I recently gave a talk on my eighteen year journey with Journalism That Matters at the COS conference in Amsterdam on the theme “what do we do when we don’t know what to do.” (COS = Challenging Organizations and Society)
When I got two invitations to write about journalism within a week of each other, it inspired to me write a piece that identifies what I believe contributes to journalism that matters. In short, the mission changes by adding some context (in italics):
To support communities to thrive, journalism provides people with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.
As a consequence, the practice of journalism becomes more inclusive, engaged and generative. With time, we enjoy the fruits of more meaningful, transparent and trustworthy journalism.
How do you tell the story of a complex, emergent experience?
It’s a question I’m pondered for years as I’ve hosted numerous gathering using Open Space Technology, a process which supports people to self-organize around what matters to them. People consistently come away saying something like, “It was life changing! You had to be there to understand.”
Last October, I helped organized Experience Engagement, a gathering at the intersection of journalism and community on behalf of Journalism That Matters, a nonprofit that I co-founded with three journalists to connect the diversity of people who care about the role of news and information in communities and democracy.
As part of the work, we used a process, Developmental Evaluation, to get at that conundrum of the telling the story. The graphic above is a visual summary of what we learned. More of it is posted here.
I’ve spent this past year focused on a project of Journalism That Matters (JTM), a nonprofit I co-founded that hosts conversations to foster collaboration, innovation, and action so that a diverse news and information ecosystem can thrive.
My interest grows from a discovery I made a few years ago when looking for grant money for a project. I discovered that less than 10% of foundation funding for new journalism ventures was going to meet the needs of underserved communities. In other words, new media was even more white than traditional media! Seemed like a wakeup call was in order.
JTM partnered with the American Society of News Editors, working with three news organizations who are engaging their communities around issues related to diversity and inclusion. Their stories and more are at the Engagement Hub, a site we aspire to become a gathering place for those who see engagement as a means for making diverse voices more visible.
They’ve taken an approach to reporting that begins by listening to their community. For example, to look at affordable housing, they brought together government, nonprofit and people “in the system.” In the process, they not only found stories to tell but made connections to move the dial on this challenging issue.
Starting with a “listening tour” they have sparked conversations and working groups to address entrenched challenges around employment, education, criminal justice, and housing. In the process, they are building community coalitions and optimism.
By training community members in East Oakland to tell untold stories of where their neighborhoods, they are changing the relationship between the news organization and the community. The project is growing, working in Jackson, Mississippi and Sacramento, California.