Community engagement and sustainable DEIB systems: Lessons from Pittsburgh
Community listening is an integral part of API’s Inclusion Index program, and the Pittsburgh newsrooms participating in the program conducted listening sessions with local community members following the Index assessment of each newsroom and training on community engagement.
Ensuring your staff finds tangible ways to engage with the communities you serve is important in embedding sustainable DEIB systems in your newsroom, internally and externally. Taking opportunities to reach across and collaborate with other newsrooms (when it fits) can also relieve the pain point of lacking infrastructure. Community engagement efforts, such as establishing committees and listening sessions, are not one-off actions. Consistency not only continues to build trust with the communities your newsrooms serve, but also makes it a worthwhile investment.
API and the Pittsburgh cohort hosted two listening sessions as a part of the Inclusion Index program: one with Pittsburgh community members, and one with students of color at The University of Pittsburgh. Below are the newsrooms’ takeaways from conversations with their communities, and how they plan to integrate their findings into their coverage.
From the Cohort
PublicSource tries to produce meaningful, in depth and inclusive journalism, including under-reported stories on people, communities and ideas that are underrepresented by prioritizing audience engagement in data, investigation and records use, said Halle Stockton, editor-in-chief.
“For a long time PublicSource has been trying to chart a new path for how local journalism has been done and actually seeing everyone and fully representing communities, so [the Inclusion Index] was really natural for us to be part of,” Stockton said. “We just need to keep on doubling down and formalizing things, and recommiting constantly because it’s ongoing work. It’s a core value of our organization, both the people and how we act and how we do journalism.”
PublicSource is working to learn more about the community it covers and how to connect with them by exploring its identity as a news outlet and how to better fit into the community and reflect on its coverage, said TyLisa Johnson, former audience engagement editor at PublicSource. The newsroom is researching how best to build an infrastructure with its community advisory group, which includes what recruitment and compensation will look like.
“What we want from this group is mostly connection and feedback, so we want to be able to discuss the important ideas going on in the community, important events that we should be at, and reflect their feedback on what we could be writing about, our direction and our tone,” Johnson said.
Managing Editor Betul Tuncer said she wanted to bring the Inclusion Index to The Pitt News, especially since the University of Pittsburgh is a predominantly white institution, making it hard to ignore the lack of diversity and the lack of inclusion efforts.
“Participating in the study gave us a way to look at our own diversity more critically from an outside institute coming in to help us and provide more professional guidance; since we were the only student newsroom participating in this,” Tuncer said.
One initiative that stuck out to The Pitt News from other cohort members was the implementation of mental health initiatives.
“Mental health is very important and a big part of the college experience, but it’s not something that we directly addressed as a newsroom,” Tuncer said. “This initiative could be an opportunity for us to program sessions on how to manage mental health in a newsroom like The Pitt News and even more generally work-life balance. We’re looking forward to building relationships and engaging with the community more and addressing our internal culture.”
From the Community
Gina Winstead, vice president of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility at Carnegie Museums, said the community listening session she attended offered validity and value in having the ability to speak to the media about what misrepresentations and under-representations of the community’s identity in the news.
“I noticed we had different folks from different community organizations and contributors who were older Black writers, and there was a difference between how some of us perceived the direction of where we should go, and I think I got a lot of value from listening to some of the older participants that were talking about what they see as struggles and what they see as assets for change,” Winstead said.
She noted that younger Black participants shared their own spin on what new resources and media pools might be more representative of the community.
“I look would like to see more investment and attention given to folks who are sharing positive news — people who are doing great things in the community — and that can happen just by having relationships with the existing community and being in the know,” Winstead said.
Farooq Al-Said, director of operations at 1Hood Media, said he attended the listening session to make sure that the conversation was authentic and to have some face time with other representatives from newsrooms and journalists. He thought the dialogue was good, and there were community members from all different walks of life and aspects of the Pittsburgh community present.
“I can’t really speak on what the newsrooms are going to do with the information that was shared, but I know that Pittsburgh is a very unique city when it comes to the Black experience and the reporting on Black [communities],” Al-Said said. “It tends to be sensationalized, and this dynamic is why 1Hood exists. One of the biggest things we do is document the spectrum of the Black experience and to shift the narrative. There’s no coverage about everyday Black life in Pittsburgh, and newsrooms can change that by broadening their coverage and hiring more Black journalists.”
Change the Narrative
These pieces of coverage from Pittsburgh newsrooms exemplify how to achieve balanced and positive coverage of communities of color.
- This episode of PublicSource’s ‘From the Source’ podcast follows high school sophomore Ja’Nya Coleman and her career dreams of storytelling.
- The Pitt News stops by “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors” — the latest exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History showcasing Native American cultures, which takes visitors through the historical contributions of Apsáalooke women.
- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on the city’s first Black-owned, state-certified pre-apprentice program for the skilled trades, launched by the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
- Pittsburgh City Paper interviews author Natasha Tarpley as a guest of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Words and Pictures series on her childrens’ books and celebrating Black joy.
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