When I started working at Democracy Fund I got a lot of questions about how we know that journalism, and especially local news, really matters for democracy. I was regularly asked for data and research that illustrates the connection and that proves that healthy media is critical to a healthy democracy. In 2018 I began pulling together a growing literature review of all the research that helps us understand the impact of journalism on democracy. I kept adding to it until 2022 when Christine Schmidt and Andrea Lorenz helped do a major overhaul of the whole piece. You can find the full list of studies with summaries here.
Tag Archives: Media
Journalism Advice for a 9-Year-Old (And the Rest of Us)
Last week my youngest announced they want to be a journalist. My work is focused on rebuilding a vibrant and equitable journalism landscape in America so they hear a fair bit about media and news in our house. But this was the first time they had said they want to be a reporter.
The next day I sent a tweet asking what advice people in my network would give to a 9-year-old aspiring journalist.
More than 800 people responded, giving advice that ranged from sanguine to snarky. I also noticed a lot of people sharing the advice with others and I realized that much of what was being shared in response to my tweet was great advice for journalists of all ages, and even those outside journalism.
Below I’ve summarized 26 of the most common pieces of advice I got for my 9-year-old.
1. “Just be 9 and love learning.” First and foremost there were a lot of responses that encouraged my kiddo to embrace being 9, and lean into all the wonder, curiosity and joy of learning about the world at that age. A number of people responded that they could trace their careers in journalism back to a spark around this same age.
2. “Cultivate your curiosity.” Those qualities of curiosity, of exploration, of wonder and awe were mentioned over and over again and how important it is for journalists to hold on to those feelings and cultivate them in how they see and move through the world.
3. “Write every day.” People recommended journaling, letter writing, interviewing and transcribing, copying down and memorizing poems and emphasized over and over again the value of developing a writing habit throughout life.
4. “Read widely and endlessly.” Some people said to find authors and journalists you love and read them voraciously, others said push your boundaries and read many different genres, viewpoints, and mediums. Across the board people said the best writers are avid readers.
5. “Learn about online safety.” Respondents talked about online harassment and discrimination in the newsroom, especially targeted at women, people of color, and LGBTQIA journalists. They talked about starting now being careful about the digital footprint you leave, and prioritizing wellness and safety.
6. “Do something else.” Some responses were snarky, bemoaning the state of the industry. But others were more sincere in arguing that the best journalists are those who actually specialize in other topics and areas of focus. They suggested cultivating a passion and expertise in other areas and bringing that into journalism.
7. “Start now.” Lots of comments encouraged my kiddo to jump right in and start a family blog, a school newspaper, a neighborhood newsletter. They argued that there is no better way to see what it takes than to build something from scratch.
8. “Interview family and friends.” Great stories are all around you and people said a great place to start is with your own family. Practice interviewing techniques, taking notes, and finding stories by asking your family and friends for interviews.
9. “Shadow a reporter.” People shared stories of sitting in on an interview at an early age or shadowing a reporter for a career day. Finding these sorts of mentors and models early on is a great way to find your path.
10. “Learn different kinds of storytelling.” Try your hand at videos or podcasts, put together visual stories with photographs and slideshows, lean into creative formats and go beyond the written word. You can even try a story in text messages to a friend.
11. “Learn to ask good questions.” There was a lot of advice about asking good questions, hard questions, follow-up questions, questioning authority, questioning everything and on and on. Embracing curiosity is one thing, but learning how to turn curiosity into knowledge, and using it to reveal something new, is the art of asking good questions.
12. “Listening is your superpower.” The flip side of asking good questions is knowing how to listen. This includes understanding how to really listen to people deeply, how to listen to the buzz of a town, and how to listen for stories that are sometimes buried.
13. “Know your rights.” The First Amendment doesn’t disappear just because you are 9-years-old. People argued it was important to know the law, to use it to your advantage, and to not back down. People suggested practicing filing FOIA requests on things you are curious about.
14. “Invest in community.” A lot of people responded that a key part of journalism is building relationships in your community. This is important to cultivate sources, but also because you are there to serve that community and need to know them and be invested in their lives and stories. One person wrote, “co-create curiosity with your community.”
15. “Learn how to use silence strategically.” People are uncomfortable with silence and you’ll be tempted to fill it, one person tweeted. Don’t do it. People talked about how silence, especially during interviews, can be key to unlocking details you might never get otherwise.
16. “Unionize.” Somewhat jokingly a number of people encouraged my kid to unionize, but I took the comments as a real suggestion to talk to them about how workplaces work, and why collective power is important especially for an industry in transition. This is about workplace rights, but also about what it will take to organize for more equitable journalism moving forward.
17. “Study everything.” Over the course of 800+ tweets people suggested taking classes in statistics, history, anthropology, sociology, economics, math, computer science and much more.
18. “Get comfortable talking to strangers.” While you might be able to start by interviewing family, a lot of people said you also need to practice talking to strangers. Most responses said this was best done face to face or over the phone and that you’ll be amazed how willing people are to answer your questions.
19. “Engage with empathy.” When you are part of sharing someone’s story, you have to do so with care. When you are reaching out to strangers, it helps to connect and see where they are coming from. Empathy is a vital tool for journalists who care about telling powerful stories, building trust and serving their community.
20. “Ask the questions you and your friends want answered.” Trust your gut but also listen to the curiosity of others. Take seriously the responsibility of working with and for others and try to help turn questions into answers. Chances are if a few of you are wondering about something, a whole lot of others are interested too.
21. “Look to pop-culture.” People highlighted a ton of books, TV shows, podcasts and other stories about kids journalists and investigators who can serve as inspiration. A few of the most recommended include: Enola Holmes (Netflix), Home Before Dark (Apple TV+), Harriet the Spy (books), Eleanor Amplified (podcast) and generally seeking out books for kids and teens about Ida B. Wells and other journalists of color.
22. “Check your facts.” There were a lot of jokes about moms and dads saying “I love you” and the need to check it out. But in this moment of misinformation folks reinforced the need for fact checking, and the skills of debunking and media and digital literacy. On a related note, one person tweeted, “Grownups lie more than kids do.”
23. “Always carry a pencil.” Batteries will die, pen ink can freeze, but a trusty pencil will always be there for you.
24. “Wear good shoes.” While “shoe leather reporting” may not be as in fashion as a newsroom phrase these days, there were a lot of reminders to get away from the computer screen and get out in community. There is no replacement for hitting the streets, and being ready to walk the town to chase down a story.
25. “Get used to being edited.” A lot of early writers hate getting edited. Get used to it early. Invite others to read your writing, ask friends, parents and teachers for feedback. Don’t let the comments hurt, and consider the edits openly.
26. “Look for what’s missing.” Great stories are often found, not in what is around you but rather in what is missing. Look for the conversations that aren’t happening, the people not represented in the room, the viewpoints who are being left out. Then start asking why and who benefits.
From Chat Apps to Town Halls: Why More Newsrooms are Designing Journalism for Conversation
“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” — Arthur Miller
At a panel on “The Hunt for News Products of the Future” hosted by CUNY and the New School last week, Aron Pilhofer, the Interim Chief Digital Officer of The Guardian, said he is fascinated with the intersection of messaging, bots and artificial intelligence in apps like Facebook’s project M, and how that might change how we enter into a conversation with the news. The comment came on the heels of Pilhofer discussing the new mobile app from Quartz, which uses a messaging interface to deliver news via interactions with the user. He said using the Quartz app was “the first time I opened up a news app and felt like it had a soul.”
I felt that too — perhaps not a soul, but a sense of connection.
Continue reading “From Chat Apps to Town Halls: Why More Newsrooms are Designing Journalism for Conversation”
Scale vs. Love: The Secret Balancing Act
Two of the biggest trends in journalism seem at first glance to run counter to each other. Can we foster community engagement and participatory journalism and still chase scale and growth? One is messy, complex, and time intensive while the other demands speed and replicability.
On a recent Nieman Lab podcast Matt Thompson, Deputy Editor of the Atlantic, gave one of the most cogent descriptions of this tension I have heard and made a compelling case about why all newsrooms need to be thinking about both. His discussion was really helpful for me, so I wanted to share it with you.
For people who make things, everything from media to music, Thompson says there is a tension between two things, both of which are of value: “One of them is scale or reach — the access to a vast and wide audience — and one of them is love.” While these two things are in tension, Thompson argues that media companies need both: “You got to have a scale game and you got to have a love game. You have to attend to both.”
Nieman Lab doesn’t release a transcript of their podcast so I transcribed a few key quotes here.
“You have to be thinking about, on the one hand, you’re a media organization and for most of us part of our purpose is to have a big megaphone to reach of broad and diverse set of people. And to reach them with stories and information that ostensibly can bridge perspectives, can insight action, can enlighten folks and introduce people to one another. All that, to me, falls under the purview of scale.
You also, I think, you got to have a love game. This is the one that I think is easier in the short term to neglect, but I think in the long term it’s just as important. It’s money in the bank, it accrues dividends over time.”
Thompson goes on to talk about how both the newly introduced Notes section of the Atlantic and the sites redesign were part of their love game — cultivating affinity and connection with their most dedicated audiences. But, he says, he often juxtaposes those developments with something that happened just a few weeks later.
“One week we launched this redesign this lush, beautiful, very high brand fidelity redesign with our own custom fonts and what have you, and then just a few weeks later we were one of the launch partners on Facebook Instant. One of those is part of our love game, one of those is part of our scale game. The divide is not total, ideally these two strategies should reinforce one another, but there is also a tension between them.”
Listen to the entire discussion at PressPublish.org or below:
I think about issues of scale and love in local news and community engagement on Twitter at @jcstearns. Say hello.
The Art of the Commons
(This essay was originally published in Orion Magazine’s spring 2015 issue)
There is a growing recognition that the solutions to some of our greatest struggles are rooted in our relationships to one another. They are built by hand, often slowly, and begin in our communities. From the environment to the economy, conservation to culture, people are developing creative networks to tackle wicked problems at a human scale. New digital tools have helped catalyze many of these efforts, but this tendency towards cooperative, participatory, and equitable problem-solving has a long and rich history.
Closing the Gaps in Local News
New Pew Research Finds Gulf Between People People’s Hunger for Local News and their Satisfaction with Local Media.
I’ve seen that in my daily work with newsrooms and communities in New Jersey and New York and it is reinforced in a new report on “Local News in a Digital Age” just released by the Pew Research Center. Using surveys, news content analysis and interviews the study attempted to map the local news ecosystem and trace the ebb and flow of news through three very different cities: Denver, Macon and Sioux City.
Across the board, the researchers found that “Nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely — and about half do so very closely.” That’s the good news, and it adds to the evidence that local news is still of vital importance to people, even as many journalists struggle to find new ways to pay for that reporting.
However, the report also suggests important areas where local newsrooms — and especially local digital news entrepreneurs — can and should to do more to meet the diverse needs of their communities. These lessons are particularly relevant to the work we are doing at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to strengthen and expand the local news ecosystem in New Jersey.
10 Crowdfunding Lessons From The Radiotopia Kickstarter Campaign
The Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign comes to a close today after raising more than $600,000 from nearly 22,000 fans.
The success of a campaign like this is a complex alchemy of passion, mission, timing and tenacity. There are a million things you can’t control, good and bad surprises abound. And yet, over the last month the Radiotopia team has run a superb and engaging campaign. Anyone thinking about crowdfunding for their project – regardless of what platform you choose — should study what the team at PRX and Radiotopia did.
Here are ten lessons from Radiotopia’s Kickstarter Campaign:
1) Sell the values, not the thing.
The Radiotopia campaign was never about just supporting some podcasts, it was about “remaking public media.” The Radiotopia team always led with the values and vision they were bringing to the table. This is especially important for mission-driven crowdfunding efforts like journalism and documentary projects, but even with gadgets or other products, crowdfunding tends to be about selling a story not a thing. “It’s not just an amazing group of podcasts, it’s an amazing group of people” writes Roman Mars on the campaign’s homepage. “Radiotopia is bringing a listener-first, creator-driven ethos to public radio.” The team was explicit about tapping into their audience’s values – a love of storytelling and public media – and made it clear how a donation wouldn’t just fund a podcast, it would help you feed your passion.
2) This isn’t just a fundraiser, it is a friend-raiser.
Kickstarter campaigns are about raising money. But that’s not all they accomplish. The best campaigns become a locus of attention and activity for a passionate group of people to come together and support a shared vision. The Radiotopia crew understood this, and they made their campaign as much about making friends as it was about making money. Early on in the campaign Roman Mars introduced one of the campaign’s key goals: To reach 20,000 donors. Yes, that goal carried with it a financial challenge from a corporate sponsor, but what was more important for the longterm sustainability of the collective, is that it presented an opportunity to introduce Radiotopia to legions of new people (and to turn current fans into donors, even if only at $1 each). One of the campaign rewards was even a chance to be connected with other fans as pen pals. The best Kickstarter campaigns are not just financial investments, but also investments in relationships between creators and their community.Continue reading “10 Crowdfunding Lessons From The Radiotopia Kickstarter Campaign”
How To Get Your News From Poems
I came to journalism by way of poetry.
For a long time, poems were my workshop. Through poetry I experimented with language, learned how to make meaning and build empathy. Poetry, like so much good journalism, helped me see the world in new ways.
This week, the nation’s largest poetry festival kicks off in Newark, New Jersey. Over four days, on nine stages, more than 70 poets will take part in 120 events. In a preview of the festival, the New York Times called it “a literary bonanza.”
For me, the festival feels like a homecoming. Six months ago I began working as the Director for Journalism and Sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the hosts of the Dodge Poetry Festival. I’ll spend the weekend surrounded by some of the people whose poetry sparked my love of writing early on.
“It is difficult / to get the news from poems,” wrote American poet William Carlos Williams, “yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” And yet, we are seeing more and more efforts to combine poetry and reporting. Recently, the Center for Investigative Journalism partnered with the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks to create the Off/Page project mix spoken word with investigative reporting. In 2009 Haaretz newspaper in Israel replaced its reporters with leading poets and authors for a day, and later in 2012 NPR invited poets into the newsroom to translate the day’s news into verse.Continue reading “How To Get Your News From Poems”
The Rise of Hands-On Journalism
Digital journalism has made possible some incredible storytelling in recent years. Visually stunning reports on issues as diverse as gun violence, environmental disasters, and surveillance have brought stories to life on the screen. Increasingly, however, journalists are experimenting with innovations that move journalism off the screen and into people’s hands.
This spring RadioLab did a story about an ancient skull and the questions it helped answer about the origins of human history. It is a fascinating story, but it revolved around minute details scientists discovered in the skull, details a radio audience couldn’t see. So the RadioLab team took a scan of the skull, printed it out with a 3D printer, and made the scan available online for others to print out. So, now you could hypothetically feel the groves and markings on the skull as the scientists discuss them, discovering new facets of the skull alongside the narrators.
I am fascinated by the potential for these sorts of journalism-objects to help engage communities around stories and foster empathy with audiences. So I began collecting examples of what I call, “hands on journalism.”
I see this hands-on journalism as a particular kind of community engagement, one that may involve collaboration with community, but puts an emphasis on discovery and learning. Specifically the kind of learning that comes from doing.Continue reading “The Rise of Hands-On Journalism”
Fighting for Access: New Report on the State of Media Credentialing Practices in the United States
At the end of May, fifteen leading journalism organizations signed on to a letter calling for SCOTUSblog to be granted press credentials to cover the Supreme Court. A month earlier, not only was SCOTUSblog’s application for credential’s denied, but the committee who oversees press passes refused to renew Lyle Denniston’s credentials, even though he is a veteran Supreme Court reporter who worked for WBUR and wrote for SCOTUSblog.
A new report from the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Journalist’s Resource project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy puts the SCOTUSblog fight in a national perspective. What is happening to SCOTUSblog in Washington, DC, is happening to journalists around the country. As the landscape of news is changing, laws and guidelines that dictate who can get a press pass are causing problems and, at times, blocking access to important new journalism organizations and individuals.
In many cases, these challenges are arising in places where freelancers and new newsrooms are trying to cover old institutions, like courts and statehouses, places where journalistic capacity has been dwindling.Continue reading “Fighting for Access: New Report on the State of Media Credentialing Practices in the United States”
The FCC’s Public Problem
Yesterday, Gigi Sohn, a senior advisor and legal counsel for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, took to Twitter for an extended Q&A with the public. And remarkably, by most accounts, the discussion was actually useful.
The Twitter chat was prompted by the enormous public outcry in recent weeks regarding Chairman Wheeler’s plans to implement a “pay for play” system on the Internet. That push back from the public has now forced Wheeler to revise his proposal, which would have dismantled the idea of net neutrality and undermined the level playing field of the Internet (but even this rewrite may not solve the problem). As I have written before, this is particularly troubling in terms of people’s access to news, information and a diversity of voices and viewpoints online.
Sohn should be commended for her willingness to listen and talk honestly about these important issues, but it may have been too little too late.
In the past week more than 50 artists and entertainers have joined 50 investors, 10 senators and huge coalitions of public interest groups and tech companies in blasting Wheeler’s proposal. In a rare move, two of Wheeler’s democratic colleagues on the Commission released statements acknowledging their concerns.
This reversal is just the most recent in a long line of policy moves where the FCC has been caught off guard by public protest and broad-based pressure. For an agency that was established, in part, to protect the public interest, it has an enormous problem with the public.Continue reading “The FCC’s Public Problem”
Hacking Attention: Media, Technology and Crisis
On Monday at 5pm I’ll be moderating a session at SXSW that explores the way journalists, civic hackers, and local communities are using new technology and social networks to respond to crisis and conflict. What follows is a preview of some of the issues we’ll be grappling with.
What is your attention worth? Online publishers, advertisers and social networks are putting a price on your attention every day. The entire web metrics industry is built on the economy of attention – impressions, clicks, visits, time on site, RTs, likes, shares. These are the atomic elements of attention.
But there are also people who are working to hack attention, to use new networks, new connections and new tools to drive our hearts and minds towards the most important stories of our time. The hope is not that we can turn attention into dollars, but that we can turn attention into action.
Today, images of natural disasters, videos from protests, and reports from war zones reach us almost instantaneously. Carried over the air and across the wires, events around the globe are brought directly into our field of view. They show up in our Twitter feed, on our Facebook walls, or in our Tumblr dashboard.
From the heart of conflict and crisis people are taking to social media to bear witness, find information, and seek aid and assistance. Citizen and pro-journalists are reporting from the front lines, activists are pushing out creative media campaigns, crowds are mapping crises in real time, and governments are watching and tracking us online.Continue reading “Hacking Attention: Media, Technology and Crisis”
Journalism Will Rise and Fall With Its Communities
Creating a sustainable future for journalism will demand an entirely new approach to building community around the news.
Two stories from the past week drive that point home.
First the Good News
Mathew Ingram at Gigaom has a great profile of the Dutch crowd-funded journalism site De Correspondent, which brings in almost $2 million a year in subscriptions. Drawing on a piece in Fast Company, Ingram highlights how De Correspondent builds community:
- It considers reader comments as contributions and values them as part of an ongoing dialogue.
- It holds editorial meetings in the community, reaching out to different demographics and stakeholders.
- It encourages people to subscribe to individual authors, and creates opportunities for journalists and communities to debate and discuss the news, building personal relationships beyond the brand.
“One of the key principles behind De Correspondent,” Ingram writes, “is that the news outlet and its community of readers are two parts of one thing, not just a seller on one side and a consumer on the other.”
Now the Bad News
The nonprofit journalism world includes a few big newsrooms funded by a few wealthy individuals. This model works when a major donor gives a new journalism organization the stability and safety to experiment and develop new revenue streams. But it can also go wrong: The Global Mail, one of Australia’s great nonprofit experiments, may be closing its doors because its primary funder is bowing out.
It was only two years ago that Internet entrepreneur Graeme Wood pledged five years of support, totaling over $10 million, but his priorities shifted and he decided to support a different publication. And while the Global Mail has a dedicated readership, it hasn’t been able to cultivate the community investment it needs to diversify its funding.Continue reading “Journalism Will Rise and Fall With Its Communities”
Net Neutrality, Press Freedom and the Future of Journalism
Tuesday’s court decision, which struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order and threatened the future of Net Neutrality, has huge implications for the future of journalism and press freedom.
According to the Pew Research Center, half of all Americans now cite the Internet as their “main source for national and international news.” For young people the number is 71%. While we are nowhere near stopping the presses or tearing down the broadcast towers, the Internet is increasing how we distribute and consume the news today.
The future of journalism is bound up in the future of the Internet.Continue reading “Net Neutrality, Press Freedom and the Future of Journalism”
What Do Kids’ Books Teach Us About the Future of Journalism?
I may read most of my news online, but I still get a print newspaper delivered to my doorstep everyday. I have lots of reasons for doing this but mostly I do it support local journalists and to have journalism be a visible presence for my kids.
At any given point we have a few days’ newspapers lying around the house, along with a few magazines we still subscribe to. The kids see an interesting picture or headline that captures their attention. It sparks conversation, makes them curious about their community and the world around us. We’ll often go from discussing an article in the paper, to looking up something on YouTube and reading more about it online. So I’m not opposed to screens in any way, but I do appreciate the serendipity and spontaneity the physical paper provides.
It is also a way for my kids to understand first-hand the work I do every day on press freedom and media policy. (Update: Still working on supporting a strong future for news but this is my current gig)
I’m lucky that my kids are voracious readers and are drawn to anything that has words on it. In the piles of children’s books around our house I began noticing that a lot of them depicted newspapers. I decided to document representations of newspapers and journalism in kids’ books we owned.
Continue reading “What Do Kids’ Books Teach Us About the Future of Journalism?”