Three steps to equity in local news: Acknowledge history. Shift power. Embrace accountability.
How can news organizations close the gap between journalism and community?
To explore the question, the National Press Club Journalism Institute and PEN America co-hosted a program on Aug. 12 with moderator Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of the Lenfest Institute of Journalism, and panelists Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer; Cassie Haynes, co-executive director at Resolve Philadelphia; Darryl Holliday, co-founder and News Lab director at City Bureau in Chicago; and Tasneem Raja, editor-in-chief of The Oaklandside.
The speakers shared lessons from their newsrooms on pandemic and protest coverage and also addressed opportunities for local newsrooms to build trust in their communities.
Among their insights:
On equity as an institutional value
Holliday: I think realizing the full potential of healthy information ecosystems at this point, it begins with equity. … So we think of it in three parts, equity as it relates to our work. The first is acknowledging history. The second is shifting power. And the third is embracing accountability.
Haynes: When you have this baked into your DNA as an organization, it’s all the way down to the core. It’s how you pay people. It’s the benefits that you offer and the professional development that you provide your team — that is equity.
On listening — and responding — to the community
Raja: People told us they really want to see more reporting that reflects the value of Oakland. They were tired of reporting on Oakland focusing on what’s not working or what we already know is broken. They said: We love this city, we love Oakland, we want to see that reflected in coverage. So in our story budget, we have converted some of these desires, these values that we heard from our community, into what we call mission metrics and we apply those metrics to our stories so that we can say okay, our community told us … they want reporting that reshapes harmful narratives about Oakland communities.
Holliday: I think this is a partnership: You know there are journalists and then there are the people who consume information. That Venn diagram does not have to be a Venn diagram, it can be more of a circle. There can be more partnership between many more people and journalists.
On collaboration as learning
Barnes: I’m very optimistic; I’m learning a lot of new things. Publishers all across this country, many of us are working together. We’re working with other media organizations, the Local Media Association, the NNPA, Facebook, Twitter, all of these institutions have recognized the importance of promoting and sustaining particularly local newspapers and Black newspapers. So we’re back in school again in front row seats, understanding all the technology that allows us to reach a much broader audience, while continuing to inform our aging audience that still very much relies on the news that we’ve provided them, in our case for 55 years.
On building trust
Friedlich: During COVID-19, the digital traffic to the Philadelphia Inquirer and to other major news organizations that we track has, in many cases, been up as much as five fold. The previous record in Philadelphia … was the Eagles win the Super Bowl. And now it’s COVID-19. And this was partly a desperate and important need for accurate news and partly that the print paper was either unavailable or people were afraid to go out and get it. So, there has been a sharp increase in use of our content. … That to me says that people still trust branded news or news from their community.
This program is one of an ongoing series of free conversations. Click here to see our upcoming programs, or to watch a recording of a previous event. Please contact Journalism Institute Executive Director Julie Moos with questions.