‘It resonates with young people so much’: How a local newsroom founder builds trust in her community

Amethyst J. Davis is the founder of Harvey World Herald

Amethyst J. Davis is the founder of Harvey World Herald, the first local newsroom in Harvey, Illinois in more than four decades. Davis, 25, grew up in Harvey, a majority-minority town of about 20,000 people in the southern suburb of Chicago. 

She is currently the only full-time staffer of the Herald, which was awarded $15,000 on behalf of the Tiny News Collective and Google News Initiative for its hard-launch in January 2022. 

I spoke with Davis by phone about her work to provide her hometown journalistic reporting based on trust and relationship-building. Our conversation appears below, edited for clarity and flow.

Describe the satisfaction and fulfillment you get from doing this job in particular. Provide the why behind it all, but also what makes this work so important and worthy of your time.

Davis: Harvey’s local paper collapsed between 40 and 50 years ago, and Harvey is in every way a news desert. But I always say that for every news desert in America, there’s an opportunity to build a new institution from the ground up that actually works for the public good… Harvey didn’t have local news, which makes it prime for not only building a local news organization, but building the institution of media… We can build an institution that sees the community as a partner, we can build an institution that is focused on repairing harm and acknowledging the ways that news media has treated the community, but also doing the work of repairing that harm… This is too much of a really big moment for Harvey and every other community like it, not to have local news to know what’s going on.

Talk about what local and smaller newsrooms can do for a local community, especially one like Harvey, which larger and more national papers can’t?

Davis: Build relationships… Commercial news mainstream media is not built for relationships, it’s not built to prioritize relationships and communities, but rather profit and extraction. It’s built for rich folks at the top to make huge sums of money. And then also it’s built around extraction, like going into communities, getting stories, getting by-lines, running the story, and then moving onto the next one. So there’s no sort of capacity for pouring into a community and being able to take time with folks and build relationships.

… I also think there’s definitely huge differences in creativity. Because you have the space to build relationships with people, I think you can be much more creative with things like branding. So for instance, the Harvey World Herald, our name, takes from the nickname that young people gave the city, Harvey World. That’s what young people were … putting on photos and on captions for photos… It resonates with young people so much. And this is a city that has deep intergenerational tensions… and young people have been pushed sorely into invisibility. So using the name Harvey World Herald is a signal to young people that news media is also for them that they can see themselves in it.

What are some of the strategies you’re using and hope to use to continue building that trust and rapport with the community?

Davis: The branding [is] very youth-focused… [and] one of the long term visions is that we can actually do a lot of work with young people. And one thing I actually want to do is a Youth Advisory Board, where we would actually have young people be that arm within the newsroom to actually help us understand the issues that young people in the community care about, and inform the coverage… Those student groups actually started to follow us on our Instagram. And some of the high schoolers had been sending in tips for the past several months about different things. 

… But what I would like to do is town halls and listening sessions throughout the community, because we’re in the midst of an election season. I’ve been sending out call outs and surveys through our website, but this is a community where a third of the people live below the poverty line and there are deep issues and barriers to technologies. So… ideally, those would be in person… to get a sense of what residents care about, but also make those issues-based.. because there actually are a good deal of people who have asked me about that.

How can larger newsrooms or even more prominent journalists support smaller local newsrooms coming off the ground like yours? What can they do to see the effort that people like you are putting into the community in these local newsrooms, and how can they support?

Davis: Firstly, it would be making sure that there’s a collaborative culture set up to see smaller newsrooms as vital to a community information ecosystem. I think right now, the dynamic of these larger newsrooms is one where they see local media, but they’ll parachute in, or they won’t give credit to the local news, they won’t link to the stories of where they got that coverage, or they found our information. And that does not help build a culture of collaboration. I think it definitely creates division, and these larger outlets are creating strife with the local reporters who are there day in and day out who know these communities.

… But also capital. Definitely capital is a huge one. This is pretty odd to say, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Harvey World Herald existing without Tiny News Collective simply because Google News Initiative gave us $15,000 from the jump… Larger newsrooms can do a good deal to support smaller newsrooms and startups with capital. So maybe that looks like helping them with product strategy. Maybe that looks like giving them flat out money and nothing else… Maybe it looks like allowing them to use your equipment studios.

Thank you so much for answering all my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss or want written in the story?

Davis: The greatest need if I think about next steps [for this] newsroom [to be] successful? It’s additional funding. I am the only person here [working full-time]. It was not lost on me that I would have to start dipping into savings and retirement in order to do this work, but what I hope is that folks see the Harvey World Herald, see the work that we’re doing, especially folks in philanthropic spaces, and say: ‘I would love to put my money behind the Harvey World Herald. Because if this young lady is able to do all of this, and articulate this vision as one person, imagine what this newsroom could do if they have more money to build [their] capacity.

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