The future of journalism is not you

So yeah, that’s a provocative headline. It feels accusatory, exclusionary, even hurtful. Welcome to the news-reading experience of vast swaths of the population.

We have to face the truth. Most mainstream news outlets create harm in our communities. They misrepresent, exploit experiences, scapegoat those experiencing marginalization and even drive further harm through racist, transphobic, classist, ableist, patriarchal. and capitalist reporting. This is true of the U.K. where we’ve been working together — and on different levels experiencing harm first-hand — but it is also true of legacy media in the U.S. and around the world.

“I don’t see many people like me on the news, but I’m quite happy about that. I don’t trust the news trying to tell our stories.” This is what a Muslim woman told Bureau Local (U.K.) when trying to explain her fear of the media.

Time’s up on news outlets that operate this way for profit, political influence, and the protection of the status quo. The good news (no pun intended) is that projects like Media 2070 (U.S.), BBC and Beyond (U.K.), and organizations like The Objective (U.S.) are filling the accountability vacuum and challenging the very industry that holds up “accountability” and “holding truth to power” as its most celebrated anthems.

Tomorrow’s news industry will change as a result of this accountability. It will challenge the often heard excuse that these communities are “hard to reach” and acknowledge they have been badly served and are reached and served best when ownership and representation is rooted in communities. Just look at the growing number of community newsrooms and initiatives that put equity and community power at the heart of their operations. In the U.K., see Greater Govanhill, The Ferret, The Bristol Cable, Black Ballad, and Gal Dem. In the U.S. see City Bureau, Outlier Media, Scalawag, Resolve Philly, Tiny News Collective and the Future of Local News Coalition’s prediction this year to dream bigger or lose out.

Tomorrow’s journalism will act on multiple fronts. It will challenge the power this industry has hoarded and weaponized for too long. It will share and shift that power (Check out this, this, and this). Crucially, it will support the building of new power in communities. Integral to this is for those of us inside to stop centering ourselves and trying to own the solutions, stop looking only within our small, privileged industry and to step aside, make space, and get behind others.

This past year, via The People’s Newsroom, we ran a pilot to support those who’ve been harmed by the media to reclaim it for their benefit. In doing so, we met tomorrow’s leaders.

We met Shakria Morka, who said, “As a Black, disabled woman, the experiences of neurotypical white men who have dominated traditional journalism are directly oppositional to mine.” She called for transformational inclusion and said, “Inclusion means truly valuing the contributions, perspectives and lived experience of marginalized people and allowing us to take up paid roles.” She said the work is not inclusive “if the nature of journalism itself does not change and if we fail to rip apart harmful stereotypes and consult communities.”

We met Shazia Ali, who said that opening a newspaper filled her with trepidation as she feared what Islamaphobic slur would then show up in physical hate. Yet when she discovered Amaliah, a Muslim women’s publication in the U.K., she said, “When I go on to Amaliah’s site, “I can breathe easier. That is what news belonging feels like.” She’s now a BBC journalism apprentice, and says she’s “doing it for all the communities that the news has failed.”

Shazia’s mantra is where the future lies. Tomorrow’s journalism belongs to those who’ve been excluded, harmed, and failed by the media. It belongs to the communities that most need its power. In their hands it can be reimagined and reclaimed as a true community service that enacts positive change.

We all know there is a crisis in journalism. There is a breakdown in the business model and a breakdown in trust, and those two things are not unrelated. That is down to who holds the power and who tells the stories. This is because, for the group of people running the industry, the system works just fine as it is. Yet it’s worth remembering that they actually represent a tiny proportion of the population. It’s impossible for them to reflect the true richness of society, but if we let them, they will preside over the death of journalism.

So, we’re not going to let them. We’re going to shift this power and support the next generation of journalists, editors, and owners to reclaim journalism for us all.

Megan Lucero is the founder of the Bureau Local and People’s Newsroom. Shirish Kulkarni is a journalist, researcher and community organizer.

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