Highlights from #PPPC19

These are my top four moments from the People Powered Publishing Conference.

Allison Dikanovic
Nov 24, 2019 · 6 min read

Last Wednesday, I walked into a classroom, sat down and took note of what was on the board. But instead of sitting in one of my social journalism classes at CUNY, I was in Chicago at a workshop led by Lewis Wallace and Mia Henry of Press On Media and supported by City Bureau. It was called Transforming Journalism Beyond Diversity, and it was the day before the two-day People Powered Publishing Conference kicked off.

I read the following operating assumptions and knew that I was in the right place:

As a group, we agreed on these operating assumptions as a grounds to create a space that supported “journalism in the service of liberation.”

If all journalism honestly held and grappled with those assumptions and questioned how those assumptions would shift how our newsrooms function in the communities we are supposed to serve, I really think we would live in a completely different kind of media ecosystem.

Those attending and presenting at PPPC this year created space to talk about how to do our work in a way that would shift the paradigm of journalism in this direction, and offered concrete examples of projects, organizations and initiatives that are leading this charge.

CUNY Social Journalism students, alumni and professors made up quite the squad at PPPC.

These were my four favorite sessions from the conference:

  1. Power and oppression breakdown in the Transforming Journalism Beyond Diversity workshop

Mia Henry and Lewis Wallace broke down the concepts of power and oppression in a way that I found incredibly helpful and applicable to a lot of situations.

We listed qualities of a person with power such as opportunity, influence, access, options, agency, control, safety/security, credibility, leverage, support, mobility, voice, etc. Then we established that power itself is not the problem, the problem is how we use (or abuse) it. We said that in the world now, there are different ways people can get power such as through privilege, collective power or positional power, and that over time different identities have been constructed to bestow, restrict or deny power. We said that we are working toward a world where all people have power.

Then, Henry broke down the concept of oppression using Iris Marion Young’s five faces of oppression framework. The five faces are exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism/dominance and violence. We talked about the different ways that these different forms of oppression can manifest in journalism specifically, and we acknowledged that we are quick to reduce discussions of oppression down to aspects of “diversity,” which just addresses marginalization and ignores the other harmful forms oppression can and does take in our newsrooms and our communities.

2. Co-creating an engaged style guide

Aubrey Nagle from Resolve Philadelphia led an awesome session about her work to create a community-engaged style guide.

“Language is always changing and evolving, and we need to have ongoing conversation about it,” she said.

Nagle is leading a pilot effort to collaborate with community members to create tools and resources to ensure that journalists in Philadelphia use language that accurately and inclusively represents and respects the residents being covered.

“We should be more worried about respecting people with our words rather than having short headlines,” she said.

Slide from Aubrey Nagle’s presentation about Resolve Philadelphia’s engaged style guide pilot.

Nagle pointed out that being mindful about specific language can be a way for journalists to authentically build trust with communities and can lead to major shifts in how newsroom relate to their constituents.

“Language can be the trojan horse to talking about broader culture changes in newsroom,” she said.

More on the Reframe pilot here.

3. Systems thinking as an aspirational framework for journalism

Cole Goins and Kayla Christopherson from the Journalism + Design program at The New School led a great session on how journalists can use systems thinking to shape our work in a way that gets more to the root of issues.

They challenged us to go deeper when we think about the bigger systems that are at play in our communities, and to explicitly include that kind of analysis and curiosity in our journalism.

“Once you understand how systems work in your community, how can you reorient your journalism to leverage structural change?” Goins said.

Using this model of the iceberg, Goins and Christopherson suggested that we can go below the surface of just covering events, and that it is in fact our job to help our constituents understand how trends, patterns, systemic structures and even our own mental models are creating the events that we see, and our perception of them.

Goins pointed out that our constituents want to know this kind of in-depth information.

“People want to know why,” he said.

More info on this process here.

4. Journalism using the hierarchy of needs

My other favorite session was called “Is your journalism a luxury or a necessity?” led by Mike Rispoli of Free Press, Harry Backlund of City Bureau and Eve Pearlman of Spaceship Media.

They challenged us to think about the purpose of our journalism in the context of models like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and suggested that most journalism, even when it is about people who have been marginalized in some way, does not actually do anything to help those folks access their most basic needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and notes from a City Bureau brainstorm session from Harry Backlund’s medium post, “Is your journalism a luxury or a necessity?”

“If we want to perform the act of journalism, but we are not meeting people’s needs, what kinds of incentives do they have to invest in or engage with us?” Rispoli said.

We talked, imagined and illustrated together shapes like the pyramid or cocentric circles that could help us as journalists be more honest about whose needs we are meeting or not with our work.

More thoughts on this here.

My favorite specific moments from the conference were:

  • Alicia Bell of Free press holding powerful space and asking each person in the room to share their vision for the future.
  • Cole Goins referencing adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy as a model for ways that journalism can be more imaginative and generative, and then seeing that my colleague Mekdela and I each had copies of the book in our bags.
  • That time when one of City Bureau’s Documenters responded to a woman who was confused why her reporting wasn’t having the impact she hoped it would, “Well who was your audience? Who were you writing it for and how did you get it to them?”

In some way or another, I feel like most of the sessions talked about shifting the value proposition in journalism and discussing ways to make journalism better meet people’s needs rather than feeding our bottom line or our egos.

I will be processing the lessons and takeaways from PPPC for a time to come, but it was energizing to be surrounded by those pursuing journalism from a whole with a different approach and a different mindset, one that is collaborative and is focused on sharing power with and building power within the communities we serve, democratizing the power we wield as reporters.

I’ll definitely hold onto a sentiment that David Ryfe of the University of Iowa said, “Journalists have to learn how to love their communities more than they love their profession.”

Allison Dikanovic

Written by

becoming a better listener & making journalism more of a service at @newmarkjschool. new york via milwaukee.

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