2020 was a challenging year, and 2021 has been too. A seemingly unending pandemic, a wrenching and incomplete racial reckoning, a contested election and a Capitol besieged. Swirling, toxic disinformation and increasing mistrust of the news. And quickening signs of global environmental crisis. So much confusion, loss, anger, angst. So much “distancing.” Too few chances to gather with those we care about.
But for us at the Agora Journalism Center, just like for countless other people, the past 18 months have also been a time of deep reflection. The pandemic forced a pause.
Working with the fantastic people at 8 Bridges Workshop and Dot Connector Studio, we engaged in a strategic visioning process to re-imagine what the Agora Journalism Center can be. Drawing on the insights of dozens of colleagues, collaborators, and fellow travelers, some key insights crystallized.
First, the connection between the quality and inclusiveness of news and information on one hand, and civic health on the other, is clearer than ever. When news is of poor quality, or isn’t trusted, or doesn’t reflect peoples’ real experiences and concerns, journalism’s critical role in fostering democracy is undermined. In this moment of crisis for democracy, Agora is called to an enlarged mission: To advance journalism that builds stronger relationships with communities in service to civic and information health.
Second, the practice of “engaged journalism,” which Agora has done so much to nurture over the past six years, is no longer a broad enough focus. To really connect the dots between information, engagement, and civic health, we need a bigger brush. Community-centered journalism is an increasingly recognized approach to relevant, sustainable journalism.
And third, while national media often drive increasing negativity and polarization, local media can play a critical role in re-connecting communities–but only when community is truly at the center of what journalists do. Local journalism is where the engaged, collaborative practices Agora has helped to shape and spread can really take root.
From our many conversations and reflections over the past 18 months, a renewed vision emerged: To be the forum for the future of local news and civic health in Oregon and beyond.
Today, we are delighted to launch our new website, enhanced by the development and messaging prowess of Daniel Bachhuber of HandBuilt and Jesse Friedman and featuring the beautiful artwork of Latoya Lovely. We think the new site highlights more effectively the insights and connections Agora has collaboratively produced, along with our many projects and reports–from our work on local journalism in the Pacific Northwest, to our Gather platform that convenes and supports community-centered journalists from across the country and the globe.
We’re also committed to sharing more of our insights on our Commonplace Forum, a new place to share and discuss what we’re thinking, doing, and learning. The name is inspired by the traditional use of “commonplace books”–a way to compile knowledge through collecting quotes, anecdotes, observations, and information. We aim to make Commonplace Forum a place to highlight and discuss what we are learning about the art and practice of community-centered journalism. Follow us there, on Medium and Twitter.