Are you worried about the future of the news media? About the media’s role in our democracy today?
At a time when people are worried about “fake news,” we are building trust in our Wisconsin media by bringing reporters together face-to-face with the citizens they serve.
At one of our Beyond the Headlines events a month ago, I was moved to tears to hear an Eau Claire resident tell a packed room how local reporting changed her life.
Sarah Ferber was the subject of many news stories about homelessness and incarceration. When people read her story, it put a human face on the problem. It mobilized people and fueled citywide efforts to end homelessness!
Today we’re working around Wisconsin with community leaders like Sarah and with journalists, helping people get to know each other and to find solutions to local problems. We want to do even more!
As the year comes to an end, I hope you’ll consider making a gift to the Wisconsin Humanities Council. Your generosity makes initiatives like Beyond the Headlines possible. Together, we can change lives and ensure the future of our democracy.
See for yourself: Watch a recording from a recent event in Eau Claire to hear from journalists and community members about how local journalism is changing lives.
This 25 minute video from the 10/25/18 event was recorded live at the Pablo Center at the Confluence in Eau Claire. The panel featured (left-right on the screen): Julian Emerson (Moderator), Reporter, Eau Claire Leader Telegram Joy Lukachick Smith, Reporter, GateHouse Media Joan Garrett McClane, Staff Writer, Chattanooga Times Free Press Sarah Ferber, Associate Director, Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO) Dominique Brossard, Professor, UW-Madison
How do we as journalists report fairly on people and how do we reach out to people in difficult situations in a thoughtful way?
The most important thing for journalists to keep in mind when asking people to share is being authentic about the reason for telling the story.
How can we do better?
You can share not only the scary, hard stuff but instead tell a story that provides the complete story, including the positive hopeful stuff. It comes from building a relationship that goes beyond voyeurism. I want my story to give people hope.
Can personal stories effectively overcome stereotypes? How responsible are journalists for overcoming and for perpetuating stereotypes?
Well done journalism takes time. The reality is that journalists don’t always have that time and space.
How do you overcome stereotypes in your stories (asking journalists on the panel)?
I tell stories that provide examples to illustrate a fact, such as the fact that 50% of all kids born in Tennessee right now are born to single moms.
I use a narrative character to drive a story.
How are we doing, as journalists?
As a whole, journalism is getting better. More people need to tell their story but are stopped due to the stigmas. People choose to hide from judgement instead of sharing personal stories.
What does a drug addict, a felon, or someone who lives in poverty look like? Labels create barriers that make it hard for those people who are labeled to move forward in life.
When we approach people (as journalists), we don’t use the word poverty. We say what we are doing , but to be an honest report, we have to admit that we don’t know where the story is going. We want to let the storyteller own the story. We try to honor how the storyteller sees themselves without the burden of a label.
It is humbling as a journalist when people open up to you.
Labels are a danger to a single story. A word evokes a single image, but if more people tell their stories, then we can see more images and that will broaden understanding. That is what journalists can do.
Why do I share my story? I want to learn how to talk to people and get everyone on board to help disadvantaged people. I want to help bridge that gap.
How can we counteract the stereotypes?
Keep in mind how people process information. It’s called Motivated Reasoning. We have preconceived filters through which we process information so that it fits our beliefs. The same story can be interpreted differently by different readers. Journalists have a role to serve all readers.
As a journalist, we tried to focus on work that is not well understood. It is important to us not to exclude anyone.
What has the impact the reporting on poverty in Tennessee been? What happened because of it?
The series we did was seven parts long. We got responses from so many people who saw the articles. Every single community foundation in our community has changed their major agenda item to be addressing income inequality. The mayor has made it his priority.
Eau Claire has had a similar response (to local news stories) and that response continues today. It has been heartening and good has come out of it, including this Beyond the Headlines program.