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We’re Rethinking How We Do Journalism

Sunday, November 17, 2019 || By Michael Romain || OPINION ||@maywoodnews 

On Nov. 16, the Village Free Press was pleased to host Temple University’s Andrea Wenzel and Thomas Jefferson University’s Lettrell Crittenden, both from Pennsylvania and both affiliated with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University in New York, for an enlightening workshop on how to improve local journalism in Proviso Township.

Among the roughly 30 attendees were three journalism professors (not including Wenzel and Crittenden), a former Wall Street Journal reporter, a newspaper publisher (myself not included), a mayor, a former park district commissioner and an array of key community stakeholders in Proviso Township.

Jeremy Horn, a concerned and engaged resident of Forest Park; Harry Backlund, of City Bureau; John Jenks, of Dominican University in River Forest; and Rose Ocampo, a concerned and engaged resident of Maywood discuss ideas for improving local news during a workshop held Nov. 16 in Maywood. | Shanel Romain 

We discussed the findings from three focus groups in Maywood that Wenzel and Crittenden conducted for their research. Those findings were distilled in an illuminating report published recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. You can read that report here. Here are some key takeaways from those focus groups that are included in the CJR article:

  • “Residents identified several community issues that they would like to see more accountability reporting on—including local developments, taxes, and schools.
  • “Participants wanted easier access to and contacts for local resources for services and opportunities, as well as listings of community events.
  • “Community members identified a need for more bilingual resources and outreach to Spanish speaking residents. This outreach was positioned as a potential pathway to bridge between African American and Latinx residents in Proviso Township.
  • “Residents suggested media outlets, particularly city-wide outlets, work to balance negative coverage with more solutions-oriented coverage.
  • “The positive experiences residents noted they had with journalists were almost always with journalists of color and/or outlets that were led by people of color.
  • Participants expressed an appreciation for hyperlocal outlets like the Village Free Press and others, but they recognized that resource constraints limited what these outlets were able to achieve at present.
  • “Participants had ideas for ways to make local news coverage more inclusive and participatory—including discussion groups with community members, citizen information ambassadors from different neighborhoods, and youth journalism trainings.”

We also listened to some wonderful ideas from some of the leading lights in local journalism, including Harry Backlund, the director of operations and business strategy and co-founder at City Bureau, a journalism lab based on the South Side; and Madeleine Bair, the founder of El Timpano, a community news initiative designed to serve Latino immigrants in Oakland, Ca. In addition, Wenzel and Crittenden shared some aspects of their work with the Germantown Info Hub, a free information resource “of and for residents of the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.”

Residents arrived at some important ideas for enhancing local journalism during a Nov. 16 workshop in Maywood. | Shanel Romain 

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Attendees then broke out into groups to brainstorm ways of improving the local information and news landscape in Proviso Township and to improve how Village Free Press serves our readers. Thanks to the ideas of some deeply engaged community members, I’ve committed VFP to the following action items that we plan on executing within the next two months.

  • A community editorial meeting

We’re going to take some inspiration from Madeleine Bair, whose El Timpano conducts quarterly community editorial meetings, which are basically regular meetings open to the public that will allow residents to give insight and constructive criticism about VFP’s coverage, share potential story ideas or big events to include in our community calendar, discuss story angles and even learn some important skills, such as how to write press releases.

  • Community news ambassadors

In the coming weeks, we’re going to be looking for people to become community news ambassadors who will help facilitate and possibly moderate discussions in those open community editorial meetings, provide us with tips and leads for possible news stories, maybe even contribute content to the newspaper on a regular basis, help boost our fundraising efforts, help hold us accountable for our coverage and more.

  • Tracking government accountability

Harry Backlund inspired us to start regularly tracking the transparency of our local taxing bodies. Next week, we’ll start publishing regular reminders of public meetings, posting agendas (sometimes annotated to give readers background information) and links to meeting video/audio (if it exists) for all of the taxing bodies in Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park.

We’ll also grade these taxing bodies on their transparency based on a variety of criteria (such as whether or not they post their agendas online, provide video of meetings, etc.). For an understanding of how this might look, consider this tool that City Bureau developed (click here).

  • Census awareness

Finally, next week, we’ll launch what we’re calling #ProvisoCounts, which was inspired by a similar initiative called #BrooklynCounts (credit where credit’s due). This project will involve VFP doing everything we can to ensure that residents in Proviso Township  are properly informed of, and participate in, the 2020 Census. Some #ProvisoCounts initiatives will include VFP interviewing residents about the Census, publishing Census-related stories at least twice a month and producing creative content that will drive home why the Census is important to residents and how not participating will affect them in a very concrete way. We welcome more of your ideas for this effort.

We need you, so if you’re interested in helping out with any or all of these initiatives, please email me at [email protected] or call me at (708) 359-9148.

Your support is welcomed!

We are accepting donations so that we can continue bringing you quality reporting on the issues that matter most to you and your community!

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