Going deep in Brooklyn — and in community-based journalism

New and old stores at Nostrand Ave. Photo: Pedro Burgos.

“If news organizations are to serve communities, they often need to act as community organizers to marshal the forces of communities in very practical ways: listening to their needs, drawing their attention to an issue, convening them to gather together and discuss the issue, urging them to action, and helping them reach their goals.”

That passage from Jeff Jarvis’ Geeks Bearing Gifts was one of our very first readings for this course, and one that stuck with me. As we worked with our communities throughout the semester, we tried to put that interesting new proposition for the role of journalists into practice. It wasn’t easy, because this was new, and we didn’t have a perfect example of that idea of journalist-advocates working in real life.

Until last Tuesday, when we met in a admittedly hot newsroom in Nostrand Ave, in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant (or Crown Heights, depending to whom you ask). We went there to learn from — and to help — the work of Brooklyn Deep, which describes itself as “ProPublica meets a neighborhood Patch.”

The idea of Brooklyn Deep, as Veralyn Williams, one of the three staffers, told us, is to shed light on the issues that affect the community that lives in Central Brooklyn (mostly Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights), through, as the name implies, deep reporting. She mentioned police accountability, the role of activism and gentrification, among others as issues of interest to them.

Veralyn explained to us that they are associated with Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC), a community organizing group. The partnership is important because BMC provides office space and pays some of the staff, as well as valuable connections to stakeholders in Central Brooklyn. Through long stories and podcasts, Brooklyn Deep reveals the concerns of that community, and gives voice to people that live there.

It seemed that this was pretty close to the “journalist-meets-community-organizer” (literally) that professor Jarvis advocated.

Not so fast. (We’ll get there)

After Veralyn made the introductions, Mark Winston Griffith, executive editor of Brooklyn Deep, stepped in to explain more about the philosophy behind the journalistic enterprise. A third-generation resident of Crown Heights, Griffith is completely embedded within the community he reports on and for. He knows what the issues are, what his neighbors are angry about, and what the traditional media, which usually just parachutes in when something major occurs, misreport. As a former professor of urban reporting at CUNY, he also is a specialist in the techniques required to effectively listen to the community.

But he sees himself as first and foremost a traditional journalist, rejecting the term “advocate”. He repeatedly made clear the distinction between BMC and Brooklyn Deep, in a way not unlike what we in newsrooms used to call the separation between “church and state” (advertising and editorial). He thinks his work stops before the community “takes action,” which is a little bit different from what we are supposed to practice in this new concept of social journalist.

I explored that distinction further in a lengthy interview (more on that below). But before that, we did a hands-on exercise.

Inside an old barber shop at Nostrand Ave. Photo: Pedro Burgos.

“The whole role of Brooklyn Deep is to deconstruct the term gentrification,” said Griffith.

So we were tasked to interview the “gentrifiers” and the “gentrifiees” – new owners of coffee shops that looked as if they had been transplanted from Williamsburg and Dominican barbers that work in decades-old, vintage places.

We had a list of questions, both quantitative and qualitative, revolving around the gentrification theme. I ended up visiting two “hipster” coffee shops, Lula Bagel and Colina Cuervo ,and talked with the people there. The funny thing for me was that the “gentrifiers” were much more receptive to questions. One of my interviewees, who recently moved from Manhattan to Bed-Stuy to work as a barista, said that there are “many positive aspects of gentrification,” such as the increase in options for shopping and cleaner streets. All of that while keeping the “diversity” (another way to call the original residents) in the community.

After an hour of walking around the shops we gathered at another upscale coffee place to debrief. A common thread of everyone’s reporting was the “conundrum of gentrification,” as Griffith explained. “Everyone wants the places to be better. But when everything is better, everyone wants a piece of it. And it gets more expensive.”

A recent live recording of Third Rail, Brooklyn Deep’s podcast. You can see in the audience a paradox that Griffith noted: “The most progressive minded people around gentrification are gentrifiers.” Photo: Brooklyn Deep.

We talked a lot about the gentrification process itself, which helped to paint a more nuanced view of the issue (at least for me). We then talked about techniques for community reporting. “It is important to develop not only a beat, but a relationship,” said Griffith.

He advised us to become part of the conversations that happen in our neighborhood. By doing that, we will know exactly what is happening and what people living there think when we need to report on that community. He said that this relationship should be built thought the years — or even generations, in his case.

Griffith was kind enough to spend an additional 30 minutes with me talking about a lot of things that (already excusing for the length of this post) could help us think smarter about our job. If you’re feeling bored, you can jump to the questions. 😉

* * *

[The following Q&A was edited for brevity and clarity, and because I was typing everything on the laptop on the fly.]

Q: You said that you prefer to describe Brooklyn Deep’s work as inquiry, instead of advocacy. We are tasked to think about the role of the journalist in different terms, sometimes borrowing definitions from advocates. How do you describe your work?

There is a difference between advocacy and inquiry. The two overlap at some level, but they are different. The purpose of organizing is to build power and make social change. The methods are not prescriptive. It is more about having a better understanding of the issues. And to know how to ask the right questions and being more comfortable with views and perspectives that don’t look like yours.

When you do advocacy you become dogmatic on your view of the truth. Inquiry, on the other hand, is very freeing. We seek the truth, and truth is more transformative than propaganda.

Q: But it is still different from a traditional journalist. In a way, is this closer to what a community organizer does?

Maybe, yes. But there is a difference between organizing and the advocacy. We are bringing people together and starting a conversation. In advocacy I “know” what is right or wrong, and start from there. With organizing you don’t come with all the answers.

Q: The Brooklyn Movement Center can be seen as a “community organizer,” right? Why do you think is important to keep Brooklyn Deep’s work so separate then?

It is important to separate the two. Suppose that an elected official does something wrong and BMC confronts it, as an organized body, by organizing a march. On the next day, if a Brooklyn Deep reporter tries to interview him, he could say something like “You beat me up before, why would I talk to you?”.

In the same vein, if BMC has an alliance with an elected official, we will not have a way to confront him. We need some journalistic independence.

Q: But if BMC provides the better part of the funding, how do you negotiate that relationship?

We have a funding problem; that is why we are incubated in BMC. We don’t have the money to be on our own. The way I get paid is through them, but Veralyn gets paid through Brooklyn Deep alone. If we didn’t have the BMC, we wouldn’t have the office space, staff, etc. And we would need to build these relationships [with the community] that they already have for us.

Q: Through your reporting, do you think you are able to push for certain actions, like policy making?

That’s where journalism ends. We are not designed to give you [the community] an answer. We help to understand the problem better. Instead of seeing a problem, such as gentrification, as a monolithic thing, we pull it apart and see different pieces. And you are able to come up with problem solving on your own.

This understanding can lead to a solution. But we are not giving the solution. You will never be able to solve the problem if you don’t understand the problem. There is why a lot of policy doesn’t work. People create legislation without understanding the problem. There is much valor to be gained from the reporting alone, of getting all this data.

Q: Besides reporting, what other disciplines do you see being used in your work here?

I see anthropology, data, storytelling, all sorts of digital creativity skills. I see a lot of historical information being used to bring together the pieces… Data mining. Not only to see the numbers, but to ask questions like ,where did you get the data? How do you access the public information that is already there and put in a form that people can readily use an consume? It’s a much more ambitious undertaking than regular journalism. It’s not only going out and talking to people.

Q: If you don’t advocate, what differentiates Brooklyn Deep from other hyperlocal sites?

Hyperlocal news sites a lot of times work without a deep political and historical understanding of the place they are reporting on. Reporters parachute in and don’t have the time to have the relationships. To report well on a community it also means living there, being a part of the social fabric. Shopping, belonging to a social organization, having children, studying there. That’s what I encourage people to do. If you are covering a neighborhood, live in a neighborhood. Partake in a neighborhood. And you will find yourself asking all sort of different questions.

* * *

Questions (pick any, some, or all):

1) Are you trying to “live and breathe” your community? What efforts are you making to participate more in your community’s life? If you are not, what prevents you from doing that?

2) Did your reporting change the way you see the issues in your community? As in: you expected that your community was facing “X” problem and you found out that the real deal was “Y.” Could you share one example?

3) Besides reporting, we discussed ethnography and data skills this first semester. What other disciplines do you see as being valuable to learn as our work continues?

4) After these first few months, do you see yourself as more of an advocate/community organizer? Did your perception of the journalist’s role in society change? How?

20 thoughts on “Going deep in Brooklyn — and in community-based journalism”

  1. Before getting to the questions, I first wanted to comment on two things:
    -Lula Bagel: what an amazing name. Please tell me you took a photo of the sign.
    -About the gentrifiers being more willing to talk: Julia and I definitely discovered this, too. We got turned down by a legacy business owner, but we interviewed employees/owners at new bars who were happy to talk. And all of them said they hope the neighborhood doesn’t change too much.

    So, on to the questions.

    My reporting definitely changed how I see my community. I think the problems I found are the ones I expected (the threat of deportation, finding jobs, avoiding exploitation), but some of the reasons behind the problems weren’t necessarily what I expected. I was introduced to the prison-industrial complex as it works for immigration detention, as well as discovering some of the ways the immigration judicial system works (the short answer: it doesn’t work that well). I think one of the things that surprised me the most is that unlike the criminal justice system, the immigration judicial system does not guarantee counsel. I was also surprised by the Obama administration’s deportation priority efforts and how differently immigration agents treat them on the local level.

    At this point, I see myself more as an advocate than a community organizer. I think it’s really interesting, because I would argue that immigration reporters are fundamentally advocates. If you’re going to tell these stories, you have to not only empathize, but also fundamentally believe that these people deserve better. Otherwise it’s pretty hard to report on this community. I know a few immigration reporters and I know they feel as strongly about the issue as I do and that they are just as infuriated by some of the abuses that happen. There are so many policy implications to immigration reporting, but ultimately, I don’t think you would write about it if you didn’t hope for change on some level.

    I liked this quote from the Nieman Lab article about ProPublica we read recently: “Our goal is not to generate as many pageviews as possible for our story — our goal is to get this issue out there and ultimately to try and have some impact, to try and influence a debate around this,” said Eric Umansky, ProPublica’s assistant managing editor.

    I really think this is the crux of reporting on the immigrant community. There have been cycles of making this a national conversation but then it disappears and there’s less pressure for political change. Immigration reporting is important because it shows this issue isn’t going away and is still as critical as ever.

    I don’t think my view about the journalist’s societal role has changed because I’ve always thought that journalists need to take a stronger role to advocate for the people they report on.

    So I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about “The Price of Nice Nails” investigation in The New York Times, because I think it’s a great example of a lot of things we learned this semester. The journalist discovered the story at a salon and through listening to one of the employees, and then spent a year interviewing salon employees and owners all over the NYC area. It was an enormous listening exercise, finding out what is really happening with these workers, and she did it with the help of translators in three other languages and winning the trust of her subjects and literally showing up every day. I think it’s telling that she had less trouble finding people willing to open up than getting the Labor Department to open its data. Then, she published the story in the four languages she did interviews in so that the “community” of salon workers could access it (making the story an external and internal story for the community). Then, once the story came out and people were leaving comments on the site and questions in a Facebook Q&A, she wrote a story about steps customers can take to see what’s happening at their local salon.

    In short, I don’t think she knows she was doing social journalism, but she did! And I bet if we asked her if she considers herself an advocate, she’d say no. But how can you write a story like that and not strongly believe these women deserve better and that change needs to happen?

    1. Exactly, Rachel, and I completely agree on the NYT story. There’s a book called “Custodians of Conscience” that explores this issue of how basically all great investigative journalism has an element of what some might call “advocacy” in it – in the sense that the act of uncovering wrongdoing *inherently* implies that something is wrong. It doesn’t prescribe specific solutions, though ideally it uncovers some possibilities.

  2. Great pictures, analysis and questions Pedro. Particularly that first picture. I’ll take a crack at a few of these questions.

    3. I think that media research and ethnographic research are critically important, whether you’re an academic, media researcher, or working journalist. If you don’t know your community/point of focus like the back of your hand or get to know those who do, how can you do your best work? While Nostrand Avenue and community organization isn’t exactly something I see myself doing, I think it was an invaluable exercise in getting to know a group of people who hold stakes in a given community.

    4. I still don’t see myself an organizer or advocate, but as a student. Ethnographic research and media demographics are infinitely interesting to me, and that’s why I’m willing to commit my life to them. But one aspect of my research that I’d love to work with is citizen journalism. That’s why something like Brooklyn Deep is so fascinating to me. Social media and the internet has opened up the doors for granular and small-scope stories. I think this is a great thing, because it enables stories to be told that wouldn’t have been heard before.

    1. Yes, and many of the issues we have been discussing are critical to all kinds of theories about the proper role in the press in a democratic society. We touched on that but pretty briefly – do we treat the public as spectators or as participants in democracy? I’d recommend thinking about some of the bigger picture relationships here.

  3. Great post and photo, Pedro. And thanks for sharing that extra conversation with Mark with us — he’s got a great perspective on the issues we care about. And I found our reporting exercise valuable (even if I have an aversion to “man on the street” interviews and concerns about parachuting into a community only to do a quick hit story, never to return).

    2) Did your reporting change the way you see the issues in your community? As in: you expected that your community was facing “X” problem and you found out that the real deal was “Y.” Could you share one example?

    Yes. One issue I was expecting to hear from those in my community was a concern about a career ladder, and getting higher-ups to take them seriously as journalists and promote them into leadership roles. And while I heard that from people, I also heard concern about how people didn’t know if they ever wanted to do anything else — but at the same time felt the burnout approaching.

    It’s an interesting juxtaposition: I might want to do this kind of work for a long time. | I know I won’t be able to do this kind of work for much longer.

    I think it’s an interesting moment in time for defining how this role will evolve. Will being a social media person be like being a reporter, where that job is your identity and many people stay in the same position (although perhaps at different outlets) for decades, serving the same community in the same role? Or will being a social media person be a job like a copy editor, who learns a lot about the community and journalism through their work and then seeks to move up the ladder into a more “prestigious” role? I suspect the answer will be yes to both, different people will approach is with different goals, but can the community provide professional support for both those visions (and others)? How can I help?

    4) After these first few months, do you see yourself as more of an advocate/community organizer? Did your perception of the journalist’s role in society change? How?

    I do think after these first few months that I see myself more as an organizer than I was expecting to. Part of that is I’ve met and talked to so many cool people while getting to know my community and I just want them all to meet each other.

    But I also see myself very much still in the journalist role, recording things, asking questions, directing people to resources, starting and contributing to conversations.

    1. Good, Julia. I hate man-on-the-street interviews myself, but at the same time, once they are over with, I often feel like I learned more than I expected to. And definitely “parachuting in” is a big issue we want to avoid – in theory, working closely with Mark helped to avoid that a little, because he was guiding us and helping frame the questions and ultimately, the story…but it still is an imperfect exercise.

      I am increasingly convinced that most knowledge jobs in the digital age are likely to involve burnout, and that’s an issue we need to contend with if we want productive and happy workers. Maybe Arianna Huffington is on to something with her nap thing. There are so many opportunities to connect and learn and do, which is awesome, but it also means that you are never really off, at least rarely without guilt.

  4. At the Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC) I was quickly reminded of the work I did years ago with Mexican American communities. The bold colored posters with artwork featuring inspirational quotes, political activists, civil rights slogans and iconic figures were placed about the room. It was a familiar scene, similar to the television office I worked for, which produced profiles of American Latinos. Since leaving this specific television demographic I think I forgot the time it took to really get to know the community I was covering. Yes, I am Mexican American, but immersing yourself in a broadcast covering all Latino backgrounds is very different. It took years to learn about different cultures, customs and ethnic backgrounds that are placed under one umbrella term “Latino” when they are all so uniquely different. It was certainly more organic for me to immerse myself within these communities in order to cover topics because of my background, but it did take work.

    I understand that Brooklyn Deep differs from what the BMC is doing. Yet, I think it’s important that the community in Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights trusts the BMC, which Brooklyn Deep is still a part of. I completely agree with what Mark Winston Griffith said about being a journalist first. It makes sense to keep the entities separate when reporting, but again being immersed in the community and understanding their needs is significant. It relates to everything we’ve been discussing in this class.

    That said, I think this was a great reminder of what it takes to build trust in our communities. For some students who went out to report for our assignment, they got push back, and that’s because this community might not know or trust new faces. For those who had a positive experience I’m sure it still took work to get to know the people you covered first before you could do any reporting. That said I want to answer one of Pedro’s questions.

    *Are you trying to “live and breathe” your community? What efforts are you making to participate more in your community’s life? If you are not, what prevents you from doing that?

    Like I mentioned before, this assignment got me thinking about the work it took for me to feel completely immersed in a community I was a part of by birthright, but not by always by association. This semester, as I placed myself into a community of musicians, I couldn’t assume that just because I like music the music community would embrace me. It still takes time and trust before they think of me as part of their community, and later a reliable reporter and journalist.

    To be honest I think I am still working on really living and breathing the indie music community. I thought I was, but this assignment really made that clear that I need to dig deeper and be more accessible to artists. I need to attend, let’s say my favorite music venue, more frequently instead of going to so many different places. At least for awhile so I can nurture relationship. If I’m going to attend other venues they need to be venues that artists I’m speaking with are playing at. Then when I attend their shows I can follow up on conversations. Emails, phone calls and creating content for these artists are also important and will continue to be as I build these relationships. I’m learning that these artists are the building blocks to becoming a bigger part of the community. When they, along with their friends and other artists, can recognize me and choose to share their stories with me then I feel I will officially be a part of the community. I don’t want to just cover stories I want to be a part of these stories.

    1. Erica, so insightful, especially about how it can be hard to build relationships even when you are part of a community, because there is so much diversity within it. Hope others in the class read this comment, I think it is valuable.

  5. Great job, Pedro. Nice work on the images and reporting!

    When I stepped out of the subway into Nostrand Av I could not believe how much it had changed. Incredible. It was truly amazing to see how busy the place had gotten, including businesses and the obvious effect of gentrification.

    1) Are you trying to “live and breathe” your community? What efforts are you making to participate more in your community’s life? If you are not, what prevents you from doing that?

    I can categorically say that I live and breathe my community, it is an important part of who I am as a person. Not only do I report it but I take part in it every day, I watch it, I breathe it, I drink it, I eat it….so much so…that I think my wife might divorce me. lol

    Having said all that, I don’t necessarily think this is always a good thing because there is such a thing as feeling too comfortable. And that has definitely happened a few times now. I love my community so much I forget sometimes that it’s far from perfect and there are many issues which are never talked about. So I have been constantly reminding myself that I am here to look at all aspects of my community – not just the parts I know well.

    I think its important to always bring up the issue of who is who in the community and more to the point – you may think you know who you are in your community but someone else might have a different perception of your role. Despite the fact that we have mutual interests we may not necessarily know each other so I am hoping to bring a closer connection to what is a large community separated by many other aspects.

    4) After these first few months, do you see yourself as more of an advocate/community organizer? Did your perception of the journalist’s role in society change? How?

    I don’t consider myself an advocate for the pure reason that I don’t like the term. It sounds like no matter what is thrown at you, you are going to follow this path, this point of view and so stand for what you believe in. Listen, there is nothing wrong with that – I champion it. But I think sometimes, just sometimes, we get so caught up with our own views we forget to take a step back and rationalize. I want talk about the truth. And so far we have figure out what that means – because truth is not necessarily a fact. And vice versa.

    1. I think the way you talk about advocacy is interesting, and I like it. The biggest danger of advocacy is when it creates blindness to the full picture.

  6. Great overview of last week’s class Pedro. To answer some of your questions:

    Each of us in the program has a different community, both in terms of topic and location. A community can be defined geographically or ideologically; as I physically live within my community – N. Brooklyn – and experience the affects of the local environment. I indeed am living and breathing my community.

    To become a familiar face, I’ve joined the North Brooklyn Boat Club that leads canoeing tours and citizen scientist water testing initiatives on the toxic Superfund site Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

    Other regulars at the club include NYC professors, filmmakers, and activists. This small group has a large reach within the Newtown Creek community. Every week there are events related to the environment to attend in N Brooklyn, especially since the weather has warmed. Much like Brooklyn Deep’s approach, I’m walking the line between advocacy and journalism; my goal is to simply present facts and let them speak for themselves. In my effort to give a well-rounded perspective on Newtown Creek I’ve reached out to government officials at the DEP, EPA, and DOH, all of which have been slow to respond.

    Another discipline I’ve recently thought of as important to my community is epidemiology: There is a feeling amongst longtime Greenpoint residents that certain health conditions in the area have not been studied close enough to determine a correlation to the environmental pollution that plagues the neighborhood. I’ve spoken to residents whose families have suffered from rare diseases, cancer and auto immune disorders amongst other conditions. Some sources are comfortable in publishing their conditions while others refuse to go on record. An increase in sharing these health conditions at the community level would help to better identify hotspots of disease, but not everyone is on the same page privacy wise.

    A major difference in the Broolyn Deep exercise, where we reported on gentrification on Nostrand Ave in Crown Heights, is that many of us have made substantial in-roads with our communities. It was understandable when three separate people on the street refused to talk to me; I clearly had little relation or knowledge to the neighborhood.

    As I become more knowledgeable on local issues and continue to network, I’ve met potential collaborators; this has taken approx. two months of constant interaction.

    1. Aaron, I love what you have done in your community to get to know it better and build relationships.

      True, does make sense that people on the street refused to talk with us, although hopefully we are now part of Brooklyn Deep’s larger mission that will help *it* build trust going forward, even if in a small way.

  7. I wanted to start with mentioning Brooklyn Deep. I didn’t know we would be pre-reporting for the organization, but it got me thinking about being “in” my community to report on it. Technically, the Brooklyn Deep community is a geographical community — on the border of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights’ Nostrand Avenue. My community is a little harder to be “in” — as a national and international movement AND virtual community. There is a common meeting ground at Union Square for protests, rallies and marches in my community here in NYC.

    But I’m in the loop of things — when there are forums, protests and other events happening related to my community. I built a following on Twitter — with curating and producing original content. So yes, although, it’s not an geographical community, I’m still immersed in it and shedding light on well-rounded narratives not covered in mainstream media.

    I had no idea how to approach my communities’ issues in the beginning and struggled to identify the needs. It’s a community that knows it exists, how it functions and knows what are the goals.

    I started talking with people, and I found out the challenges the community faces. It gave me a direction, and I discovered narratives I would’ve not known if I didn’t reach out to members of the community and asked a few questions to get acquainted.

    Therefore, I’m not advocating for the community. I’m listening, building trust and discovering narratives that should be report on and discussed on a greater skill within the community. Therefore, I’m using journalism as a tool to service the community and being transparent about it. I’m not the advocate, but I’m covering the advocacy and activism around my community.

    1. True, although your community is particularly strongly associated with advocacy – that’s its reason for being. So I think your perspective on serving it through journalism is valid, but you are still in a somewhat different place in the journalistic ecosystem than a more traditional reporter might be.

  8. I don’t claim to have fully covered the subject of my community. There is more than 3,000 tech startups in New York city, more than 150,000 tech occupations. I barely understand their goal and their mentality. Because my community – how dare we say that it belongs to us? – is broad and diverse, I try to keep my eyes on their business perspective.

    I’m not enough involved so I could say “Yes I live and breathe” my community because it would mean that I am the boss of maybe 10 to 20 employees, dealing with venture capital partners, organizing my next funding round, searching for my own offices while my incubator space is getting overcrowded… Even if I start to understand half of their business stakes, I am unable to put myself in their shoes because every situation is different. And I’m not even talking about the graduate student in Computing Science who struggles to make a decision between working for Uber or Oscar Health Insurance.

    What I do know, from a every humble experience during the previous Disrupt conference, is that the New York techies are not craving for investments but for visibility. They need to reach an audience, they want to make people hear their voice. In that particular case I feel that my work is offering me great opportunities.

    I’m neither an advocate nor a community organizer. I’m a French reporter and a socialj student, my job is to make the businesses understood by a majority of readers, to source information and to highlight business key values so that investors or customers would be able to make decisions. I’m more focused on what people are capable of doing with my insight than representing any group of people who didn’t give me their consent to speak on their behalves.

    1. Yes, valid points…I think going forward it may be useful to identify a subgroup of your community.

      It is a good point about a group giving consent for a journalist to represent them. One reason why building trust is so important. Can’t just assume that you can do it without working on relationships.

  9. Really great post this week, Pedro. You definitely got a 360-degree perspective of what we tried to capture for Brooklyn Deep.

    This program has helped me to “live and breathe” the queer women community. On social, I’m constantly hunting down articles to contribute to The Triangle Times aggregation. For data, I’m interested in new data that comes out surrounding the community. Reporting – I’m on the front-lines speaking with dozens of people about different issues or about what’s happening now. Reporting has definitely changed the way I see the issues in my community. When writing my piece on bisexuality I learned that one of the largest issues wasn’t about coming out to family but being afraid of reactions within the LGBT community itself. To know that there is disapproval within the queer community towards each other has given me even more motivation to stay rooted and bring these issues to light.

    And for community engagement, I’m learning to expect the unexpected. Immersing myself in events for queer women and reaching out to people just to talk about their lives and find those who know more than me are helping me to understand all points of the community.

    I have always thought of myself as an advocate for LGBT rights as soon as I came out at the age of 15. I don’t think that part of me will ever go away as every person deserves basic human rights. I agree with Rachel as she had said those who report for undocumented immigrants believe that they deserve better – I feel this could be seen for most of our communities.

    While I’ll always be an advocate, I know it’s important to expose opinions that aren’t in favor of queer rights. This is why I don’t think my perception of journalists roles have changed since joining the program. Hearing the voices who are adamant against gay rights and believe they should be able to be turned away by businesses are just as important as those who are holding signs outside of the Supreme Court in favor of same sex marriage. They are both as significant. In my opinion, to have them side by side is even more so of an impact.

  10. Especially interesting how communities that many might assume are fairly homogenous in certain beliefs may not be so.

  11. Over these past few months engaging with my community, I have met women with such diverse ideas, opinions, and beliefs. I think we all have struggled to an extent with the idea that our role as social journalists serving a community in many cases does become advocacy work. However, I have also realized that with my community, it’s not so cut and dried, and even were I to advocate one viewpoint, there’s a good chance that not everyone in the community would feel the same way. It’s not as simple as agreeing that mold is an issue, or that undocumented immigrants need legal assistance.

    For now, I’m more concerned with unifying the community around the bigger, broader issues that most would support, such as more representation of Muslim women in media, the public sphere, the arts and society in general, and to cover this beat in an unbiased manner, and with journalistic integrity. However, there are plenty of internal issues that will cause friction and it is these more sensitive topics that must be approached with caution.

    One example is free speech. As tasteless and offensive as the Muhammad event in Texas was, I believe it should be allowed, while others, Muslim and non Muslim feel it promotes hatred and provokes the Muslim community and should be outlawed.

    My view is if this event was canceled, what will be cancelled next? Southpark? What about The Book of Mormon? But, when working with my community, instead of pushing my beliefs, it’s important to hear out everyone’s opinions and see how we can reach common ground.
    We have spent some time acknowledging the importance of putting yourself into the shoes of those you are serving. Everyone has had different experiences that have shaped them, whether it was prejudice, discrimination, or in the case of this Bed-Stuy community, dealing with gentrification. During my interviews for Brooklyn Deep, I certainly witnessed the consequences of not knowing the “hot-button” issues of a community. This was another valuable lesson that in order to serve a community, you need to be open and not come in with any assumptions.
    Joy Maher says, there are Three kinds of engagement: outreach, conversation, collaboration

    “Being in conversation with our community means listening as well as talking, and adjusting what we do and cover based on what we hear. It involves: Hosting discussions in person and online on topics that matter to the community. Participating in conversations we’re not hosting, both in person and online. Valuing how a continuing dialogue can make us better journalists and improves the journalism.”

    I think that often I will have to step back and listen to other opinions and ideas, which will lead me to be balanced and unbiased in my work. My goal is to form a build a digital platform for everyone to comfortably express their own opinions, and have healthy debates on different issues, to bring about agency and to better their lives in the U.S.

    Regarding Pedro’s question on additional tools, I was fascinated by a recent Love + Radio podcast on immersion journalism, featuring Norah Vincent.Although this goes much further than the observations we did using ethnography, as well as by just mentally viewing issues from a community’s perspective, it is a fascinating experiment in immersing oneself into a community.

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