Building Communities Through In-Real-Life Engaged Journalism

“Creating safe spaces seems like a very daunting thing to do from a newsroom.”  But journalists,editorial teams and universities are taking strides in rebuilding trust in the news media by aligning journalism and community building. Jenny Choi, from the News Integrity Initiative at CUNY, chaired a discussion from members of the Finding Common Ground initiative launched by Oregon University to find the best global practices in rebuilding the relationship between journalists and the people not commonly represented by the news media.

Maeve McClenaghan, an award-winning journalist for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has overseen the development of the Bureau Local, a network of regional journalists across the country who come together to produce investigative work on local issues. McClenaghan said she believes that “local journalism is crucial to holding power to account.” At a time when “newspapers are being whittled down to skeleton staff”, the project united almost 700 journalists to produce around 200 local stories and 50 national stories.

One such story, about funding cuts to refuges for women who have experienced domestic violence, has led to the No Refuge project. After contacting a woman who tweeted that a refuge’s ceiling had caved in on the women sleeping there, the Bureau developed a partnership with the woman in which she will tour 8 cities in the UK with her one-woman performance, ‘The Refuge Woman’, in an endeavour to engage people with social issues beyond the traditional press.

Karolis Vysniauskas, a freelance journalist from Lithuania, is also working to make social issues, ranging from hidden racism to women’s reproductive rights, a part of Lithuania’s daily conversation. Creating Nanook Multimedia, Vysniauskas works as part of a collective of independent journalists “working on uncovered topics in Lithuania and beyond.” So far, the collective has focussed both on journalism with ‘strong visual storytelling’, and the first professional podcast, NYLA, in which Nanook’s journalists talk to Lithuanians about social issues and current events. Nanook’s latest initiative is NYLA Live, “a platform for people to meet each other in real life.” When 50% of the population is on Facebook and engage with as a means of debate, the team at Nanook aimed “to promote a different kind of culture of talking in Lithuania” by bringing people together to discuss social issues.

Greg Manoo, Assistant Professor in online journalism, is fostering debate in the South Side of Chicago through photography. Head of the STAND newspaper, a publication supported by Newhouse School at Syracuse University, Manoo explained that residents of the Syracuse area of Chicago “really feel cheated by their coverage in the media…their community has been given a black eye.” STAND’s Photo Walk was developed in response to the neighbourhood’s portrayal as a hotspot for crime and poverty. Collaborating with student journalists, and residents from Syracuse, the Photo Walk is “a joyous occasion” which can demystify the neighbourhood for those outside the community. Manoo continued that “there is a growing recognition that the commercial model has some serious problems.” Community engagement is a means of producing content “you can’t buy”, which can deepen relationships between newsrooms and citizens.