After the Pocantico conference on Independent Journalism

By Stephen Silha

In May 2015 a group of journalists and funders met around the question: How do we cultivate a vibrant, powerful, and resilient independent journalism ecosystem?

The gathering was inspired by a comment by Bill Moyers about the need for an independent journalism trust fund.  As a result of the Pocantico gathering, while we didn’t have any immediate outcomes related to a trust fund, we did establish more urgently the business necessity of addressing race.  Among the many initiatives we are aware of:

The Media Consortium adopted racial equity as its guiding strategic goal for the next five years. Executive Director Jo Ellen Kaiser reports:  “Our members were enthusiastic in embracing this goal; at our annual conference, 60 individuals from 45 outlets attended an all-day racial equity training led by Race Forward. We are pursuing a racial equity fund; a mentorship program for journalists of color; and collaborative work focused on issues of race.”

A new nonprofit journalism collaborative in Boston. During a recent call, Director Chris Faraone said, “The JTM event I attended at Pocantico, without it, there wouldn’t be a BINJ.” He writes:  “Having known almost nothing about nonprofit journalism before being invited to the retreat, I spent the weeks leading up to the conference studying various models. In the process my partner and I hatched a beta version of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and set out to support independent media makers and small publications.  After surveying the landscape and hanging with the learned gang in Rockefeller country for three days, I was hopeful for the first time since the Boston Phoenix shuttered in 2013. …We are mentoring the next generation of enterprise reporters; more than half of our features in the first year were written by first-time long form writers.   We’re launching new projects and initiatives each month, from the Boston Bubble magazine to an upcoming ethics colloquium. We’re still small and scrappy, no doubt about it. But [we made an] enormous contribution to the public dialogue in Boston this past year—more than a dozen features, nearly 100 columns, several neighborhood events.” [This effort also received funding as a result of Pocantico.] What’s more, the BINJ is pioneering in using the online source Medium to create new income streams: https://medium.com/@Fara1/and-now-a-word-from-the-local-journalism-nonprofit-thats-monetizing-on-medium-ac21cd1804b8#.wh6hnnkoq

And, they are spreading the model to other regions: https://medium.com/binj-reports/how-to-start-a-grassroots-nonprofit-journalism-incubator-from-scratch-af335489cda4#.nmasww41w

Information Trust Exchange. Bill Densmore writes: “I connected at Pocantico for the first time with Knight Foundation’s Jennifer Preston, and with Bill Buzenberg, who inspired me and RJI to push on what has become the Information Trust Exchange Project — http://www.infotrust.org  / Nearly a year and five task group meetings later, the creation of a shared user network that helps with privacy, identity, advertising and information commerce is dramatically closer to a reality.  The urgency of the need underscored by the Pocantico gathering, and the broad support for this big — but doable — network idea, the rise of ad blocking and “creepy” ad-surveillance, have all been part of the mix.”

Awareness of diversity.  Kevin Davis said the most important outcome for him was realizing “the importance of diversity, inclusiveness and ensuring that the people we serve are sitting at our table.”

To that end, Esther Kaplan reports, the Nation Institute launched the Ida B. Wells Fellowship to in March 2016 to promote diversity in journalism by helping to create a pipeline of investigative reporters of color who bring diverse backgrounds, experiences, and interests to their work. http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/about/2219/ida_b._wells_fellowship

Redefining “independent journalism”  San Francisco Public Press publisher Michael Stoll writes: There was definitely an undertone of redefining independent as an independence of mind — a willingness to challenge stereotypes, go deeper and take chances that profit-obsessed “mainstream” media wouldn’t.

Sources as narrators, not subjects. One independent journalist who attended, Julie Schwietert Collazo, explains that the Pocantico discussions have impacted her “in both small and big ways, from introducing constructive criticism into collegial conversations about editorial representation, to being more intentional about being representative with my sources and continuing to push toward a personal model of reporting and storytelling that privileges the sources as narrators and protagonists rather than passive subjects. I’ve also reached out to colleagues to develop and disseminate a list of subject matter experts who identify as Latinos/as, distributing this to colleagues who, in particular, complain that they simply don’t know how to be more representative.”  She also wrote an article on pay for independent journalists: http://alldigitocracy.org/how-can-we-fund-independent-journalism/

Culture shift.  Tracie Powell, founder of All Digitocracy, was a Knight Fellow at Stanford: “I made significant headway in figuring out that adding to audience has almost nothing to do with news organizations’ data collection or technology– both are already at our fingertips. The problem is culture. To that end, I’m hoping to conduct a case study, preferably in Philadelphia– both due to the ecosystem and the region’s demographic diversity.  While on fellowship, I also collaborated a bit on an initiative that offers some transparency on how freelance writers are paid.”

From journalism to community.  Just as the Pocantico participants moved ethnic journalism, audience and community to the center of its map of the ecology of independent journalism, Journalism That Matters found its center of gravity moving from the world of journalism more squarely into community engagement. Five months after Pocantico, JTM co-hosted the Experience Engagement gathering at the University of Oregon’s Agora Center in Portland.  Out of it came three engagement principles which are being tested as JTM refocuses on media deserts, communities of color and underserved communities:  “Nothing about us without us” / “Listening is our superpower”  /  “Speak truth to empower” https://medium.com/experience-engagement/towards-a-civic-communications-ecosystem-for-thriving-community-f4f75c4ca450#.njhaf448c

Moyers & Company. While the Pocantico gathering was originally inspired by Bill Moyers’ idea of creating a trust fund to support independent journalism, Moyers was unable to attend due to family obligations.  One of his longtime producers, Gail Ablow, attended the gathering and is now working with him on http://billmoyers.com . She continues to contribute ideas and perspectives from the Pocantico discussions to Moyers’ podcasts and speeches, including this one at the New York Public Library: http://billmoyers.com/2015/05/27/bill-moyers-speech-challenge-journalism-survive-plutocracy/

Relationship power.   A number of relationships either created or strengthened at Pocantico have resulted in funding, ongoing collaborations, and “keeping each other informed.”  YES! Magazine’s Sarah Van Gelder reports that Bill Buzenberg has been working with them part-time to strengthen sustainability.  Michelle Garcia is cooking up a new project in Texas.  Jay Harris has carried ideas to his new board role at Free Speech TV. Several funders said Pocantico’s opportunity to spend less-formal time with each other, and with other participants, was useful in their work.

Experience Engagement Brings Hope

Held on October 1-4, 2015 in Portland, Oregon in partnership with the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, 100+ people came together to explore what’s possible when journalists and community support each other to thrive.

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Graphic recording by Nitya Wakhlu

Thanks to Axiom News for their story on the conference:

Renewed Hope for Journalism Creates Shifts

 

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Dr. Ferrier appointed president of Journalism That Matters

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ATHENS, Ohio (Oct. 12, 2015)—The Journalism That Matters (JTM) board elected Dr. Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation, research/creative activity and graduate studies at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, as president of the organization on Oct. 4, replacing Chris Peck, former editor of the Memphis Appeal and outgoing president of ASNE.

Ferrier has been on the board of JTM for more than five years and has developed new programs for JTM such as the Create or Die series of events in Detroit and Greensboro that birthed media entrepreneurship innovations in those areas and across the United States.

Ferrier will lead one of the nation’s most visionary organizations that for more than 14 years has led conversations helping professionals to navigate the changing role of journalism. A signature approach of JTM has been to bring diverse stakeholders to the table and use unconference practices to foster breakthrough conversations and action.

A former newspaper columnist and managing editor for online communities, Ferrier has been a pioneer in digital media and content/learning management systems. Ferrier is a researcher and practitioner around online communities, hyperlocal online news, media entrepreneurship and online education. Ferrier is also the principal investigator for The Media Deserts Project that examines the changing media ecosystem using geographic information system technologies.

“Journalism that Matters has provided me with a unique perspective on the changing media ecosystem and the role of journalists, technologists, librarians, city planners and others on creating sustainable, local journalism,” said Ferrier. “It has also been a place of restoration for me of the passion and heart of why I got in to journalism,” she said.

“Our goal will continue to be to support those who are birthing the new media ecosystem and provide a space for them to imagine better.”

Ferrier completed a Ph.D. degree in Texts and Technology at the University of Central Florida. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Memphis and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

JTM also brought on two additional board directors: Mike Green and Jackie Hai. Green is co-founder of ScaleUp Partners a consultancy serving local leaders in the innovation economy. Hai is a multimedia artist and educator teaching at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

“JTM got its start when Chris Peck asked what it would take to have a national conversation about the future of journalism,” says JTM Executive Director and co-founder, Peggy Holman. “My thanks to Chris for his early and continued support. We wouldn’t exist without his vision. Our future is in good hands with Michelle Ferrier. She’s been a great contributor and partner since she first got involved. I’m excited to work with Michelle, Mike, and Jackie as we enter a new era of supporting communities and journalists to thrive together.”

 

Cross-posted from https://www.ohio.edu/scrippscollege/newsevents/news-story.cfm?newsItem=A8B6BD3F-5056-A81E-8D088B9AAC0CD480