A project of Democracy Fund

September 9, 2017

Journalists and educators, it’s time to get to know each other


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By Sheila Solomon

originally published August 2, 2017

There may be no better time than now to help more working journalists and working educators get to know each other.

I came to this conclusion after moderating a panel at the National Association of Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE) conference in Chicago in June. NAMLE is a 20-year old international organization of about 4,000 members from across the globe — mostly researchers and educators. Even though I’ve worked in local media for many years, and spent the past year researching Chicago’s local media ecosystem with my colleague Andrea Hart, this organized group of educators was new to me. I’m sure I’m not the only journalist this would be true of.

By the time the conference was over, I felt as if I’d just discovered a new army of advocates for the work of rebuilding local news.

A lot of those advocates are right in my own backyard (and probably yours, too).

The educators spoke about wanting to arm students and parents with knowledge of the standards of quality journalism. Teachers said a lot of their students don’t believe anything they read or hear in the media. And over and over again, these educators said they don’t know how to engage local journalists in their efforts to empower students.

In our research of Chicago’s news ecosystem, we continue to come across innovators, youth-based organizations and new content providers. The rise of these innovative organizations is a huge opportunity for educators and journalists to work together to strengthen local news

For example, I moderated a plenary panel called “View From The Ground: Narratives From Within Chicago” with panelists who included a neighborhood organizer, two high school students, a reporter from a Spanish-language newspaper and the editorial director of a civic journalism lab. The conversation highlighted how so many people who’ve given up on the so-called “mainstream media” haven’t given up on being informed. Instead, they’re using new ways to get the information they need. What would it look like if these organizations collaborated with the media literacy educators in the room that are empowering students to learn fact from fake?

Across Chicago, as we have been hosting workshops and interviews in our research for Democracy Fund, Andrea and I continue to see people creating new content sources. Even neighborhood organizations have embraced their new roles as alternative content providers for their constituents. Other unique content providers from Chicago’s media ecosystem were seen and heard throughout the conference, including representatives from the Illinois Arts Council, local youth media groups, an internationally recognized award-winning film company, and even a 10th-grader from Elmhurst, IL who is a webmaster for Global Student Square, an international student journalism network.

Understanding the role of non-traditional media makers like these is a key part of understanding of how local news is created and consumed today, in Chicago and beyond.

But one sector was not as present. I did not see many local “traditional” media covering the conference. What a(nother) missed opportunity for journalists to understand the urgency to educate students and citizens about media. What a missed opportunity to identify potential collaborations.

Imagine the potential for newsrooms when NAMLE members are creating and testing so many models through their classrooms to help youth grow into engaged citizens. Many of these educators already have strong track records, and others want to learn what they can do.

In Chicago, and no doubt around the country, there are more opportunities to collaborate with these media educators, experiment and rethink community engagement and a stronger local media, together.

(Lead photo via CC/Justine Warrington


sheilaSheila Solomon is an award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor and has worked for the Hampton Monitor, Daily Press, Newsday, The Charlotte Observer and Chicago Tribune. Currently she’s a senior consultant in Chicago for Democracy Fund, and the manager of recruiting and internships at Rivet Radio in Chicago. Among her honors is being inducted into the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications Hall of Fame at Hampton University (Hampton, Va.) and the Ida B. Wells award, given by Medill and the National Association of Black Journalists. She just completed her fifth year as a judge for the National Headliner Awards, has been a lecturer and adjunct professor and serves on numerous journalism-related boards and advisory committees.