Re-envisioning the roles of journalists in their communities

If you are interested in improving your newsroom’s relationship with its audience, here are 17 questions to consider.

Julia Haslanger
Nov 7, 2017 · 2 min read

(These notes are from a breakout group “Journalism’s role in a community” at the News Impact Academy in Manchester on Nov. 3, 2017. Our group consisted of Eliza Anyangwe, John Crowley, Paul Gallagher, and me.

We considered what questions it would be helpful to consider or answer before attempting to find solutions to the problems we saw journalists facing — particularly around mistrust of journalists by the communities they cover and serve.

Other breakout groups looked at the following topics: Power dynamics between newsrooms and their communities; misalignment of journalism practices and community needs; different forms of community; connecting and fostering digital communities; covering distinct yet connected communities. Some of the work of our breakout group overlapped with the work of those other groups.)

Changing our role

  • How might we behave authentically in the communities we serve?
  • In what circumstances should journalists be detached from the communities they are covering?
  • What does it look like when a journalist sees their role as connector first, or facilitator first, or community representative first? How do those roles conflict if a journalist sees their role as all three (and more)?
  • How can we be held accountable to the communities we cover? / How can our communities hold us accountable?
  • How do we better listen (and respond) when our communities talk back to us?
  • How should journalists define (or redefine) the communities we serve?

Communicating our role

  • How do we do a better PR job for ourselves, without hubris?
  • How might we better convey authenticity?
  • How can we better demonstrate our civic role to our community?
  • How do we reassess our workflows to be more transparent and open about our work?
  • How do we better explain to mistrustful communities that journalists/news organizations making money is a good thing?

Hiring for a more representative and trustworthy newsroom

  • How can we open the door wider so more people who currently aren’t represented in newsrooms can become journalists and editors?
  • How can we convey to underrepresented people that they are worthy of becoming journalists and editors?
  • How can we demonstrate to students the career path potential and options of journalism?
  • How can newsrooms change their internal processes to hire better?

Other questions

  • How does our business model affect whether communities trust us?
  • How does opinion journalism serve our communities?

If you know of people, projects or organizations that are working to address these questions, please feel free to add responses below. I plan to write a follow-up piece in a few days rounding up these resources.

Julia Haslanger

Written by

Journalism nerd exploring audience engagement, analytics and newsrooms. My path so far: WI ▹ Mizzou ▹ CO ▹ DC ▹ NYC ▹ Chicago. Engagement consultant at Hearken.