"How journalism training programs across the nation are empowering and nurturing homegrown talent" table of contents
There are a number of organizations working to build the journalism and documentary skills of community members to meet information needs. What are the models that are working?
When Bernardo Motta started the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg 17 years ago, he knew he wanted to involve the community. As in many major metro areas, he felt the mainstream coverage was lacking representation from all communities, and stories were going untold.
Through the bureau, his students worked on a variety of projects in St. Petersburg’s Midtown area including a partnership with a local middle school to test lead in the water and a partnership with Hack4Impact on preserving the history of African-American neighborhoods.
His students learned the benefits of collaborating with communities to provide a service, rather than extracting information.
“A lot of them went to community news organizations (after graduation), and they changed some of the places from the inside,” Motta said. “They brought different approaches to (report on) the communities they were covering.”
Now, he’s building Communities of Hope, housed at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, which aims to teach people from marginalized communities to produce news, features, investigations and media art “to improve their quality of life and bring them into the decision-making process involving their communities.”
Journalism students bring solutions journalism and journalism education to K-12 students, teachers, community members and media professionals. “Rhode Island is a very small state with separated communities — many immigrant communities,” Motta said. “How can we experiment with the transformative approaches to journalism to have engaged, solutions, participatory journalism?”
He wants students to learn how to change the journalism that has traditionally harmed marginalized communities into something useful for them. “What we chose to do was on purpose, to be able to serve people who don’t have access to the university,” he said.
Communities of Hope is one example of a growing movement that seeks to strengthen the journalism and documentary skills of community members in order to better meet that community’s information needs. This movement is building at a time when the journalism industry is reckoning with its failings in adequately covering the complex forces at work in small towns, mid-size cities, rural areas and pockets of urban areas, in particular communities of color and poor communities.
A four-year journalism degree hasn’t always been required to be a local news reporter or photographer, but it’s become the most accepted route into the profession. With the decrease of journalism graduates from four-year programs and the rising cost of tuition — and the increasing conversation about journalists carrying significant student loan debt — it’s more relevant than ever to consider more pathways into journalism work.
Benefits: These programs all have a similar mission in common: Training those who are interested in expanding who covers the news, outside of traditional journalism education recruitment. Many community members are able to find paid positions, for however long of a term, creating coverage that benefits civic life. These programs often bring in voices that are underrepresented or ignored in traditional media
Limitations: As often is the case with new projects, launching comes with a steep lift. Especially at the community college level, leaders can feel undersupported. Overworked facilitators take on four or five extra roles of fundraiser, program coordinator, educator and more to complete their mission. Certain programs have further red-tape constraints, especially at the college or university levels. For the news-specific organizations, similar limitations exist: As these organizations are often small the bandwidth to run these programs in addition to covering the news is limited.