Attending the AAN 2017 Conference provided me with so much insight on meaningful journalism and the impact it has on social movements across the country. I was excited to meet so many others who were passionate about the growth of authentic storytelling from Toronto to Jackson, Mississippi. Of the eight sessions I attended, one that warranted the most engagement from me included the “transformation of journalism” discussion and the conversation on “collaborations between newsrooms” both at a local and national level. The information I was able to take back to my everyday hustle as a journalist was definitely invaluable. From gaining a better understanding of how to use Google tools to witnessing the passion of so many city affiliates and their staff all in one room is also one to remember. Here’s a snapshot of the sessions I attended:
Meaningful Work in Journalism
Establishing a foundation for publishing meaningful content was a common theme throughout each session. How are Alt Weeklies different than mainstream news? This question arose in a panel on The Role of Atls in Media Criticism & News Literacy. Responses proclaimed that we help people think critically about the news they receive. Even more importantly, telling a story that is more than just the facts remains key without “washing out the character of the people involved,” as one panelist put it. This storytelling is indeed the “lifeline of the story.” And I couldn’t agree more that what we do is much more valuable and should be regarded with high authority due to its citizen activism lens.
Collaboration Between Newsrooms
The session on National/Local Collaboration challenged the audience to dig deeper. While we all may have our personal mantras for how to live as a journalist, each newsroom has its own belief system worth sharing with the community of Alternative Newspapers. Just like your favorite dish at Aunt Patty’s house for Sunday dinner: no matter how good it tastes, or how long you waited to get your plate, you have to share it with somebody because it’s just that damn good. This should be the mantra between ALT Weeklies as well. We are a family and we’ve gotta eat good meals together to stay stronger. Collaboration is how we do it.
Collaboration is key for building not only readership between publications, but also signifies the purpose behind the stories themselves. Often times, collaboration is talked about as a post publishing concept. But what could happen if our cities began to collaborate on the news gathering before the reporting begins? What stories might develop if we invited all of our cousins to Aunt Patty’s dinner instead of the same we always invite? Addressing collaboration from this perspective could possibly solve the efforts to bridge gaps between segregated communities and clear up some rumors about the intentions behind reporting on certain issues. It’s a matter of respecting the voices and expertise of local residents and writers, as one panelist put it plainly. However, we realize that problems with collaboration may exist including conflicting business models on affiliate papers, not to mention figuring out who will cover or launch a story of importance while other papers release supporting evidence without stepping on toes. The conversation is important to have and we must start now.
Hopes for the Future: Diversity is Key
The final session that resonated with me most was in Transformative Journalism. Here we listened to the main presenter openly share her experience with building a youth journalism literacy program while exposing the gaps within the News industry, told even more bluntly from a southern perspective. “Diversity too often sucks in our newsrooms,” said speaker Donna Ladd. She went on to express that she wanted to lead journalism to better understand its responsibility: “My aim is to dig deeper into every part of our cities, aiming to deal with both structural and cyclical issues,” she said. Ladd basically called out the elephant in the room: White Fragility. It exists in the newsrooms too. But maybe we aren’t addressing the core issue of the lack of reporting in some areas of our cities.
Isn’t our job as advocates in the network of Alternative News to keep it real? We should feel challenged to “dig for causes and vet solutions,” according to Ladd. We can’t take for granted what implicit privilege we might experience as journalists. When it comes to social justice issues, sometimes it’s easy to get access to certain audiences. Sometimes it’s not. Whatever your experiences, we have to take a step back from our egos and help local residents dealing with injustice tell their story, not our interpretation of it. Even worse in some cases, we have to stop reporting on social injustice despite a complete lack of understanding. As the conversation continued, tough questions were asked by the audience members following. A few gems stuck out to me about what could happen to positively impact the efforts of our newsrooms:
- Continue to advocate for intentional inclusiveness, both with content and staff hiring
- Engage the future journalists through collegiate outreach
- Target partnerships with orgs like the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to build a better network for building news literacy and generational trainings
Consequently, what we can do collectively is always better than what we can accomplish individually. I challenge the leaders in our industry to remember how valuable the perspectives of the young are. There just might be a chance to teach them how to tell their stories with conviction, infecting audiences nationwide with a desire to seek justice, listen more and dig deeper for the truth.
LeFlore, assistant editor at The Reader, was a winner of the 2017 AAN Diversity / Next Generations Scholarship. She attended the Annual Convention in DC and reflects here on some impactful experiences from her time there.