In the past couple of years the United States has been roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic, by a long-simmering racial reckoning, by rampant disinformation, and by anti-democratic challenges to the 2020 election. In this moment, democracy itself seems threatened. But opportunities exist for local journalism to play a critical, collaborative role in democratic renewal. Growing distrust in the news is intensified when news media marginalize community voices. Research has shown that when local media wither, communities lack the information they need to participate in civic life and hold leaders accountable. And when local media are replaced by national news in peoples’ information diets, political polarization increases while local participation declines. But when local communication infrastructures are strong, communities have not only more information, but also more ability to access and contribute to the stories that build and bind them.
Vibrant local information ecosystems are critical to civic health–defined as the ability of diverse communities to engage and work together to address shared problems. Community-centered journalism can provide quality, trusted information and improve understanding across community differences.
Agora is well positioned to leverage new opportunities to build this kind of community-centered journalism. For the past six years, we have built relationships and provided workshops with local news outlets and community organizations in the greater Portland area, the Pacific Northwest, and around the country. Our multiple projects and workshops have given us insights into how local news organizations and communities are grappling innovatively with today’s challenges. We have built a strong network of practitioners that puts us in constant communication with journalists and educators striving to do journalism differently and better. And in all we do, we leverage the research and storytelling expertise of our University of Oregon faculty and students.
We are ready to apply these assets to systematic work aimed at:
- Building a collaborative, sustained laboratory for improving the local information ecosystem in Portland and Oregon. In an era where, more than ever, single media organizations cannot bring about change on their own, we want to facilitate the understanding of our communities’ information needs and collaborate with information providers to fuel successful journalistic innovation.
- Creating and sharing research, case studies, tool kits and insights to disseminate across the news industry and throughout the nation. We want to curate and share what’s working, based on all we are learning from our national networks and our own local projects.
- Pioneering a rigorous, ongoing assessment of the health of information ecosystems in Oregon. We want to document strengths and gaps in our communities’ information and communication networks, in order to point toward opportunities to strengthen our region’s civic health.
- Developing curriculum focused on how media can innovate to regain relevance and purpose through community-centered journalism. We want to lead the way in training the journalists of tomorrow how to create more vibrant local information, storytelling, and understanding across communities. Our curricula for journalism students and journalism professionals will showcase the lessons being learned from all of the activities listed above, and provide a framework for journalists to grapple with practical challenges and ethical considerations of producing journalism that works collaboratively with communities.
Let’s create healthy local information ecosystems together
Learn how we hope to engage with you, and please take a survey on the following linked pages so we can start on the right foot:
Illustration by Latoya Lovely.