Re-imagining local news

About the Local News Contract Workshops and Campaign

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By Michael Romain

Editor

On May 23, City Bureau, Austin Weekly News and Austin Coming Together teamed up to host a workshop to give residents a chance to reimagine how local news could better serve the neighborhood. 

This gathering was part of City Bureau's Local News Contract campaign to collectively analyze and reconcile local news' past with the present. 

In addition to the workshop on May 23, City Bureau hosted gatherings on April 4 with the Newberry Library, and May 30 with The Gate Newspaper, where at each Chicagoans produce a new call-to-action for shaping equitable, ethical local news today. The following are the declarations generated by attendees of those April and May workshops.

 

Don't just ask existing institutions to reform; invest in young people to build new ones

Don't just reach out; create concrete mechanisms for letting people contribute to and shape your work

In the future, newsrooms must engage in purposeful recruitment of diverse candidates (including from marginalized groups or groups underrepresented in media); this includes offering paid internships and targeting specific communities that are outside the typical recruitment pools. 

We expect diverse newsrooms to have diversity at the leadership levels (managerial and executive level) and not just the entry-levels.

In the past, local news has failed to be as relevant as it could be to underrepresented communities 

In the future, local newsrooms must make efforts to not simply hire but also retain and support diverse employees. 

Local newsrooms should acknowledge existing racial biases and work directly to address them.

Legacy papers should collaborate/connect with successful online journalists to reach new audiences.

We expect local reporters to be more accessible at the hyperlocal level.

We would like more opportunities for community members to come to local newsrooms to talk about what to cover—more opportunities for bottom-up feedback not top-down feedback. 

Newsrooms / Journalism organizations need to develop a strategic plan to prepare for how the industry is changing and how it could potentially impact the communities that their reporting serves. 

Newsrooms / Journalism organizations need to invest time and money in community engagement strategies. 

Newsrooms / Journalism organizations need to prioritize stories that affect the community and not just the "shiny object" / easier stories to tell. 

Journalism educators needs to change how we teach up and coming journalists

Implement Bias/ Antonia's training for all staff at media outlet.

Diversify staff, reporters, Boards, sources. Hire LOCAL contributors, writers.

Implement transparency, show vested interests of locals. Have more bilingual/ multi-lingual reporting.

Local coverage of race has continued to perpetuate negative stereotypes, contributing to the city's racialized divisions. 

Media outlets and reporters must be accountable to their own racial biases.

Media outlets need to stop striving for objectivity, and instead focus on nuanced realities. 

When covering marginalized groups and people, do not be afraid to let them propose solutions to the problems they are facing. Too often, news features let real people tell stories about their own suffering, then pivot to experts to propose constructive solutions. People living inside problems are often the best experts on those problems.

Transparency in funding is essential for building ethical newsrooms. It is vital that newsrooms be beholden to no one's money when telling the truth. Nonprofit models that clearly disclose all sources of funding and have clear policies in place that prevent any funding from affecting news coverage decisions are vital for the survival of ethical journalism going forward. 

Diversity and representation must be prioritized throughout every level of leadership in journalism. It is not enough to merely have diversity at the basic level - minority representation in all levels of leadership, from editors to owners, is necessary. When everyone leading a newsroom looks the same, when the gatekeepers controlling what stories get told and who gets to tell them look the same, valuable stories and perspectives on those stories get lost. 

There needs to be more intergenerational exchange

They should have more diverse newsrooms

There should be more transparency in how newsrooms and sponsorships work together

Local newsrooms should be more independent

Having an accessible time slot that takes into account the diversity of the people

 

The following are rough declarations we generated with attendees at the #LocalNewsContract conversation in Austin with Austin Weekly News and Austin Coming Together on May 23

 

Having a newsroom that sends a community-invested reporter that actually reports the COMMUNITY narrative and its collective impact on Austin.

Media should be more equitable and ethical in its hiring practices and should be open to universal issues.

Hire and/or be open to youth digital media & literacy as it may help address youth violence and better understand youth issues.

Educate journalists about the Austin community, its' assets, authentic images and not just police or following "if it bleeds it leads".

Media outlets should allocate funds in their newsrooms to report fairly and on in-depth community issues. They should take time to educate the city of Chicago at-large about the positive revitalization of Austin.

We expect local newsrooms to have journalists of color and be inclusive to journalists from that community to voice a variety of perspectives. 

Moving forward, the media we are exposed to will feature everyday news relative to the community. We believe it's important to hear about stories of life along with the death.

We expect more intentionality around being involved with the community they serve and how information is being shared online and in print.

We believe newsrooms should engage the communities they cover in every step, from reporting to evaluating the stories they publish.

We believe newsrooms should be designed to be platforms for collaborative conversations between stakeholders and community members on news topics. 

We believe local media outlets should build relationships with readers and sources that are premised on mutual trust. The best way to do this is by local outlets establishing a robust PHYSICAL presence in the communities they serve. 

We believe local media outlets should not be too sophisticated to appreciate the value of the benign or the chatty (i.e., Mrs. Y's well-kept garden or Jane Doe's first time making the honor roll). These so-called fluffy items, when considered in the aggregate, humanize the communities that local outlets serve and work to engender trust among readers. 

We want local newsrooms to make a deliberate, concerted effort to promote media literacy among their readership. This means, among other things, conducting outreach to teach readers about how to distinguish between credible and non-credible news sources and how to navigate the often toxic information environment of various social media platforms. 

You can also read the list of declarations generated online at: http://bit.ly/LocalNewsContract and still contribute to this campaign digitally here: http://bit.ly/AddDeclaration.

 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com

Reader Comments

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Bonni McKeown from Chicago  

Posted: June 10th, 2019 7:34 AM

I would like to see Austin Weekly News return to having a weekly calendar where people can post community events. This gets good news out and helps people feel more connected

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