I have come to give you a report from the front lines of reporting in the future. The battlefield is ravaged, with limbs of stubborn old-school hacks blown all about; still, there is light in independent media, for we have come to understand that competition is a lock while cooperation is key.
Such soothsaying was possible last week in Philadelphia, where DigBoston co-publisher John Loftus and I joined more than 150 change agents who take pride in pushing buttons and envelopes. Hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University in New Jersey, the gathering showcased the potential of not only journalists working with other journalists and outlets, but also of reporters connecting with nonprofits, activists, and an increasingly participatory public.
There’s a lot of hope out there. We heard from Free Press and Authentic City Partners about their teaming with Grace & Glory Yoga in Atlantic City to mine that community for stories. And from Akoto Ofori-Atta, managing editor of the Trace, about how that platform recruited more than 200 student writers to memorialize the killings of young people by guns in this country.
Since we drove down in search of tips on how to cover a field of approximately 65 Boston City Council candidates and counting, we especially enjoyed explainers from the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, which brought together grassroots operations and larger public media to cover their last gubernatorial race. Also helpful in that regard was a session held by Chi.Vote, which brilliantly linked nearly a dozen outfits to centralize info on 200-plus hopefuls in Chicago’s last municipal election.
Almost everything we saw could be applied to issues and reporting in Boston. In our ongoing efforts to document the prison and parole gauntlet in Mass, we will be looking at the work done by Resolve Philadelphia in its excellent Reentry Project. Of course we already collaborate with the Cambridge-based MuckRock, which presented in Philly and whose new crowdsourcing tool we used to collect info for our recent gun investigation, and we’re thrilled to have finally hooked up with the Granite State News Collaborative, which is doing awesome things right next door in New Hampshire. It’s funny that we had to go to Pennsylvania to make that connection, but now that it’s been made, I’m sure that it will bear some fruit.
For icing on the cake, Rachel Glickhouse, who helped manage ProPublica’s tremendous Documenting Hate project, announced that her organization is launching a new tool for crowd-powered collaborations. Which is another win for small fries like us, who could never afford to develop such resources on our own but will enthusiastically take advantage of their open source inventions.
Finally, the sprinkles on the icing came from Darryl Holliday, a co-founder of City Bureau in Chicago. Always a force for people-driven progress via grassroots journalism, Holliday gave a keynote titled, “Don’t Just Engage, Equip,” noting:
Engagement can lead to a variety of positive outcomes like social media engagement, listener-driven questions, attendance at your events and new relationships between your newsroom and the public, among others.
Equipping, however, is about agency. It’s about providing access and opportunities for public participation and production. Equipping is about teaching and interconnected learning. It’s about exchanging skills and resource. It’s a redistribution of power between institutions and individuals.
And it scares the hell out of people in power.
I couldn’t agree more. If you feel the same way and want to see more of these ideas implemented in Boston, be sure to follow us at binjonline.org, and if possible, please support our efforts at givetobinj.org.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF