By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
Last month, I had the pleasure of joining The Carnival of Journalism. You can read my Jan. 25 post about it here. Every month the group tackles a topic on improving and innovating in journalism. This month’s topic asked us to post about the following question: what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?
We were asked to address the question via the 15 recommendations made by The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of a Community in Democracy. Heady stuff, huh? If I decided to write on all the recommendations, we would have been reading (and I would have been writing) for weeks.
So I decided to focus on recommendation #11: Expand local media initiatives to reflect the full reality of the communities they represent. As a journalist of color, I have been very focused on ensuring that our industry understands the importance of having newsrooms that reflect the diversity of the communities they live in. In the old days, media companies could pay lip service to ensuring that they covered all the news in their community, since they were the only game in town.
But with the advent of the Internet and all the tools that allow people to gather, report, write and disseminate the news, the power of the traditional media has been diluted somewhat. We see an explosion of hyperlocal news sites, like Oakland Local, DNAInfo, my home-town Baltimore Brew, West Seattle Blog and CTNewsJunkie as long-established newspapers cut their local coverage as budgets shrink. The deeper these sites dig, the more likely they are to cover the news that is of interest to a specific community.
But groups are now trying to fill the gap in news that is of specific interest to minority communities. Some of my favorites are Greater Fulton News, which covers the African-American community in Richmond, Va.; Minneapolis-based Twin Cities Daily Planet, which says it was created to close the digital divide and help citizens empower themselves with media; Dallas South, created to promote positive images of African-Americans in order to combat the negative images portrayed in the popular media; and Oakland, Calif.-based shades magazine, which covers and highlights the concerns, issues and stories of all women of color (my NABJDigital profile of shades is here).
These news websites use a mix of staff writers, bloggers, citizen journalists and community contributions to disseminate the news to their audience. I met Mary Turck, the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet at last year’s New Media Women
Entrepreneurs Summit (NMWE). One of the women at our table asked her how she made news assignments. Her answer? “The community tells us and they are encouraged to write the story for the website,” she said. The front page of the website has an appeal for citizen journalists and includes a list of stories that need to be written, giving the power of the media directly to the community that wants — and needs — it.
Back in May 2008, Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism (which also oversees NMWE), gave the 32nd annual Ruhl Lecture at the University of Oregon on the topic Participatory Media: Challenges to the Conventions of Journalism. Part of her lecture illustrates beautifully not only the question on increasing news sources, but the relevance of the Knight Commission’s 11th recommendation:
“I believe that news organizations need to construct the hubs that will enable ordinary people with passions and expertise to commit acts of news and information. Call them – random (or not so random) – acts of journalism, if you will. News organizations need to be on a constant lookout for the best of these efforts, trawling the blogosphere, hyperlocal news sites, nonprofits, advocacy groups, journalism schools and neighborhood listservs. Your goal is to give a megaphone to those with responsible momentum, recruit them to be part of your network, impart some core journalism values -– and even help support them with micro-grants.”
We see initiatives like NMWE and the J-Lab’s New Voices grant programs that help fund news initiatives in minority communities. New Voices gave a grant to Baltimore-based Morgan State University in 2010 to create the MoJo Lab, where students serve as mobile digital journalists, using video and audio podcasts, to focus on community issues in Northeast Baltimore. So here’s hoping — by hook or by crook — that communities continue to become a part of a media that has tended to neglect them in the past.