A project of Democracy Fund

July 17, 2020

Local Fix: Inclusive Reporting, Systems Thinking, and Word Choice


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: Systems Thinking in Journalism

“Never has it been clearer that we need to get better at understanding how the systems around us work and how they might be changed,” Heather Chaplin, the director of the Journalism + Design program at The New School, wrote in a blog post recently. Thankfully, last week the J+D team released a guide full of advice, tools, and exercises on how to understand and change how journalists cover stories using a way of looking at the world called systems thinking. We’ve written about systems thinking in the Fix before, but with these resources from J+D you can “upend how you see the world,” Kayla Christopherson shared on Twitter. That rethinking can help us imagine all kinds of new things that are possible. Dive in to the toolkit to imagine away.


“Nothing About Us Without Us” 

After the June 15 Supreme Court decision ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights Law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, Gillian Branstetter, founding member of the Trans Journalists Association, pointed out how 10 major national news outlets didn’t quote or cite a single trans person in their initial coverage. This thread is indicative of a larger problem with sources in mainstream journalism — sources tend to be overwhelmingly male and white. In 2017, KCUR’s Central Standard program in Kansas City shared its analysis of the diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, and age of the voices the journalists brought to the airwaves, pledging to improve. But as the conversation of diversity evolves it is important to note that there are other significant  markers of diversity to consider — socioeconomic status, geography, and levels of ability and disability are also important. As the Indie Publisher highlighted, there’s a saying in the disability community: Nothing About Us Without Us. “With physical, educational, and financial barriers to access the media industry, disabled people are more likely to see an op-ed labelling us burdens worth discarding or a headline announcing us as inspirational for merely existing than we are the authentic representation we crave as an audience,” John Loeppky wrote in Indie Publisher. “But because of the work of disabled independent media creators, and a plethora of freelancers from a variety of backgrounds, this is beginning to shift.” To that end, it’s important to go beyond using people as sources; we need true diversity behind the scenes to build media organizations that represent all communities and tell stories that serve more than white and/or male audiences. It’s past time we retire the excuse of“I couldn’t find anyone to quote.” To help we’ve rounded up resources that help connect newsrooms with diverse sources and journalists. Have any additions? Let us know by responding to this email or tweet us at @TheLocalNewsLab.


Check Your Language

When the ownership of Washington, D.C.’s professional football team announced this week that it would be dropping a racial slur as its name, too many news organizations used that same slur in the headlines and push alerts reporting the change. Many — but not enough — media outlets, including local journalists at NBC4 Washington and DCist, had already ceased using the slur altogether in their coverage, as the Native American Journalists Association has long advocated for. “With today’s announcement regarding the Washington team name change, we remind journos that use of the R-word in coverage perpetuates the harm this slur causes & normalizes it in a way that is counterproductive to change efforts,” NAJA pointed out on Twitter. Changing the team’s name is a big and necessary step; campaigns like #NotYourMascot to change local team names, in high schools, minor leagues, and more, continue. Local outlets can step up and reflect the inclusive language our communities need on the path toward justice, with some help from the guides below. Each word a reporter or editor chooses to use makes a difference. Word choice can’t be a replacement for the true recognition and amplification of the power of people who are directly impacted by this language, but it is a start. Check your language by checking out the guides below.


Co-Designing with Your Community

We often write about the power of local newsrooms partnering with their communities to build trust and deliver the most impactful reporting and storytelling. More and more, newsrooms are using ongoing collaborative processes — from one-off stories to co-designing products or even entire newsrooms — in order to build *with* their communities, not *for* them. Co-design, also known as participatory or human-centered design, was intended by UX designers to incorporate the interests, needs and creativity of users throughout the entire design process. At the same time, the questions of whose interests and needs and what kind of users are served must be addressed from the core of the project, as Caroline Sinders pointed out on Twitter. “We can’t ‘how might we’ inequality- we need co-design, social justice, and participation,” she wrote. “We need to challenge the failures of HOW tech is made.” We hope the examples from business and healthcare outlined in UX Magazine’s rundown, along with journalistic examples from Krautreporter, El Tímpano, and Berkeleyside can help you think about how you can partner in a meaningful way with your community.

Have a good weekend,
Teresa, Christine, and Dani
@gteresa, @newsbyschmidt, @danirosales27

The Local Fix is a project of the Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which supports promising new experiments redefining the public square in ways that make it more digital, participatory, and inclusive. 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. Follow us on Twitter at @TheLocalNewsLab.