What to do about it

The Knight Media Forum draws hundreds of participants, including foundation funders, journalists, librarians, community activists and others. Photo courtesy of the Knight Foundation.

The path back to journalists regaining the public’s trust starts with rebuilding local connections. Too often, journalists have sat by themselves, pointing out their community’s problems without talking with residents or offering solutions.

“The shorter the distance between our neighbors and our news strengthens trust,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation. “… When there’s a distance between news and reader, when readers can’t have a common sense understanding for what they’re reading, you create a breeding ground of misinformation and disinformation.”

Ordinary people need to be heard more often, said Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, heard on NPR. Typically, the organization brings together family members or friends to talk about their personal history. The group has started a pilot program called One Small Step which features strangers — who share something in common but who have ideological differences — sitting down to record a conversation.

“I’m more concerned than ever about the divides in the country,” Isay said. “It feels like it’s almost a kind of an extinction-level event for our democracy if we don’t pay close attention to this. And that’s what I’m seeing as I travel around the country as well, the idea that we just don’t know each other, and the deep distrust that we have for one another, and the contempt we have for one another across political divides.”

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky (center), co-executive director of Resolve Philly, talks about how the program brings together diverse media outlets in Philadelphia to focus on collaborative topics such as poverty and re-entry from prison. Photo courtesy of the Knight Foundation.

Journalism for too long has been like a doctor who points out all of your symptoms and problems but rarely, if ever, suggests a cure or steps to better health, said Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, co-executive director of Resolve Philly, a collaborative reporting project in Philadelphia.

Solutions journalism points out the problem while also highlighting ways of addressing it. Resolve has done this as it pulled together more than a dozen media outlets to focus on the topic of re-entry from prison.

“When you shift from just looking at the challenges and the struggles of what it’s like to leave prison and having to rebuild your life in some way, and you shift to what’s actually working — you know, what are the hopeful stories,” she said, “all of a sudden the folks that you’re reporting on feel very differently about journalism, about the journalists that they’re interacting with, and sort of media in general.”

Andrew Conte, director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You may find all of his columns here, and you may reach him at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com