Journalists, when life gets tough, start listening

It didn’t come as too big of a surprise when Trump called out the media yet again last week, tweeting:

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

This rather harsh view on the media has been a reoccurring concept mentioned by Mr. 45 on more than one occasion.

“The clash between Donald Trump and major news outlets has lots of people wondering: where is journalism really going in this country? Are journalists the enemy of the people? Has the media forgotten the people they serve? Will we fail,” Jessica Brockington wrote in her latest post. Her questions pretty much summarize how the rest of us journalists feel at the moment.

Maria Fraschilla emphasizes this idea when she claims that it’s true, there has been a certain shift, especially when it comes to reporting on politics and anything involving DJT. “After Steve Bannon’s claims that the media is the opposition, a light bulb popped up,” she said. “To the conservatives, we are the opposition. Journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but in light of the recent election, the personal hatred for the Trump camp has pushed journalists to add their own emotions to their pieces.”

This probably contributes to people not trusting the media in a big way.

So how do we, the media, prove to 45 and his supporters, and essentially to all of the “American People” that were are not the opposition, that we are not the enemy?

Melissa DiPento remembers her early days in journalism. Right out of college, she used the practices and methods of news gathering she had learned in school when she reported within her community, and she thought was doing it totally right. Now she realizes that there were in fact some issues.

“I wasn’t asking these community members specifically about what they’d like to see covered in their community,” she said. “I didn’t actually know what they cared about. I was interviewing them about what *I thought* their story was.”

However, her approach of coming up with a concept for a story first and THEN going out to report on it is pretty much what every news organisation still does to this day — and this is where the problem lies.

Sheena Townsend explains it well when she points out how this approach is completely counterproductive. “In traditional journalism, a story idea is developed and pitched, the article is written, questions are asked for the sake of corroboration and quote-seeking, and the piece is automatically published,” she said. “ This traditional sense of the process allows for engagement with a community only after a story has been published, however, essentially defeating the purpose of what journalists should be seeking to accomplish.”

Ghita Benslimane uses a great metaphor to explain further what is going on here. “One could probably maintain that journalists know, better than audiences do, what should be published. But this is unfair. What if you were in a relationship with someone who always insisted on picking where you two would eat? After a while, don’t you think the side being ignored would probably get frustrated?”

Source: Sheena Townsend

The answer is yes. It doesn’t help that Trump dramatizes this frustration with his never-ending string of tweets, but it’s true. People are frustrated; people have a hard time trusting the media, and it’s our job to fix that.

Like now.

Kristine Villanueva talked about an interesting encounter with a friend recently, which basically made her realise that most people don’t even know or understand what journalists do.

“There’s room for the public to better understand the complexities of media,” she said. “It’s time to break the fourth wall and start having conversations with people to differentiate solid coverage from bullshit. This is an opportunity for journalists to simply do better.

Here at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, we believe we found a way that will help the media regain that trust — it’s called Social Journalism.

We need to listen first, and then report. We need to let the public speak and then find out what it is that they really want to know.

Not everyone understands this concept, though, as Charles Turner describes. “‘Public opinion’ has become a dirty word. It elicits imagery of a drooling horde that journalists must educate,” he said. “As a journalist myself, I have yet to ask the public what they want to read about before I begin,” he said.

“My process is based on sources who give me ideas on broader subjects that I believe could be of interest to other people. So for my next (…) story, I’m prepared to stop writing about what I think the audience should hear, and start with what the audience is ready to read. It’s a matter of rethinking what ‘the public’ means, and what they have to offer.”

This is great, but for someone who is still trying to learn how to use this “listen to your audience’s needs” approach, it can seem a little intimidating. Thankfully there is a tool that makes this process so much easier.

This tool is called “Hearken”

What is that, you ask? I’m just going to let Monty Kataria take this one. “The hear in Hearken just as it is read in the first four letters is to hear, whereas the verb Hearken, yes it is a real thing, simply means to listen,” he said.

“Hearken makes popular and strengthens the aspect of public based news reporting.” Hearken provides a platform for the audience or the public to ask questions to the reporters in the newsroom and then they go on a journalistic journey to answer these questions in the real world.”

Make sense?

Basically, Hearken is a product created by Jennifer Brandel. It’s a digital tool that lets the audience ask the questions they really and truly would like to be answered. Others can then vote on their favourite questions, and whichever wins will then land on the desk of the reporter.

The fun thing is, the person who originally asked the question has the opportunity to even be part of the reporting process. Alyxaundria Sanford finds this process especially endearing.

“This part of the method encourages the audience, specifically the person who pitched an idea or question, to get out into the field with the reporter, allowing for the ultimate form of transparency,” she said. “While Hearken provides the technology, the ride along method can be used on a smaller scale in any newsroom or research to engage the audience. In this way journalists and readers become partners, rather than news being a form of authority.”

Brandel only became part of the journalism world on accident. She never went to journalism school, so she never learned the “old and standard approach of reporting a story, and this is probably why she was not afraid to use this new method. Brandel “essentially gives journalism a new birth story and it will require your faith in people and a bit of trust,” said Jennifer Groff in her post. “What better way to rebuild trust than to show your audience that you entrust them to shape the very stories you report on and keeping them along for the ride?”

Source: Hearken on Medium

We social journalists hope that tools such as Hearken will be implemented by more and more newsrooms, because it’s so important, says Angelo Paura.

“One day a fellow journalist told me that every newspaper is like a monarchy. Yes, journalism is an authoritarian elite, but now I’m pretty sure we are entering a more democratic process, opening up newsrooms, creating new tools, trying different ways to produce and distribute content,“ he said. “At the same time, this transition is a way to point out journalism’s real goal: to dig into the mess and then write a story.”

This is what Jennifer Deseo is ready to do. She is working with new immigrants in Jackson Heights, Queens, and found that by simply posting a poll on her Facebook page got her no response. The reason for that is because people were scared to talk about their personal problems.

“If Hearken or a similar engagement method is going to work in my neighbourhood, it’s going to require direct human contact, not online forms or popularity polls,” she said. “I have to look into the faces of the people I serve, to feel their fear, and I need them to see me and understand that I fear too.”

Max Resnik recently attended the Mobilise service Summit, where organisations from across New York gathered to talk about the surge of interest in volunteering. He said, “attendees discussed motivating volunteers, mediating conflicts, matching volunteers to appropriate roles and turning volunteers into ambassadors for the work of their organization. This sounds to me like the work of journalists.”

Hearken is only one way to work more closely with a community, there are many ways to engage with an audience. The basic concept, however, is always the willingness to dig in, and really work with people, to have actual conversations with them, and, again, to listen.

This can only be done when people know they are part of a bigger process, and that their input is highly valued.

It was proven that stories created through Hearken have shown to be a lot more successful, and generate more traffic than the other, usual stories. So why don’t more newsrooms use this approach? Is it because they are afraid they will lose their credibility of being able to do their jobs?

“Don’t worry,“ Laura Calçada said, “You are not going to lose your job because your audience is telling you what to write about or asking the questions. Your are going to lose it if you don’t.” She added, “if someone asks you a question and you can answer it –sometimes even including that person in the quest for the response –you are going to be heard, shared and possibly asked again. Respected journalists are born this way.”

To end this post, I’m going to let Sebastian Auyanet give his insights. He actually has worked with Hearken for a while, and knows that it works. “If we know how to listen and what it is to listen nowadays, we may have a way of reestablish the power of journalism to provide truth and sense-making,” he said. “That may also be one of the few remaining ways to make the readers stand up for what we do again. Because even if we do things the right way, what power can the press have if it´s not supported by the power of the people?”