Q&A with community media researcher, Antoine Haywood

Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy and the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM) hosted the Local News Researchers Workshop Feb. 16 and 17 in Chapel Hill. Before and after the conference, which was supported by Democracy Fund, CISLM reached out to a selection of the researchers attending to discuss recent projects, and how local news research can help journalists, community members, funders and academics understand the challenges facing local news.

Antoine Haywood (he/him) is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Haywood studies “how communities of color use geographically defined communication infrastructures to facilitate civic participation, democratic communication, collective learning, and community care.” His work focused on the role of community media centers in African American storytelling.

Haywood has worked with People TV and Philadelphia Community Access Media and served on the boards of Radio Free Georgia, the Alliance for Community Media, and the Independence Public Media Foundation.

CISLM intern Caitlyn Yaede sat down with Haywood via Zoom for the following interview.

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media: What’s a recent research project you’ve done that has helped us understand the challenges facing local news?

Antoine Haywood: The research project that I presented at the Local News Research Workshop was focused on understanding various case studies of local journalism practices that are taking shape at community media centers throughout the country. Something I’ve been very curious about is how infrastructure that is old as public access television – which is tied to community media centers – can actually serve as support and provide resources for communities that are interested in engaging in local journalism or local reporting practices because they feel there’s a need. How do they leverage those resources to serve that news and information needs?

CISLM: What should non-academics — local journalists or civically engaged community members — learn from that research?

AH: The big thing is that engagement looks different throughout the country. How communities are interested in engaging in, producing or informing hyper-local news and information varies.

There are some places where the communities are supportive of (community media), people who are actually hired by a community television operation to generate stories, record stories, formulate stories and circulate them. There are other places where people are more interested in actually being involved in the editorial process, where they want to work alongside an experienced journalist and they want to develop skills to actually develop their own stories, to put them out on visual and audio platforms. In some places, people are interested in writing up stories.

It’s very important for folks to understand that there are different ways to understand how exactly people want to be involved. Overall, there is interest from communities to participate in some way.

I think the other thing, too, that’s important when we talk about community news and models that are taking shape at community media centers is to also understand that not all of them are interested in replacing or mimicking traditional news practices.

It’s not so much that my research is suggesting that this can be a replacement for eyewitness news or breaking news. The motivation is not so much into doing that kind of reporting, but it’s more so understanding the stories that the community wants to hear.

It’s not really investigative journalism, but it’s maybe that people just need more information about who’s running for city council because there’s no press and no paper that really has the resources to fully cover that. Or maybe we need somebody that can actually distill what happened at a utility hearing committee and just relay how that applies to a given neighborhood. It’s more of that type of storytelling and sharing insights in that way.

CISLM: What’s a recent research project in local news that you admire?

AH: I really admire Andrea Wenzel’s work with community-centered journalism. It’s putting communities first in terms of how stories are developed and really taking the community’s lead in terms of what they need to enhance wellness.

I get excited about those types of engagement models and really think about participatory approaches, more so than asking “how do we reform traditional journalism?” That is needed, too – preserving and reforming big press – but I get more charged up when we talk about how people on a grassroots level come together and start to do their own forms of reporting.

CISLM: Why does local news research matter?

AH: I walk around with this quote Meryl Aldridge says in her book about local media: “Life is global. Living is local.”

Local media is important because it helps how we live and how we navigate things on a daily basis. Our lives are caught up in all of these global information flows, right?

But local information and local stories are needed to help people just navigate their day-to-day. I’m a big proponent of having both the larger traditional forms of news outlets, such as CNN, The New York Times or the Washington Post, but then you also need on-the-ground information that some of those bigger (news outlets) can’t cover or shouldn’t cover.

It’s things that investigative journalism just doesn’t do, but there are still things that people need to help themselves just get through just everyday life.

CISLM: What excites you about the future of local news?

AH: I think more and more people are seeing the gaps and they’re seeing a need for responding to those gaps. The pandemic has revealed a lot of issues, (such as) with technology, digital equity and people having access to certain technologies and not having access or adequate access. There’s also a through line there when you talk about news and information, where the pandemic also revealed that it is not adequate.

It’s become real and tangible to people and folks are more likely to respond to it. So I think now is a good time for us to be doing work on research on local news that can inform people to help us collectively come up with solutions to address these local problems

CISLM: What helps you get through a long day of work?

AH: I have a family, so I play with my adorable five-year-old when I get home. That’s a highlight. I also collect records and every now and then I like to put on a record and have a nice beer while I cook dinner.