Connecting with your community and knowing where “the line” is before you cross it

by Julia Haslanger @JuliaJRH

This week in class we heard from two guest speakers, looked at some thought-provoking charts and discussed how we think of advocacy and bias within the new realm of social journalism, and specifically as we work with our communities throughout the year.

Sandeep Junnarkar and Allegra Abramo stopped by our class to talk with us about their “Stop the Mold” series. It was enlightening to hear about their process of going into the community, identifying leaders and building connections with the people whose lives were affected by mold.

Sandeep Junnarkar, Director of Interactive Media at CUNY. Photo by Carrie Brown
Sandeep Junnarkar, Director of Interactive Media at CUNY. Photo by Carrie Brown

Experiences from “Stop the Mold” worth learning from:

  • Having the stamp of approval from trusted community organizations or individuals (such as relevant beat reporters) helps a lot.
  • Allegra says the key to building valuable relationships with the community is simple: “It’s showing up.” Normal human interactions. Show people you care, that you’re sticking around — you’re committed. People feel that. “It’s not rocket science.”
  • Sandeep says each time they met with an organization they had to build trust. They would go to the organization, sit down with people and show clips of the kind of work they’ve done and answer their questions. Having your elevator pitch ready helps build trust.
  • If people are mistrustful, try to learn why. What are their concerns?
  • Learn how to avoid the minefields (rivalries between people and groups, etc.) and focus on what you’re covering.
  • It can be slow going. “For the longest time in this class, we had nothing to show,” Sandeep said.
  • The next step for the “Stop the Mold” project is to try to provide information and instructions to the people who have mold, and teach them how to document their situation. Jeff Jarvis says that’s great community journalism: “The way to really do it is having a community really depending on you for information.

A few takeaways from their other experiences:

  • Sandeep underwent a period of transition from being what he called as a “taking” journalist to a community-focused, “sharing” journalist. Also within the last 10 years, he says he went from being very “balance” focused to acknowledging that he has an opinion and wants it heard.
  • Don’t be afraid to apply for grants that aren’t a perfect fit. It’s OK to “hack” the grant, especially for projects you’re passionate enough about that you want to do them regardless of whether you get the grant or not.

For the second part of the class, we turned our attention first to three charts about engagement, then to a discussion of challenges and principles of social journalism.

First we looked at a chart by Peggy Holman about different levels of engagement.

Chart One

Carrie Brown suggested many newsrooms only make it halfway across the continuum, to the “involve” level, allowing readers to comment, but not to “collaborate” or “empower” levels.

Then we looked at a chart Joy Mayer made from a concept Meg Pickard was using at The Guardian in 2010:

Chart Two

This chart is so simple and so valuable to explaining engagement concepts to more old-school journalists. I remember when I first saw that drawing from Joy, five or more years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

The third chart we looked at was another Peggy Holman creation:

Chart Three

It looks at opportunities for a journalist to become interdependent with the community he/she is serving.

With those charts and the lessons we heard from Sandeep and Allegra in mind, we began a conversation about advocacy journalism, and what the challenges we’ve encountered so far or expect to encounter.

One challenge mentioned was juggling when to use the language of your community, even if those outside it don’t get the jargon. When is it OK or good to use abbreviations, acronyms and other shorthand, and when do we need to explain terms to a general audience?

Jarvis pointed out that by using the language of your community, you’re demonstrating that you’re an insider. You’re writing for “a public” rather than “the public,” as Jarvis put it. Figuring out which you’re working with and for can be troublesome as times.

“Facebook confused being public with your public to being public with the public,” Jarvis said.

Once you figure out how to talk to people, and once you start becoming immersed in your community, how do you recognize where “the line” is?

Jarvis asked us to define “intellectual honesty.” His definition:

“Reporting the facts that may disagree with your worldview. If you give that up, you’ve lost your core asset for your community. We do have to explore honestly the limits of advocacy.”

Jarvis also prodded us to identify what would be the moment you know you’ve lost your independent perspective. We brought up lying, falsifying or hiding facts. Cristina put it nicely: You have to cover everything, not just what you want to cover.

Carrie then asked us to consider biases, and then wanted us to think about what biases are generally accepted in journalism, such as, “lynching is bad,” or “crime is bad.” But Carrie said the biases you don’t know you have are the most dangerous. An exercise that I did in undergrad that was really helpful in identifying my own biases and perspective is called “Fault Lines,” I highly recommend checking it out.

Carrie also referenced the work of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in “Elements of Journalism.” Bill, Carrie said, made the point that watchdog journalism clearly has a form of bias — it’s pointing out something that’s wrong. You wouldn’t be writing the story if everything was fine and nothing needed to be changed.

Jarvis said one thing that he would like to see our inaugural Social Journalism class produce before we graduate would be “The Principles of Social Journalism.” So, the question for this week:

If you could propose one item for an early draft of “Principles of Social Journalism,” what would you propose and why? Try to suggest something different than the commenters before you.



23 thoughts on “Connecting with your community and knowing where “the line” is before you cross it”

  1. I’d propose that some of the very first principles should be:
    1. Identify the community based on at least 3 characteristics that binds it together and a shared issue in which community members have a stake.
    2. Listen and observe first, but never stop listening and observing.

    A community can be easy to define based on geography, but sometimes it may be less clear based on how people self-identify and if the community even knows it exists. (For example, people with depression tend to be isolated and may not think of themselves as part of a larger group.) Finding at least 3 aspects that bind people together and assessing if this encompasses a community must come before we take any action. Plus, I think that in order to define a community, its members must have a shared stake in at least one issue. I’ll use my community as an example: they share countries of origin (born in Latin America); they or their families are undocumented; and they currently live in the U.S. They have a shared stake in resolving their immigration battles in order to continue the lives they’ve carved out for themselves.

    Some of our recent readings also include this concept. The Nieman Lab piece by Dan Kennedy we read last week has a great quote on local newspapers: “The public they serve must first be assembled — and given a voice.” In other words, defining the community is an important first step before we can even start to listen and observe.

    In his new book “Engaged Journalism,” Jake Batsell tells us that this is essential: “Today’s journalists can’t just gather facts and quotes and dispense them to the public; they must actively seek out their audience and create opportunities for interaction.”

    This bring us to the second principle on listening and observing, which echoes what we’ve done for design thinking. The critical part to highlight here is that these things must be done over an extended period of time, and really never end as long as you are working with a community.

    I think this is one of the main differences with traditional journalism, where you have a tight deadline and need to get your information as quickly as possible. In social journalism, we can’t rush, because we need our community to see us as a long-term player, not someone who will swoop in, get a quote, and never appear again. This is what Sandeep told us was one of his big quibbles with his career, and by changing this, he was able to shift into social journalism.

    This doesn’t have to be an overly complicated process; it can be as simple as establishing constant two-way communication, or doing multiple follow-ups with the same interviewees, or telling community members to feel free to contact you with updates and feedback. Plus, we have to listen and observe once we implement our project to get feedback and make changes, and engaging the community with some product, service, or project will involve some form of listening.

    The main point is the type of listening and observation may change depending on what point we are in working with a community, but it should be ongoing, long-term process rather than a short, one-time event.

  2. Great job, Julia.

    Before I propose a few items to our “Principles Of Social Journalism” I just wanted to say something, in regards to last week’s class and our speakers. Their project, first and foremost, was inspiring. It’s fantastic to see just what can be achieved and more importantly how we can learn from each other, and by this I don’t just mean “journalists.” I loved the fact that their project was a like a sculpture where at the beginning all it was a piece of clay, and the more they talked to people, the more the community TRUSTED them, the more they unraveled.

    The only issue I had from the speakers (and it’s a small one!) was that I wanted to hear more from Allegra. I wanted a little more insight into what it was like to actually take this on as someone who was just like us, and what she was feeling and how she was reacting to the task. How were the students and the tenants relating to one another? Was their a disconnect?

    I am extremely passionate not just about the engagement of communities but also as Jeff Jarvis asked last week, “where do we draw the line when it comes to your own perspective and the relationships you build…?” I can’t help but think about the Kovach line, “The method is objective, not the journalist.” Actually, it’s been my own personal mantra throughout these weeks!
    I don’t know where we draw the line. I think we have certain values and ideals and that helps us understand that we have to, as Cristina said, cover everything not just what we want.

    There are many ways of exploring these values, I think starting with a guideline, or “The principles of social journalism” is a good start.

    So with that in mind I suggest a principle:

    1. We are not selling stories. We are building them.

    I think it’s great that a story has the potential of reaching out to as many people as it can reach out to. The ideals of sharing and liking and re-tweeting can only help our society learn about communities they didn’t know existed. It’s a fantastic thing to see that our stories have the potential to reach out to many different people in many different places.

    But that’s not our priority. Our priority is to serve the people who inhabit these stories and ask them “how can we help?”. Our goal is to build relationships in order to improve their needs. Don’t worry about the selling of it – just like Kevin Costner heard in “Field Of Dreams”….

    “if you build it, they will come.”

    and with that being said….

    2. We are here to serve the people, not lecture them.

    We need to know the difference between helping and patronizing. We don’t know anything about these communities unless we are living in them – So many times, a journalist can enter a community, take it all in, and suddenly, like some type of Demi-God we can offer all the solutions.

    That’s not our job.

    Be humble about your work and the only thing you need to do first is listen to who they are, what they are about. Then once you have their trust, and you have built a relationship – ask yourself….how can we help? ***A perfect example was when I first approached this soccer team and their coach. We had lunch, he told me his story, he told me the kids’ stories, then later that day i played soccer with them. we bonded. and then i realized more and more who they were.

    Finally – As I mentioned before, I don’t know the answer yet to the question, “where do we draw the line?” but I think I see myself as someone who wants to really go far. I am not saying this is good or bad, I just think you’re never really going to know someone unless you are prepared really know them….but I could be totally wrong….what do i know? ha ha! I guess that’s why I am still learning!

    1. Good, Luis. I’m a big fan of the Kovach quote as you all probably have gathered by now. Though I do think that social journalists will have to think carefully and critically about how to apply those principles in their work, becuase that’s where it can get muddy.

      I really liked what you said about the difference between helping and patronizing as well. I think that is critical and it’s not always going to be easy.

      Feel free to direct questions to the speakers if you want to hear more from them – we definitely want this to be a converstaion! Although I know it can be a little hard with some restraints on time.

  3. Thanks Julia for recalling the class discussion clearly.

    I think that a guiding principal for social journalism is to identify community leaders, whether they personally identify as leaders or not.

    We are the “bearers” of tools or “gifts,” as Professor Jarvis might say, and need to work with the leaders in order to connect to the greater network of people in the community.

    From working on community-building projects around water resources in rural India, I’ve found that leaders exist on the local level, even in seemingly inconsequential situations.

    A leader can be a person with:

    – Unique access to a resource
    – History and legitimacy with the greater community
    – Influence amongst a small or large network of people
    – In-depth knowledge
    – Motivation to make change

    Sandeep and Allegra’s “Stop the Mold” community reporting demonstrates that a community may not self identify at first, but does in fact exist once a pattern is revealed. People living in NYC public housing have a host of issues, related to housing and separate personal issues alike. Sandeep said that a challenge with some residents was helping them to identify the severity of living with bacteria and mold growing inside their apartments.

    Some public housing residents do not know where their next meal may be coming from; in the hierarchy of needs the people may not see mold as the most pressing issue affecting their own lives. A challenge is to educate without advocating, sharing the facts without preaching.

    As Professor Jarvis said, Mark Zuckerberg does not claim to create communities with Facebook, but enables pre-existing communities to connect. I think this is the case with NYC public housing residents as well. The “Stop the Mold” engagement project did not create a population of residents living with mold, but enabled the residents to speak out on a platform with shared-experiences.

    As I seek out the shared experiences in my community of Greenpoint, I’m finding that the leaders on the issues affecting Newtown Creek communities may not be connecting with residents as much as the leaders could be.

    A current issue in my community is poor air quality stemming from a host of causes. One cause is the process of reintroducing oxygen to the water in the creek by pumping air bubbles from the bottom of the creek; this process is called aeration. Eli Dueker, the researcher who studied the air content in the area being aerated, found that the bacteria and chemicals from the water are being transferred to the air.

    This is the air that the people in Greenpoint and Bushwick are breathing; many residents do not know exactly what they are breathing; the health effects of the air are also not studied. These communities have significant amount of young residents and transient artist types who are not attuned to the environmental issues surrounding them. These people may not be connected, but they are indeed a community.

    It is my hope to help these residents self-identify. I’ve identified leaders, people who have researched the content of the water and air, activists who are leading organizations, and people working to make change. My true goal is to reach the unengaged; to enable the larger community of people around Newtown Creek to speak out and interconnect. Maybe these new leaders to achieve interconnectedness are baristas, musicians and artists who care about the issues and that have a larger network to inform.

    1. Wow. Aaron this is an excellent comment, and very good insight here. I think identifying leaders and influencers is definitely key, and I also think you are right about helping a community realize what its common interests are.

  4. Let’s Evolve this thing!
    One of the best parts of studying social journalism and community engagement is the opportunity to share a cocoon with the stellar first class of the social journalism MA students here at CUNY School of Journalism. The diverse interests, skill sets, and levels of inquiry that we contribute will set the framework for how courses are taught, and how beats are covered.
    Each of us should feel a certain value that equates not only from our journalistic prowess but also from our unique abilities to commit to a community and bring marginal topics to the forefront of this extraordinary era in journalism. I don’t mean to be crass by saying marginal- it’s all marginal these days.

    So, social journalism needs principles and we need a few now. What do we know, and when did we know it? I did some browsing around media sites and found that the old principals are pretty standard.

    From ASNE, the American Society of News Editors ( )
    “Journalists should…stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports.”
    From the Society of Professional Journalists: ( )
    “Seek truth and report it. Minimize Harm. Act independently”

    From Poynter ( )
    “Give Voice to the voiceless. Hold the powerful accountable. “

    These principals should always remain valid. These are the foundations of a free press that our country honors and defends. As guardians of free speech and purveyors of what some might call a ‘new and improved’ version of journalism our class had the fine example of the “Stop the Mold” project spearheaded by CUNY’s own Sandeep Junnarkar and Allegra Abramo to aid in understanding what Jarvis called the “Eternal Verities” of social journalism.
    This multi-modal reporting project, provided great insight into how to meld the new and old journalistic principles to not only report, but gather valuable data, ignite a community and call a city agency to action. Julia Haslanger, the official class blogger for this weeks post, did a wonderful job of detailing the project for our class. I’ll just add that I really enjoyed hearing of some of the specific tools that the group incorporated to better give the community a voice and say in the research. These are ideas that I will take back to my own community as I research and engage more with them.
    • They used a voice message system for tenants to cite their complaints.
    • They also added a separate system for text messages.
    • They did SMS surveys that could be incorporated directly into spreadsheets.
    • They teamed up with a legal firm in hopes of setting up an advocacy site.
    Having learned from the beautifully produced example of their work, I consider those tools useful in safe streets advocacy, which has yet to fully engage the tools and platforms of social media that are the new mortar of our work.
    Many of the articles we’ve read in our classes share a similar language. The terms that keep coming up are “eyeballs on the screen”, “ecosystem”, and “running the wheel house” Though these terms seem to be spot on for the environment, they all reflect a sense of not quite having any control over any specific market.
    This vast media sharing, skimming, metric-loving environment we are in is in chrysalis stage.
    We were caterpillars. News travelled slowly. It was very short lived and had only a modest reach. We are becoming butterflies now. Information travels faster, the eyeballs scatter in many directions and the audience we feel would benefit from our reporting style can easily flutter out of our reach.
    The new principles that we develop should address this issue.

    • Honor a users need for useful and important content over their capacity to indulge in topical information.
    • Provide means of interaction that aggregate knowledge.
    • Maintain a readership through consensus integrity (what you feel is important, what could benefit your community, instead of force-feeding).
    These seem to be un-principled times. Some of our news is created by algorithims. Our online identities, which are so narrow and one dimensional are being used to gather data about who we are, what we want to consume and what might interest us.
    As the first class of social journalists at J-School, besides paying back loans and finishing assignments, we will be the thought-leaders on how news evolves. We are given many good learning tools and excellent examples, like the “Stop the Mold” project. Let’s give our communities the best of the old and the new principles.

    1. agree, you all will be pioneers, and there are many creative ways of applying those long-lasting principles to modern times and new platforms.

      Curious to understand better what you mean by consensus integrity and how you are thinking about what “topical” means in this context.

  5. I really loved reading the excerpts from Jake Batsell’s book “Engaged Journalism” because it drives home what we do need to do in order to effectively communicate with our communities. Rachel had a great suggestion, that we listen and observe first, but never stop listening and observing. This is a huge part of engagement. In Batsell’s book he mentions that we need to “proactively seek out audiences wherever they might be talking.” He references Andy Carvin, NPR’s senior product manager for online communities, who asks:

    “Why aren’t we engaging the public more directly? I don’t mean engagement like encouraging them to “like” us on Facebook or click the retweet button. That is not engagement. By engagement I mean, why don’t we use these incredibly powerful tools to talk with them, listen to them, and help us all understand the world a little better?”

    By taking some time to get to know your community, without the pressure to meet the demands of driving traffic, you can actually speak with them and not at them.

    This leads me to the first principle I’d like to suggest:

    Don’t let likes or shares drive your community

    If what we’re looking for is a big audience who just clicks and we don’t engage with or know nothing about it then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Of course we want the likes and shares, but we can’t expect them without finding out more about the community. We need to have conversations first so we can build credibility and then create content they will enjoy. That will in turn result in a more successful social media page.

    I recently read an article called “Do Fake Twitter Followers Pay Off”

    In the article Alex Hinojosa (VP of media operations and strategy at EMSI Public Relations) says, “It’s more valuable to have 500 dedicated followers who actively engage than 5,000 who don’t.”

    This is because it will equal more long-term success. Our communities are the ones consuming the content and if they value it they will stick around and continue to engage. If we are phony in our engagement they will see right through it.

    This leads me to the second principle I’d like to propose:

    Don’t fake it

    Our communities need to trust us. If the group from the “Stop the Mold” project weren’t showing up to prove they cared about the community, the community wouldn’t have trusted them, and ultimately they wouldn’t have had a story. We need to be committed to engaging our communities on and off line. We need to have meaningful conversations. Otherwise we are just faking it, which won’t take us very far.

    The last principle I’d suggest is:

    Stay relevant, but willing to adapt

    What does that mean? Batsell says, “Journalists may conjure up different mental pictures of their audience, but they agree on a fundamental point: engaged users stay loyal to a news site because its content is relevant to their lives.”

    We need to engage users so we can remain relevant. But we need to remain relevant so our communities don’t lose interest. We need to keep the conversation within our communities going. We also have to remember their needs may change, social media may change and the way our communities engage with social platforms are likely to change so we need to be willing to adapt. Technology is moving at a rapid pace so it’s important to try new things, but always put the community first.

    The point is we are trying to better understand our communities and what makes them ‘click’ as humans (as well as online) so we can be successful social journalists.

    1. Great, Erica! This is very thoughtful. Glad you enjoyed Jake’s book.

      Also, I think this quote is really important “It’s more valuable to have 500 dedicated followers who actively engage than 5,000 who don’t.”

  6. Loved your mention of the stamp of approval in our communities. When you think about it, without that, what good is any of our work?

    Sandeep and Allegra’s community of focus was ultra-specific, but so are many of ours, and I think there’s certainly something to be gleaned from that they had to say. We’ve each got very different communities, and each community requires it’s own approach. Listening is a huge factor; I’ve found that in my one on one conversations with my community members, I’ve been able to learn quite a lot just by not assuming what their situation is like, despite culturally held beliefs to the contrary.

    Woody Allen said in an interview with the New York Times in 1977 that “80 percent of life is showing up.” I think that in terms of our community engagement, it’s 100% of the battle we face. As Erica said, driving traffic isn’t the goal here; it’s getting to know who we’re studying. I’ve been fortunate to have a community with many cultural events that are open to the public, and I have found that if you’re willing to learn about them and hear their perspective, many times your community members will be willing to talk.

    If I had one proposal to flag for the Principles of Social Journalism…

    Leave Your Assumptions At the Door

    In my case, I chose a community that is partially related to one I belong to by birth, the Irish-American community. But even with my previous interactions with Irish born folks, I could never have anticipated how much I’d learn in the few weeks I’ve been trying to get to know them better. I try to attend a cultural event or institution (yes, these are sometimes bars…) in order to just ask people where they’re from, when they got here, and mainly, the differences they see between themselves and Irish-Americans such as myself. I know I’m in this more for the Ph.D. route, but my in the field reporting has been absolutely fascinating. If any of you have the time, it’s a great way to get inside perspectives, and can be quite a lot of fun to share beers with your community.

    1. Sean, I think the part about leaving assumptions at the door is key, especially since you are part of the community, but still learned new things about it through the process of listening.

      Also, Woody Allen is a wise man. Showing up matters a lot.

  7. There are two items I’d like to contribute to an early draft of “Principles of Social Journalism.”

    1) Finding the farthest corners of the community

    While diving headfirst into discovering my community I’ve noticed that the community itself is much larger than I could have thought. While we are able to list basic characteristics of our communities that each person might have in common, every person within it is different. They might have one general goal but that goal could have numerous smaller goals connected to it and within those – ideas and many others are potential solutions.
    The best part about bonding and finding your place to help the community of choice is there is an unlimited amount of resources/ideas/brains with resources and ideas within them. If we’re to report on these beats to share with those outside and inside the community we need to be experts.

    In the article we read last week, “Tracing the Links Between Civic Engagement and the Revival of Local Journalism,” by Dan Kennedy, he leaves his readers on an inspiring note:

    “The challenge all of them face is that serving the public is no longer enough. Rather, the public they serve must first be assembled — and given a voice.”

    In our case, the community is “the public” as those we gain interest from that aren’t in the community become a part of it as they become more empathetic to the issues we present. We are working on assembling this community and voicing their concerns, issues, needs and wants. This leads me to my next potential principle:

    2) Relationships come with time

    When it comes to gaining that interest and the loyalty we need from a community to trust us (many of us are currently strangers) – I agreed 100% with Allegra when she mentioned the need to be there and to show up. As I continue to go back to the Staten Island LGBT Community Center I’ve started to form bonds there. When I’m on my way out they ask when I’ll be back next week, who I’d like to talk to, what events I’d like to go to in order to get the most out of the center. If I were to go there, write up a story and not show up again (as Junnarkar had mentioned he once did) they might be appreciative but they wouldn’t believe I’d really taken the time to get more than just a story. Relationships with friends come with time, with co-workers, classmates – even with family members. We shouldn’t be treating our communities as anything less.

  8. I guess this is a blog post I should be commenting on due to the former name of my Tumblr,

    Let’s define advocacy journalism. Yes, I’m quoting Wikipedia on this one, it’s a “genre of journalism that intentionally and transparently adopts a non-objective viewpoint, usually for some social or political purpose. Because it is intended to be factual, it is distinguished from propaganda. It is also distinct from instances of media bias and failures of objectivity in media outlets, since the bias is intended.”

    Although advocacy journalism isn’t considered objective, it’s opinion journalism — opinions based on facts. Nevertheless, it’s journalism. Wikipedia goes on to say, “Some feel that the public interest is better served by a diversity of media outlets with a variety of transparent points of view, , or that advocacy journalism serves a similar role to muckrakers or whistleblowers.”

    I use the term “advocacy journo” as someone who curates a lot of special interest viral content about the intersection of pop culture, diversity and social issues. Not as someone pro-propaganda crossing over a line and losing slight of his role as a listener and relationship builder within communities.

    But I still feel as though, there is a thin line between advocacy and journalism. Obviously, they can intersect, but you have to clearly to distinguish it from propaganda.

    Jarvis definition of intellectual honesty, which Julia mentioned is, “Reporting the facts that may disagree with your worldview. If you give that up, you’ve lost your core asset for your community. We do have to explore honestly the limits of advocacy.”

    Advocacy journalism goes hand-to-hand with opinion journalism as social journalism is about the interdependent with serving a public, individuals or a community. Biases in journalism are acceptable, as Julia pointed out.

    (P.S. great “Fault Lines” reference from Mizou’s “Cross-Cultural Journalism” course).

    Therefore, as social journalists, we are slightly biased towards listening and building relationships with individuals and communities while working with a public(s) to create solutions for their needs.Hence, we are just finding innovative ways to do our job and do a better job as journalism’s future progresses.

    If I had to write a first rule for “Principles of Social Journalism,” accepting that you are still approaching journalism with transparency (is the concept of determining how and why information is conveyed through various means). You are slightly “bias” for providing a service to communities; you are helping identify their needs by listening.

    By the way, I changed my Tumblr to — to better fit the content I’ve been aggregating, the work I plan to continue or advance doing.

    1. Hi Deron,

      Good. I think transparency is an important principle to start with, and I like the new name for your Tumblr.

      You hit on good points about the complicated matrix between advocacy and objective journalism and how it’s not always as simple as one might think – I think we need to continue thinking about how to express this carefully and precisely to avoid confusion. For example, I know of course what you mean about acceptable biases, but for many journalists that’s probably something we still need to clarify carefully.

  9. There could not have been a better example of social journalism put to practice than the presentation by Sandeep and Allegra on their campaign to #stopthemold in NYC’s public housing. Dan Kennedy, summarizing points on Nieman Lab from his new book, “The Wired City,” states “It is up to news organizations not merely to serve the public, but to nurture and educate the public so that it is engaged with civic life.” There was so much work involved in first convincing this community that eradicating this icky green stuff on their wall was a cause worth uniting for and fighting for. Many of the 400,000 residents were facing multiple dire issues, as others have mentioned. For those in public housing there is a fine line between trying to increase income level, and still qualifying for public housing. This fear of losing their homes discourages many from achieving a higher economic status. (Perhaps another issue that can be taken on by social journalists!)

    Kennedy also says “If the audience doesn’t care about the public-interest aspects of journalism, then there really isn’t much hope for a revival.” What struck me as optimistic for the outlook of SocialJ was the coverage this story received outside of the social justice community; it was covered by The Daily News!

    My contribution to the Principles of Social Journalism would be a mandatory source memo, with basic questions allotted that MUST be answered before diving into your community. We have continuously stressed the importance of empathy, and listening and relating to your community. The best way to not alienate yourself right off the bat is to do some pre-reporting. You may find some sources were inaccurate, but at least you have some type of idea of what has been previously tackled on that community. I also agree with Sean on not having preconceived notions. Recently, at a conference on my community, I was interviewing a woman who was heckled during her presentation. My attempt to frame it as a case of sexism was debunked, for she told me this was a politically charged attack, and the circumstances would not have changed had she been a man. Whoops!

    1. Hi Betsy,

      Good, and so glad your comments are posting okay. I’m glad you find source memos to be valuable 🙂 Good quote from the Kennedy piece there.

  10. If you could propose one item for an early draft of “Principles of Social Journalism,” what would you propose and why? Try to suggest something different than the commenters before you.

    Great syntheses Julia.

    Let’s how we could define social journalism.
    We always refers to social media as a platform that enables empathy between the members. So I want to propose for a first principle:

    1. Be human in the sense of being pragmatical.

    You may not be able to meet in person with the members of the community you want to cover, but you need to be able to understand their struggle and their environment.
    In the mold project, they decided to open a “hotline” for people who need to reach the journalists and share their testimony. They also created a text messaging system that eventually didn’t meet any success.
    In the period where everything is digitized, creating a human connection that people feel comfortable with is important. The mold project has a sensitive impact in the lives of the Housing project residents concerned by the problem. You have to put yourself in the shoes of whom lost are dealing with health problem in the most intimate environment, their home.

    2. Manage the concept of space.

    Who are you reporting for? Is there any geographic limits, an age limit? Do people feel included or excluded of the majority of the population?
    We are facing a time when privacy must be reinvented. Social network enables people to lead their publicity in the way they want but also to hide what they want.

    1. Privacy is definitely a tricky issue when it comes to social and what we share.

      Like this insight: “creating a human connection that people feel comfortable with is important.”

  11. Julia made an excellent summary of the lessons learned in class from The Mold Project experience. The ones that sticked to me, in a more practical note, were “have your elevator pitch ready”; and “have the stamp of approval from the trusted community organizations”. It was excellent insight that will help us to build our way into our communities.

    Others before me made some very interesting contributions to what should be the Principles of Social Journalism. I hope that by the end of the program each of us will have this concept more crystalized in our heads and writings, and it is inspiring to see this being somewhat shaped in front of (and by) us.

    My contributions:

    Understand what your community short and long term goals are, make every action counts towards them, access the success periodically

    In other words, as Erica said, we should completely redefine what our metrics of success are, and forget clicks and likes. Sometimes we should use qualitative goals (X number of houses clear of mold, for instance); other times, with different communities, we need to develop qualitative analysis of how our community is evolving. We should not be afraid to correct the course and change goals along the way, but ideally we need to see a general sense of progress among community members.

    We should aim to build a more trustful and less cynical society

    Without the trust of our community, we can’t hear their stories. Without the trust in authorities (from governments to nonprofits), we can’t really hope to achieve success in many cases. Without trust in science, media and general knowledge producers, we won’t have reliable sources of information. With no trust on technology providers, we would be limited to a set of inferior tools. And so on and so forth. If we want to be a community, we ought to bind together different (and sometimes competing) groups. We need trust.

    This sounds obvious, but it is not. We live in cynical times. People distrust big companies, the government, Silicon Valley, their neighbors, the police, the justice system, media. Of course a critical view of those that stand in power is required, but when distrust is the first instinct, society falters, as Edward C. Banfield explored in his seminal book “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society”. If we build stronger bonds, uniting people with different point of views, we will end up building a stronger society.

    We should work for the public good

    That is quite logical and appears to be in every proposal, but what I mean by that is that working for a community doesn’t necessarily mean that we are improving society. Which reminds me that the whole “community” framework doesn’t encompass all that us Social-Js are trying to accomplish – as I noted many times in class.

    We need to always take a careful look into what the members of our community want, if there is any conflict of interest, and how and when we should be serving “the greater good”. In this case putting other communities’ interest ahead of “ours”. This is easier said than done, and I’ll hopefully expand that thought in further writings, but is an important issue: we are serving, after all, communities or life/citizenry improving endeavors? They are not always the same thing.

    1. Pedro,

      Very good thoughts. I think we have indeed become a cynical society and you’ve identified an important and useful aim for us there.

      Also, I was thinking about this on my way home tonight. I think perhaps social journalism may properly exist in kind of a complex interplay with some of the norms of traditional journalism. As in, they aren’t in opposition, but they must work together, and each makes the other stronger and better. E.g. you can start by listening to your community, but you can also uncover things your community doesn’t want to hear, and then, becuase you’ve listened in this richer and more nuanced way from the beginning, you are able then to serve the community but also to challenge it. I will keep thinking about how best to articulate this.

  12. I was really intrigued by Sandeep’s approach. He mentioned how he’d traveled outside of New York City to attend Meetups that were relevant to the communities that he was trying to serve. I thought this was a great way to really get involved and of course build trust. His passion and dedication for serving his community was very apparent.

    While trying to serve the #BlackMentalHealth community, I’ve found it difficult to find existing groups to interact with in person. Because many don’t acknowledge and most don’t build groups around mental health within the black community, I’ve found myself seeking individuals an building my own community online through Twitter and Facebook.

    I also liked Sandeep’s evolution from a “talking” journalist to a “sharing” journalist. I think it fits in very well with acknowledging the “untapped potential” areas of Joy Mayer’s chart and Meg Pickard’s concepts.

    If I was to propose one item to contribute to an early draft of “Principles of Social Journalism,” it would be to understand your community, to the point where you yourself could be a member of that community. It’s one thing to build trust, but when people see that you not only listen and respond to their needs, but also fully understand why, I think it builds another level of trust.

    I’d also add that it’s imperative to not just report about a particular community or issue, but to also report with the goal of igniting conversation that brings awareness to the community or finds a solution to the problem. I know this is tough without biasing, but I think by default as a social journalist we much commit to some amount of favoritism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *