Newsroom experts

Telling the stories of your community in the age of Trump

“Journalism is our activism.”

Paul Pronovost, Cape Cod Times executive editor, reminded his newsroom how we as journalists deal with protests and other forms of advocacy in the crazy days after Donald Trump was elected president.

We go to the protests as journalists, and we hear the chants. We take video and photos to document our city’s reactions.

But what if our community isn’t protesting? And even if they are, how do we go deeper? What are journalists supposed to do in the face of a president who picks fights with them, an administration that arrests journalists covering the inauguration protests and charges them with felonies?

We’ve all read the stories. And as journalists, we’re people of action. Many of us want to do something.

Here is what we must do: We must tell the stories of our communities. We are storytellers, and one way we can serve our communities is to help people understand one another.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Immigration/the wall/refugees: Some of our newsrooms have covered large protests – at airports and in the streets. And they have reached out to elected officials, both local and national to get them on the record reacting to Trump’s orders. You can also tell stories about the human collateral. The Washington Post has collected stories of immigrants and migrants denied entry to the United States after Trump’s executive order.washington post detainedIn your community, do you have families that fear deportation? During the presidential campaign, my son told me that one of his friends who was born in the United States feared his father would be deported under a Trump presidency. Find the stories in your community. Find the neighbors who may be suffering.
  2. Affordable Care Act: Republicans have told us they can’t wait to dismantle the ACA. Find out how many people in your area are enrolled. State numbers are available, but see if you can drill down more to your county or city. If official breakdowns aren’t available, you can reach out to large healthcare providers in your area to request numbers. Be sure to put a face on the numbers. Find people who have used ACA and tell their stories. If you don’t know of anyone, reach out on social media for leads.
  3. Employment: Leadership and ethics guru Jill Geisler suggests that we become experts in the topics that matter most to our communities. And that we challenge the image of success, such as the Carrier jobs in Indiana that weren’t entirely saved.

Every one of Trump’s executive orders offers us opportunities to tell complex, rich stories of people in your community. They are opportunities, as News & Interactive Division VP for News Bill Church says, to do journalism with impact.

In fact, one of the most important actions we can take as journalists is to convene readers and listen to them. Listen to their hopes and their fears. Whether you start a reader advisory board or hold a town hall or take your editorial board on the road, be sure you reach out. Cape editor Paul Pronovost is starting something new this year: “coffee with the editors.” Some will be held at the newspaper office, and some will be in the community. Find a way to listen. Maybe what you hear will reinforce what you already believe, and maybe some of it will surprise you. It will definitely inform you and lead to more relevant news for your readers.

It may also build trust. And in a world of fake news and alternative facts, trust is a precious commodity indeed.

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