In a Difficult Year for the Media, Poynter Staffers on What They’re Thankful for This Year

From a Poynter Report post headlined “At the end of another difficult year in the media, Poynter staffers offer their thoughts on what they’re thankful for this year”:

Kristen Hare, local news faculty:

I’m grateful for local journalists every year, but this year I’m really grateful for several organizations that serve them: LION, INN and LMA.

LION has grown and honed its focus in the past few years and now has necessities that local independent newsrooms need, from a database mapping the local digital news ecosystem to support for journalists launching their own newsrooms to a podcast that shares what’s working. Next year, the Institute for Nonprofit News will launch a consortium of rural newsrooms, called the Rural News Network, aimed at building collaborations to better cover rural America. And the Local Media Association’s Local News Fund is now in another year of helping newsrooms raise funds from their communities to do critical work.

Independent, local journalism is the cornerstone of our democracy, and I’m so grateful for the efforts of all the people working to help local news through these difficult days.

Alex Mahadevan, program manager, MediaWise:

Poynter reporter Angela Fu summed up in a headline what I see as the 2021 story of journalism: “Not just a wave, but a movement: Journalists unionize at record numbers.”

I’m thankful this year for having a colleague like Angela who has doggedly covered labor in an industry that needs to improve working conditions for journalists — including more effective DEI initiatives, better pay, fair hours, parental leave and opportunities for future reporters who didn’t graduate from Northwestern. And I’m even more thankful that there’s enough conversation around labor that we are actually seeing some results in more than 35 union drives, pay studies at major outlets and new contracts — not just spats on Twitter.

Make no mistake, the journalism industry — from unions and labor activists to the newsroom leaders and hedge funds making decisions — has a long way to go when it comes to workers’ rights. But I am thankful for the attention on the issue this year, and hope to see a continued spotlight on labor issues at shops across the country.

Barbara Allen, director of college programming:

I am thankful for humor — that we seem to feel OK again about laughing, and about bringing laughter to others. The last 18 months have included so many truly terrible moments that sometimes I worried we’d never feel comfortable laughing in public again.

I just read “The Second Most Powerful Tool in Conflict,” a short Medium post by journalist and author Amanda Ripley, who suggested the two best ways to have conversations with people you disagree with are to actively listen and add levity.

As someone who trains young people to deliver mis- and disinformation debunking skills, I always remind students that a little laughter never hurts to break the ice and engender warmer feelings.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to people I’ve never met who are going to be good listeners and add a little levity around the dinner table when someone brings up polarizing misinformation. I know you’re not just changing the subject — you’re creating a safe space for common ground. Doing that extends the work of journalists and fact-checkers around the world who are striving to bring facts to citizens so they can make good choices for themselves and their families.

Mel Grau, senior product specialist:

I’m grateful for our ability to invest in creating connections for underrepresented people in our industry. With support from the Tegna Foundation, we launched The Collective newsletter for and by journalists of color in April. Thanks to the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter, we contracted a new host for The Cohort newsletter, Alex Sujong Laughlin. She took over in September. I love hearing from these new voices, and I’m eager to see how these communities grow in 2022.

Josie Hollingsworth, PolitiFact audience director:

I’m thankful for a semi-return to in-person work, yet I also appreciate the entire journalism industry’s transformation around the concept of “office time.”

Remote work may be happily permanent for many journalists out there. (I know lots of folks were remote before 2020, and I’m low-key jealous of how you all got to mentally and physically prepare for work-from-home.) The flexibility of remote work for caregivers is unmatched. Our industry has come a long way in a relatively short, but urgent, period of time to make space for people who don’t want to be in an office full-time.

Nevertheless, with a return to hours in the office, I remembered why I got into journalism: The people! And no, not the source interviews. For the actual folks in the newsroom. The eccentricities, the shared experience of media criticism that we seem to be unable to not do when we start to chat. There’s minimal meaningless small talk in newsrooms, and for that, I’m thankful.

Getting back into the office/newsroom this summer was in fits and starts: first out of insecurity about whether it was safe, then due to the delta variant, then because, well, I was unsure I could be a fully-fledged person in public all day. Still working on that.

Beyond the “office time,” I have most enjoyed gathering with coworkers for coffee, lunch, happy hour. Having the option to meet in front of a person instead of a computer screen has, for some reason, been revelatory to me. Catching up over a hot coffee al fresco, sharing in a sensory experience of weather and taste? It’s wonderful! Who knew? I’ll continue to venture out, bit by bit, but I’m hesitantly hopeful about gathering with colleagues in 2022.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst:

Financially, local news is not out of the woods by a long shot. It’s encouraging, though, how many sources of support have emerged. A partial list: readers and advertiser/sponsors, of course; member/donors; national and local philanthropy, both foundations and wealthy individuals; Google and Facebook through their charitable arms (and they may be paying for the content they borrow before long); Report for America; ProPublica and The Marshall Project mastering local partnerships; even Congress is taking a serious look at federal support, picking up a portion of the salaries of local news professionals. Then there are those journalists who don’t let a little thing like a downsizing keep them from their calling. They step up and do essential work for their communities, often with reduced pay or no pay. I am thankful for them.

Sitara Nieves, Poynter faculty:

I’m grateful for all the local public radio newsrooms that continue to invest in stories that matter. There are plenty of those stories to choose from — and you can hear lots of them just by listening to anything your public radio station produces — but here are two that have stayed with me this year because of the stories they broke, how they keep following that story over time, and how transparent they made their reporting processes.

The first story I’m thankful for is the reporting collaboration between Nashville Public Radio and ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, published in October: “Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge.” The story is horrifying, meticulously reported, and quickly led to local and state government responses, along with a request for a Department of Justice investigation from 11 members of Congress.

I also appreciate that the reporters, Meribah Knight from Nashville Public Radio and ProPublica’s Ken Armstrong, detailed their extensive reporting process in a methodology section at the end of the story: providing transparency that shows how the story was reported, and also offering a great primer for anyone interested in investigative journalism.

The second is WBEZ Chicago’s multimedia story “Drowning in Debt,” published this month, where María Inés Zamudio reported on how tens of thousands of Chicago homeowners — most in Black-majority areas — are in debt on their water bills after city leaders hiked water costs to raise revenue.

I’m thankful that WBEZ published their reporting methodology in a piece co-authored by data editor Matt Kiefer and Zamudio, which details how WBEZ began reporting the story in the first place. (They’ve been on this story since an initial investigative piece in 2019.) Zamudio and Kiefer show how they used the extensive data they gathered as part of their reporting, which I love. For example, they published the source code they wrote to build the databasethey created to identify vacant homes with water debt, and made data available for download.


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