Engage, listen, observe — when journalism becomes a service

“Content fills things, journalism accomplishes things.” -Jeff Jarvis
It’s the first day of class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Photo by Viktoria Muench.

The first day of this new and exciting chapter in my life called graduate school has finally arrived. Truthfully, I didn’t think I would ever be able to call myself a grad student, or that I would ever get to live in the most magical and exciting place in the world, New York City. However, here I am, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

One of the most incredible parts of this adventure is that I get to work with and learn from some of the best people in the industry. So to kick of my first class of grad school, in walks the man himself, Mr. Jeff Jarvis — here to teach me and my classmates about social journalism and community engagement.

He starts us off with a quick history lesson, covering Gutenberg and his revolutionary invention of the printing press. Centuries later, everything changed again immensely with the introduction of the internet. This brings us to 2017, but it’s not looking too good for us journalists at the moment.

The questions that come to mind are: How can we, as journalists, earn our reader’s trust again, and in what ways can we reach our audience effectively? While other news organizations continue to wonder about these things, I am one of the lucky ones because the answer can be found right in my classroom.

Another reason why I’m thrilled to be part of this program is because social journalism takes a different approach to news, the way it’s gathered and the way it’s told, and I get to learn how to do it.

Jarvis kept mentioning this example of “content versus journalism.” In the past, we thought the role of journalists was to fill up a newspaper or a book with content, which was then distributed to a certain number of people. In social journalism, though, we look at it differently. Journalism is viewed as a service to its audience, and the content is a product of conversations, empathy and engagement. “Content fills things, journalism accomplishes things,” Jarvis said.

As social journalists, it’s our job to actually listen to a community, and find out what it is that it needs. This concept is something I have never heard of before, until I discovered the Social Journalism program at CUNY. Now, nothing else makes more sense to me.

In terms of the definition of the word “community,” Jarvis asked each of us in the class to put ourselves in communities that we personally belong to. Some of mine were German, international student, book lover, and mental illness.

One topic I didn’t mention was the emotional abuse community, which I chose for my capstone project.

When discussing the meaning of social journalism, it made me think about what it is that I want to do with this community. One of my biggest inspirations is the series on domestic violence, “Till death do us part,” by the Charleston Post and Courier, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2015.

Obviously, domestic violence and emotional abuse are related, but what was so beautiful about this series was that it highlighted the issue of domestic violence in South Carolina, it captured the emotion of the victims, and a lot of them were able to tell their own stories. Also, it provided information on how and where to get help as a victim.

It’s only the first week of classes, so my focus might still shift over the course of this next year, but if I’m able to achieve anything only remotely close to this series and serve the emotional abuse community in a similar way, I would be very happy.

In order to do that, though, I need to first dive into this community, engage, observe and listen. It will certainly be a challenging year, but I couldn’t be more excited to get started.