When I was learning to be a journalist, I was taught to stay on the sidelines, to keep a distance between myself and the people I was covering. I needed to be objective, I was taught, and the best way to do that was to hold myself apart.
That kind of approach doesn’t work anymore. Not with new technologies, including social media, that mean journalists aren’t gatekeepers of the news and of information anymore. Not with a lack of diversity in the industry that can prevent journalists from hearing and fully understanding the concerns of underrepresented groups. Not with the lack of trust in media.
I don’t teach “objectivity,” per se, anymore. I teach student journalists to be fair.
Along with my colleagues working at the University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center, and with support from groups like Journalism That Matters, I am exploring engaged journalism. At Elevate Engagement, a four-day event in May 2017 that brought together engagement journalists, community activists, students, artists and concerned citizens, we discussed this question: How do we elevate engagement to help communities to thrive?
That doesn’t mean not holding public officials to account or writing PR pieces. It means truly listening and reporting and questioning our assumptions and giving community members agency when their stories are told. A lot of this is what the best beat reporters have been doing for decades. I’m working to refine those techniques, adjust them where necessary and make that mindset more prevalent.
Here’s how I’m involved:
- Reporting Roseburg: With my SOJC colleague Nicole Dahmen, I interviewed 19 Oregon-area journalists about their coverage of the Umpqua Community College shooting on October 1, 2015, in Roseburg, Oregon. Our project gave the journalists a chance to tell their own stories, and it provides insight into how news stories are constructed, how mass tragedies are covered and what questions journalists grapple with as they do so. Our guiding question: What is the responsibility of journalism to victims, to their families, to our communities and to our citizens in reporting on gun violence and mass shootings?
- Curriculum development: I was awarded an Agora Faculty Fellowship in 2016-17 to further explore the community of Roseburg’s response to the media coverage of the UCC shooting. I am continuing this work by building lesson plans for journalism schools and professional newsrooms that highlight how principles of engaged journalism can be used to better cover mass tragedies.
- Gather: I am a member of an advisory committee for a community of practice that is connecting journalists across the country who are working on community engagement, and I’ve been involving students by accompanying them to events and developing classroom assignments.
- Elevate Engagement: As part of the hosting team for the four-day gathering in May 2017, I helped use Open Space Technology and other engagement techniques to empower the attendees to explore their interests and identify common goals, which are reflected in these documents.