We Are Hearken
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We Are Hearken

Democracy SOS: A fellowship to help newsrooms advance democracy

Led by Hearken and Solutions Journalism Network, the fellowship will support U.S.-based newsrooms committed to building understanding and trust, engendering hope and reducing polarization.

In this low-trust, high-stakes era of American democracy, news organizations are starting to reinvent how they cover politics and government.

To support that transformation, Hearken and the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) are launching Democracy SOS, a fellowship that will support approximately 20 U.S.-based newsrooms committed to building understanding, trust and engagement; engendering hope rather than despair; and reducing polarization.

As the last election made clear, the need couldn’t be more urgent or important.

“Politicians have figured out how journalists work, and we haven’t adequately changed to meet the moment,” said Jordan Wilkie of Carolina Public Press, one of many journalists who see a pressing need for change.

Together, Hearken and SJN, along with Trusting News, Poynter and Good Conflict, will teach participating newsrooms an interrelated set of tested skills that sit at the intersection of journalism and civic empowerment. The core curriculum will include training in the Citizens Agenda approach, solutions journalism, asset framing, ethics, solutions journalism and building trust in news alongside timely elective workshops.

Participants also will be exposed to the fresh and timely work of journalist Amanda Ripley, who, along with her partner Hélène Biandudi Hofer, will offer training in how to engender “good conflict” around divisive issues rather than falling into unproductive “high conflict.” All the sessions will center equity as a core value and practice.

The idea is to build off of the “best of” and lessons learned from the Hearken-led 2020 Election SOS initiative, in service of helping newsrooms shift toward a deep, ongoing examination of issues that can help communities see — and work toward — possibilities for building a better world. And while the fellowship will last nine months, it’s designed to help journalists build the knowledge and skills they need to sustain new habits and practices into the foreseeable future.

We’re looking for reporter/editor teams — or larger newsroom groups — that want to learn about and pilot new approaches over the next year. The fellowship will include required courses for all fellows and their editors or other newsroom partners, as well as optional electives that will explore specific topics, and two, short “sprints” in which newsrooms will put the tools they’ve learned into practice.

Preference will go to Journalists working in newsrooms in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. But any newsroom that wants to re-imagine its political coverage can apply.

The Democracy SOS fellowship will run from mid-late March through December 2022. Participating newsrooms will receive stipends of up to $5,000, along with coaching and training from the sponsoring organizations. Participants will also work with and support one another.

For more information and to apply, head to: democracy-sos.org.

The priority deadline for applications is Feb. 7, 2022, and the fellowship will start in mid-late March.

Participation is free of charge, thanks to the generous support of our funders: Democracy Fund, Henry Luce Foundation and Loud Hound.

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The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and tech. Hearken means: to listen. We believe that listening to your audience first, not last, makes for better everything. We're here to help: http://www.wearehearken.com/

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Jennifer Brandel

Jennifer Brandel

Accidental journalist turned CEO of a tech-enabled company called Hearken. Founder of @WBEZCuriousCity Find me: @JenniferBrandel @wearehearken wearehearken.com

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