Even in the age of Trump, and with trust in journalists at historic lows, much of the industry remains convinced that it can triumph on truth-telling alone. But the problems are self-evident: News makers and consumers alike are overwhelmed with a constant frenzy of terrible news. For news producers, the questions feel urgent: Why are we telling the stories we tell, and whom do they serve? What ethics and values should govern our work? Should journalism, in short, take a lesson from activism?
In June, I co-organized a series of workshops at the Allied Media Conference, a gathering of media-based organizers, hosted annually in Detroit. This year the conference drew over 3,000 people, and the track focused on “movement journalism” drew hundreds of mostly independent and left-wing journalists, activists, and organizers. The journalists, predominantly people of color and women, came from around the country to participate in conversations about transforming journalistic ethics, economics, and aims for the twenty-first century.
As journalism organizations reckon with audience distrust and failing business models, they continue to gravitate towards “engagement,” often just a word for using community organizing tactics in journalism. Grassroots community organizers listen to groups of people to assess their needs, analyze power, and then use that listening and analysis to develop campaigns. Journalists may not be campaigners, but there are two skills that more journalism organizations can and should be using.
Accountability to the audience
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