A project of Democracy Fund

September 20, 2019

Local Fix: Local News and Joy, Student Watchdogs, Celebrating Journalists of Color

Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…

One Good Idea: Conduct An Immigration Language Self-Audit

Immigration reporting often necessitates quoting public figures, but often these sources use dehumanizing language. At this year’s Online News Association conference, Define American hosted a panel presenting data on the use of dehumanizing terms by national news outlets and steps reporters can take to reverse the trends. For example: publications can conduct a self-audit with the help of style guides, use scare quotes for dehumanizing words, and act as gatekeepers who avoid dehumanizing language in coverage. Define American points to guides from the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists that encourage humanizing terms and accurate language. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has a guide for Covering American Muslims Objectively + Creatively that you can use.

Journalism, Connection and Happiness

According to research recently highlighted on NPR, something as simple as eye contact or exchanging a smile with a stranger can boost our mood. If, as they suggest, talking to strangers can make us happier, how might newsrooms serve as catalysts for this kind of place-based connection? The structure of the places we live plays a huge role in community building, too. Ryan Streeter at CityLab reports that a new national study shows that living close to public amenities — no more than a 5 minute drive to parks, grocery stores, coffee shops, and libraries — makes Americans feel more attached to their communities, less lonely, and twice as likely to talk daily with their neighbors. Because of how our communities are segregated, “we can’t expect people from different walks of life to naturally gather or get along” says jesikah maria ross, a Senior Community Engagement Strategist at Capital Public Radio. Bringing community members together “takes active outreach, a sincere and welcoming invitation, and structured conversation.” How then can we locate our newsrooms and our work closer to where people gather? The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism uses pop-up newsrooms in public parks to connect with community members, and Nieman Reports explored how three newsrooms found a physical home in their local libraries — and how they’re finding joy and collaboration in partnering in a variety of ways.

Local Students Making National Headlines

Last week we covered how local stories bubble up and feed national narratives, often without credit or recognition. This week we wanted to highlight how local students doing local journalism are making national headlines. Spencer Cliche, a 17-year-old from Massachusetts, exposed his high school’s use of prison labor on a renovation project. After the reporting went viral amongst parents and students the school district was compelled to discontinue the practice. In Vermont, high school students took on sexual harassment in their school and had to fight censorship by their administration. Amidst scandals at the University of Southern California, students there have aggressively covered their own campus. This past May, Georgia News Lab reporters at Kennesaw State University compiled 10 years of jail deaths from across state offices and revealed that federal statistics were undercounting jail deaths in Georgia and no single state or local agency was tracking this info. By training a new generation of diverse investigative reporters, the Georgia News Lab and other projects like it help news outlets better serve the public and bring marginalized voices into the public debate.  

Journalists of Color are Leading

Among the winners of the 2019 Online Journalism Awards were a group of journalists representing a range of newsrooms: The Washington Post, KQED, ProPublica, The Philadelphia Inquirer, BuzzFeed News, and Mapbox. Their award wasn’t for the journalism they have done, but for the community they have created. Together they administer and moderate the Journalists of Color Slack community; and they were honored with the ONA Community Award. JOC, as the community is known, provides a safe space for support and sharing, connecting and collaborating. The group is made up of audience engagement specialists, editors, investigative reporters, data journalists, and more. As these journalists build trusted spaces for themselves they are also rebuilding trust with audiences, bringing equity to the relationship between journalists and public, and redefining newsroom culture. And they often take on the outsized responsibility of representation, particularly in legacy newsrooms where diversity is still too scarce. The JOC Slack community matters because it’s a crucial support system for the under-recognized emotional labor that comes with taking on this work. It is a critical infrastructure for our industry and we join ONA in celebrating them. 

Have a good weekend,
Lea, Angelica, Anna and Zaria (Filling in for Josh and Teresa this week)

The Local Fix is a project of the Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which invests in innovations and institutions that are reinventing local media and expanding the public square. Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund, you can find a full list of the organizations we support on our website.