How can we use engagement and how are we using engagement methods to increase racial/ethnic diversity and diversity of viewpoints in the country’s journalism?

(Notes by Amy Wang; any errors/omissions are hers)
(Ivan: I apologize, but I did not have time to summarize and organize these notes. Will do so after the conference as warranted.)
Ivan Roman poses this question as as a journalist who has been in newsrooms and involved in pro-media diversity efforts since 1983 and, like so many others, have been frustrated by the lack of real change in news media. On the contrary, one could argue that in legacy media and in some other sectors in news media, we’re going in the wrong direction.
Paul Waters poses a similar question in an effort to find out what community engagement methods are out there that can be successful and truly have an impact on diversity in media.
NAHJ’s Parity Project, where community and newsroom editors and TV producers to convene to discuss stories and create advisory council. Success depended on editor commitment at each media outlet. Looking for more sustainable engagement regardless of commitment. Free Press: They actually convene and organize community and then organize newsroom and then bring them together. Then both sides getting buy-in? Organized community to think about what they wanted to see in media, educate them about value of participating/engaging with media.
NAHJ project: For a long time, civil rights leaders and others had focused on economy, jobs, housing, voting rights but didn’t initially see importance of media and community representation there. How you’re represented in media determines power/influence you have. In parity project, you need community to actually have voice and work toward it. In Corpus Christi, TX, : already longstanding Latino community with leadership infrastructure, but Naples, FL, doesn’t have that – not organized.
Perception from nonjournalist who’s watched journalists try to engage more diversity without much success: Why would they? If I’m a member of a community of color or low-income community that doesn’t trust media, why would I trust people seeking engagement? What we started doing is looking for intermediaries – who already has trust – then create partnerships, so the engagement is actually with other media. Chicago “On the Table” event: 15 community media outlets that work with different ethnic communities within Chicago to talk with each other about what they have in common and what they need. Also brought in national outlets to join conversation. The national outlets then had facilitated access. Could also be done with community partners like social services organizations. If direct access is a problem, go to people who are already there.
Woman who works with a lot of young journalists and runs a nonprofit: Some view engagement as marketing in search of profit. Not seen as authentic but as window dressing. How can engagement be done authentically and who is doing it?
Ivan: A lot of engagement in past was done through marketing and advertising, not through editorial. When I go back to engagement, I think about old shoe-leather reporting, like when he was an on-the-ground city reporter. Part of my job there was also educating the community on importance of engaging with journalists – taking the initiative to advocate for themselves. Is the barrier the fact that we don’t really cover them, which turns them off engagement? Do we need to be more proactive in terms of cultivating the community?
Comment: This is happening because outlets don’t have beat reporters or their beats have been enlarged – example of a reporter who can’t even drive his beat every day but has to parachute in, take story without getting to know community, then move on. That’s why people don’t want to participate, and why should they?
How do we fix that?
Comment: Communities react to not being covered. I’m a first-generation immigrant whose father was deported by ICE. They did that less than a month before I graduated from a world-class university. They covered the people who destroyed my family with more care than they covered the families who were destroyed. We in some ways are trying to be very cordial about how angry and upset communities are. We end up having to create media to fill in that gap. Do we also consider things about safety, do we consider things about access, what happens when the parachuting creates long-held grudges?
We commonly start from this idea that the data begins when the computers/archives begin or another arbitrary point – instead of the kind of data trail that you have to make as you apply for citizenship, for instance, or for public assistance. If I give you this data, what’s going to happen? Lives 30-minute drive from NYT, which cut its Metro coverage and has not covered raids in her community. Engaging and involving diversity is something we should do, but people because of historical power struggles who share those stories are putting themselves in danger.
Comment: On coverage of deportations, how do you know they’re real? Data/evidence on who’s here not requested because that could endanger people and give ICE a reason to act. Limited options in engaging people around deportation. Have to trust information and get it as spelled out, or don’t get it at all. A lot of media outlets run by white people who can’t do certain kinds of engagement because they don’t understand issues, don’t have the trust, don’t have the connections.
Ivan: We have to address the anger and the resentment and in some cases safety and protection issues to gain trust so they’ll engage.
Comment: Would love to reimagine the process – safety, transparency, data, what we’re trying to build, who are the stakeholders. There’s something only journalists can do about putting together real documentation that is forceful and can be shared, but how do we make sure we can do that respectfully while keeping people safe?
Comment: Brought community members together to explore heroin/opioid crisis in Ohio. At one event, reporters, editors from TV/radio/print came together with community (recovering addicts, community health nurse, law enforcement) to talk about past coverage. Journalists learned to see themselves as not just gathering data but actually causing damage in people’s lives. Several community members asked where was the coverage 25 years ago when black residents were coping with cocaine and its impact, and why is it different? How do partners tell the story and explain why this response is different? Hope is to learn how coverage can happen in a way that acknowledges the human element.
Comment: Last night the word “empathy” was used a lot. There’s an empathy relationship between journalist and subject. But maybe empathy is not enough – need solidarity, too. You’re telling someone’s story in the context of the systematic forces that have shaped that story.
Comment: Have to challenge the idea that people who have the same values want the same thing.
Comment: Journalist who didn’t get respect from a colleague over concern about diverse representation at a discussion of media coverage. There’s not a recognition of an asymmetrical relationship. When someone reports on immigrants on a meatpacking plant, that relationship is not symmetrical – the reporter gets to go home. If journalists can’t even talk to each other with respect, how can we even expect to do the job?
Conversation with mentor: Journalist of color started prefacing her comments because she felt she wasn’t being believed even by her colleagues.
Ivan: We were told traditionally not to have solidarity with communities – that made us suspect in covering our communities. Maybe what we need to do is to state that it’s OK for journalism to have solidarity with that they’re covering, not just observing.
Comment: There was always solidarity, an implicit solidarity of holding the middle class and social order intact. It was just, whose solidarity for what end? Important to recognize it was always there as we move from no solidarity to having solidarity. Now we have to use solidarity in a different way.
Comment: Solidarity comes down to where you live as a journalist – are you in the community you cover, do you allow yourself to be part of it, or are you separated? When we institutionalized the profession, we separated ourselves from the people we were covering. Tough to put the genie back into the bottle.
Comment: We still do that in so many ways we don’t recognize. When we frame the question, how do we use engagement – the “we” is journalists, when the “we” should be the community. Community should be at center with journalism as an important convening element. If we talk about building trust, we tend to be thinking about how do we get them to trust journalists instead of how do we build trust? It’s a huge paradigm shift.
Comment: What sort of tools or practices have you seen in the field that seem to be working? One way: broaden out who you’re talking with, how to better involve ethnic media. Another way: convenings. The Coral Project: mobilizing comments sections.
Ivan: The next step to that is, does that type of engagement lead to diversity? How do we use engagement to make journalism look and be different? Some communities seem more willing to engage with journalists now and others, we have a lot of work to do to gain trust. We’re dealing with different communities that are at different stages of trusting journalists and have to work differently with each one.
Comment: It’s not so much about tools as it is about attitude and posture. What’s the step beyond intermediaries? Intermediaries and partners are not enough. What would a posture look like when we cared about something for more than 25 minutes? How about picking a topic and working on it for 6 months – that’s where relationships are created and a story is developed. If we’re not willing to make that commitment and step out of ourselves, we’re not going to change anything. Are we actually interested in change? What role does journalism play in allowing a community to reimagine itself and tell a different story?
Comment: Hearing a sense of an extremely daunting task in conducting engagement. You don’t have to do this completely alone. Partners are available who do community engagement work with journalists, such as National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. There are people who want to help with engagement and know how to do it and can train journalists.
Comment: There’s been so much emphasis on tools that we’ve forgotten how to just be a person and have a conversation. We’re used to being savior/gatekeeper; we need to be the concierge, connecting the dots.
Comment: Also need to bring in artists, educators – we’re all in this together.
Comment: Seattle panels co-sponsored by local media and community nonprofit: “Journalism So White.” Let’s talk about this. Frank discussions with journalists and anyone who wanted to show up – how can we change profession and how can we better cover communities.
Comment: Engagement may not be at all what is useful to the community you’re trying to engage. Do we need some sort of truth and reconciliation commission for communities that have been damaged by media coverage?
Comment: How do you take these well thought out steps for creating productive dialogue and distill them into something that works for journalists? Especially for journalists who have short attention spans.
Comment: We’ve been doing issue specific guides for journalists. Came from recognition of acknowledgement that journalists had contributed to the way people talk about drug overdoses. How do they re-focus their coverage? Desire to support more constructive dialogue in communities while having a way to cover it at the same time. Can journalists be quasi-facilitative while maintaining a journalistic approach?
Comment: Let’s not pretend we’re starting with a clean slate. All journalists responsible for coverage. Read Peter Block’s book, which includes question, How am I contributing to this problem that I’m complaining about? We’re all complicit in some way.
Comment: Best engagement examples involve reconciliation and deep dialogue. I feel like there is a whole skill set that journalists need to be trained. If that’s the way forward on engagement, how do national news organizations use that? Also: Who’s paying for all that? This approach takes a lot of resources and time.
Comment: Some of the issues here require a media outlet to do a mea culpa or a massive shift – a huge ask, to think something like that will happen anytime soon. Could newsrooms start engagement projects around specific reporting projects to open the door to engagement, to start building it slowly? It just feels more practical.
Comment: Journalists say, I can’t imagine how this would work and be journalism; others say, you’re still stuck. Need examples to learn from.
Comment: We are in such a pregnant moment. People are so ready to step into hospitable space and talk about what’s true and important.
Comment: You don’t have to be distant when you’re writing stories or doing projects; you can build relationships and follow up after a story and say that you care. Before he learned about community engagement, he was doing a project on covering people who are homeless – after finishing project, went back and volunteered because it was an issue he cared about as a citizen.
Comment: Government agencies trying to figure out community engagement, too – for example, realization that materials for the public are only in English. Realization that communities are contacted only when something is needed. Could journalists and agencies work together on some of the engagement parts?
Comment: Think about it in small chunks as well as big picture. Agent Orange for ProPublica: some pieces written just to keep the community involved; we’ve heard what you said, we are writing something just so you know we are using your information. Affirming; drives content/readership; kept people connected for larger asks. If we are open in the beginning about what we’re building up to, people will give us the faith and space.
Ivan: We have to use different methods when engaging with different communities based on where they are and how they view the media.
Comment: Irony of all this is it doesn’t take much because our expectations are so low. It can be little steps like setting up conversation between people who wouldn’t naturally cross paths.
Comment: Simple thing any newsroom can do: Before pursuing a story, get out of the institutional construct of the story, of “what is it,” and ask “who is living this story and what do they call it?” Minneapolis Star Tribune decision to do a story about local Somali American youth being recruited for jihad. Paper called it “Fighting Terrorism.” Community called it “Saving Our Children,” which completely changes the story.
Ivan: We need to assess where a community is in relationship to the media when deciding to do community engagement – need to strategize correct method of engagement. Tools/methods: Start with reporting project to get support of leadership, flip it from an institutional to a community perspective, use network of people already in place who know how to do public engagement.
Comment: If you’ve got the right question, the answers will come. Focus less on answers than on questions.
Comment: If I cover the refineries in New Orleans, do you want me to be in solidarity with them? How do you pick and choose who gets solidarity and who doesn’t?
Comment: It’s a paradox: The original purpose of independent journalism was to avoid coercive influences other than the public interest. How do you maintain the appropriate independence to not be influenced negatively and yet have solidarity/empathy with communities?
Comment: Maybe the bottom line is “give a shit.”
Comment: Keep hearing that people get into journalism because they care, but they aren’t taught how to act on that. How do I finesse this so that people will listen and provide support?
Comment: How do I build alliances and advocate for engagement approaches in the newsroom?
Comment: How do we learn to live with urgency and patience? Need to increase our own capacity to be present in ourselves and in our communities if anything is going to shift?
Comment: When do we lead and when do we follow?
Comment: Quality of the intervention depends on the interior quality of the intervener (quote).
Ivan: What does “engagement on whose terms” mean? Sometimes people go into a community without consulting the community that they’re trying to engage.
Comment: Need to consider authenticity and reciprocity.
Comment: Need to ask people, what does this look like in your life? And then, what are the questions that need to be asked to address those experiences?
Comment: What’s the physical space? Where are we doing this engagement, in the newsroom or in someone’s living room?
Comment: Wish more colleagues were here – hearts are in the right place, but they need to hear what’s being said here.