Public Narrative has a straight-forward mission: to work with journalists to “balance the narrative about public safety, public health and public education,” according to the group’s president, Jhmira Alexander.
The goal is to make sure important achievements in those three areas are not only recognized by stakeholders but by the community at large, namely, by media coverage.
“If an agency like the Chicago Police Department or public schools makes mention of how, in CPD’s case, how crime decreased between 2017 and 2018. We should be seeing that in the headlines and if not, where is the disconnect,” she says. “The exact same when it comes to testing scores, different situations in public schools. How are we seeing that translated into headlines? We might see organizations share about good things happening in schools and communities, but we may not see that translate across all platforms.”
There seems to be “a total disconnect between what is communicated in meetings and what’s translated in media,” Alexander continues. She’s not calling for only good news, happy stories to be published, but she’s working with stakeholders to identify positive things that are newsworthy and work with media organizations to get those details and achievements out to a wider audience.
Part of that is explaining what a newsworthy story looks like and why. Another part is story choice decisions made by outlets.
“Story choice is so important to make sure all voices are heard,” Alexander says. “I think it’s real easy to be one-sided and push for your perspective without taking into consideration the value-ad there is to engage audiences that might not always look like you or agree with you. We’re at a critical time that forces us to lay our differences aside and find ways to collaborate whenever possible.”
Newsrooms, in turn, need to assess their makeup and see where they’re falling short, in terms of coverage and which communities might be missing.
“Just listening to their audience and understand what they’re interested in and remaining true to that,” she says. “That’s what makes a newsroom effective, if and when their stories can reach and really begin to transform the lives of people. That comes with a great measure of assessing and being honest with oneself about what went right, what went wrong, and where do we need to go from here.”
She also stresses to the community organizations trained by Public Narrative the importance of journalistic integrity.
“Journalistic integrity is so important in an age where everyone is screaming about fake news. It makes it hard to educate people on what to trust and what to disregard,” she says. “The role that journalists have in maintaining integrity for the sake of influencing our culture, it’s a really big one. I would encourage journalists to maintain that, to continue to maintain that, and even more so, be mindful. You make work for an outlet that has its own reputation, but being cognizant of your brand as a journalist.”