Inside the Inclusion Index: Center community voices with this research-driven approach

In our final installment of Inside the Inclusion Index, we’re excited to highlight others whose work aligns with the API Inclusion Index, as we can’t advocate for change alone.

Meet Danielle K. Brown, PhD, project lead of the LIFT Project.

Brown is the John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equity in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her frustrations with how we communicate with each other sparked her interest in the research she conducts to investigate the intersection of media, marginalized communities and social justice. 

Brown has advocated for changes that challenge the norms and routines within newsrooms. Her findings have revealed patterns that newsrooms have yet to shake, and the slow progress to rectify these patterns can be discouraging. “I haven’t lost faith,” Brown said, “I’ve just found that maybe I’m not the right voice to continue to yell because it’s getting old and I’m getting tired. I think that the LIFT Project stemmed from that experience of what one does when they find the same patterns and the intervention isn’t working.”

In an excerpt of our conversation below, Brown shares more about the research process and goals around growing the LIFT Project model.

This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity and length. You can read the full version of the interview here

Give us an overview of the work you and your colleagues are doing at the LIFT Project. 

The LIFT Project seeks to throw away the model of centering the legacy of journalism — where you’ll walk into a newsroom and say, “This is bad, let’s find ways to fix it,” and instead, center communities and think about the solutions they would want. We really take a “meet you where you’re at” approach.

We survey community members here in the Twin Cities about how much they like the news, how much they watch it, why they do or don’t watch the news, and who they trust to give them the news. 

What are you hoping to accomplish with these surveys?

We want to figure out who the community gets their news from, and then we talk to those people about what kind of news they give, how they get the information, how accurate the information is, and what their experiences are with the media and what it’s been like. Do they have an opportunity to have a voice? If not, what can we do to fix it? 

The idea is not to network trusted messengers with the whole newsroom, because we can’t fix that legacy, but to network them with the change agents who are doing the work in our newsrooms that is hard and grueling. We’re figuring out how to connect these Black journalists with the communities they’re reporting on so they can also help bring in new sourcing narratives for their broader newsroom.

How do you foresee the expansion of this model in other communities across the U.S.?

It would be shortsighted to say that I could just scale this and it would be perfect in another city. What I hope is that we are able to expand into other spaces with this model of “meet them where they’re at” and gather information in a safe way to identify whose voices are missing. The idea of LIFT was “lift your voice,” right? And if those voices were there, people might be more willing to engage with the news. 

It’s not a perfect model, but I think that it’s at least an anti-racist model that says, “We’ve done harm in your community as a news organization, so we’re going to let your community have more space, and more opportunities for a voice that you didn’t have before.”


+ DEI goals can support the mental health of BIPOC newsworkers, including tangible measures to address online abuse. Resilience in the face of slow progress must be supported.

+ This study examines how newsrooms have approached source tracking and the logistics of carrying out surveys and data analysis. The newsrooms also provided reflections and advice for other newsrooms hoping to start or refine source tracking initiatives.

+ Talk to your own community members, to sources or even to people in your own life about their perceptions of journalism. Your goal is to learn what people feel journalists get right and wrong, and how journalists can better reach, reflect and be relevant to the people they aim to serve.