the various communities we seek to serve and question the values that have led us to points of failure and success in accomplishing this mission.
I asked a few friends and colleagues from different organizations and different walks of life what values they would recommend to the media to connect with increasingly diverse media trying to reach different generations:
Tyler Tynes, reporter covering race and culture at Intersection Sports for the SB Nation:
Authenticity in reports – keep it 100: There are a lot of journalists who know a lot of stories and don’t report them because they are afraid. We should call the people, put our feet on the fire.
We need to cultivate a new level of authenticity in both high and low realms. We need to be ourselves, to express our originality.
There are companies that always want you to watch the news. This topical hair, this topical look, because it pays off to a white audience. If we could keep it at 100, we would serve our audience a lot more – because our base isn’t really white, it’s mixed.
When black people in a black city see a black reporter covering a crime scene, they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to them. But when I was working in Atlantic City, they were, because of the newspaper where I worked. It took a few great stories for black people to speak to me. It was sad that people felt compelled to identify me as “that black journalist” because there were so few black journalists in the paper.
Crystal Lewis Brown, Content Director for SheKnows:
Verification: Many of our current journalists did not attend j-school. If you grew up in the [fast-paced] Information Age… the emphasis was on checking and double checking because you wanted to break the story and get the clicks.
I don’t mind a news agency giving me what it has and saying ‘we don’t know the rest’. This is where social media comes in. I follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and it becomes a developing story. It’s better than saying “we know these things happened” and having to retract something later.
Autonomy: I think many of us are familiar with the police station. We have become comfortable saying “this is what happens according to [another outlet], and that source development is something we’re starting to miss. Traditional journalism still does, but for digital media it’s so fast it takes more effort. The sources do not speak to you as they would a community newspaper for many years or as a reporter they have seen for many years.
We must ask ourselves: what will be our threshold? Are we going to achieve these different ways?
Perspective: I think when people think in terms of diversity, they think of positive action or a quota. I think people don’t realize it’s for varied experiences. Even the whispers of OITNB… How do you share these stories of women of color when you don’t have a woman of color in your writing desk? It takes away nuance when you don’t have someone in the room going to give you that gut test and say you might not want to write something that way or say that.
Fiona Morgan, Director of Journalism Program, FreePress
Self-reflection: First of all, recognize that there has never been a golden age when we have really defended these values. There has been institutional inequality in the institutions and practices and ways in which we have always known them.
Listen: The technology is there, but that’s not what people came to journalism for. You obtain. You collect information. People need to be heard, we need to listen not only to what they want, but to what they have heard.
Inclusion: Bring people to the table. Who is not in the room? I watch the Brexit stuff, and it’s so much like what’s going on here with the Trump supporters and the supporters of HB2.
There is so much nihilism because people feel like they’ve been left out of the process for so long, they’ve been ignored for so long. When you have been ignored for so long, you will make every effort to bring about change. I always think about the role of the media in this regard: how do we contribute to the process? How do we contribute to the solution?
If we don’t include people, we are part of the problem. It’s going to hurt us all. People don’t turn to journalism, they turn to social media when they want to know what is “really” going on, they turn to their friends, even if they don’t have all the information.
Responsibility: This is how news gets interesting and powerful. We currently have a petition asking CNN to reverse the offer made to Corey Lewandowski. We are in a strange place to target a media company. But here we have someone who created a blacklist for journalists, cut off their access, kept them in enclosures at events, and used the Secret Service to enforce them. These are all things that strike me as incredibly at odds with freedom of the press.
We try to use the power of the people to support journalism, even if it means standing up to the powers of the media that employ journalists.
Journalists are more vulnerable than ever to the efforts of private money to silence them. To mobilize the power of the people, you have to actually inspire them. This is why I see that everything is linked. We want to create a group to support the First Amendment and support journalists.
Shefali S. Kulkarni, Audience Engagement Producer, BBC News
Accessibility via language: From the BBC’s point of view, we are international but trying to appeal to an American audience. We’re trying to find a way to share news that affects Americans who have relationships all over the world: Asian Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, African Americans.
Accessibility through technology: It’s also about who can access what you share. With younger journalists dealing with pay walls, part of what I’m thinking is, if you write, what’s the best way to share it afterwards? I tell our interns, you’re not finished until the people you want to read it to have read it.
Accessibility via communities: We recently did a story about a Muslim gay man from Orlando who finally came out on the BBC. We can’t just assume he’ll read the story. We obviously have to send it to him so he can see the story he helped us with. It is connected to communities with which we are not in contact.
I will be sharing this story on Facebook groups that are connected to the gay community. But this man in the story has a whole network of people who can contribute to the conversation.
That’s why I really like sharing our content on Facebook groups. Honestly, the comments we get as a group are worth more to me than those on our site. You develop really interesting commentary and conversation, and that often leads to the development of additional sources as well.