The ability of journalism to serve as our Fourth Estate—to be a check and balance on government and powerful interests—is under increasing threat. Journalism today faces multiple challenges: a faltering business model with shrinking resources; a political environment in which they find themselves under attack; and a climate of deep distrust by the American people.
In a 2017 survey, the Poynter Institute, a Democracy Fund grantee, found that only 49% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the media. We believe this distrust is connected to another problem: journalism’s lack of deep engagement with its audience, exacerbated by news organizations whose staff and coverage do not represent the communities they serve.
At Democracy Fund, one of our goals is to ensure that every American citizen has access to audience-centered, trusted, resilient journalism. To meet this goal, we are working to build a media landscape that truly serves the public interest. Through our Public Square Program, we support projects and organizations that enable newsrooms to build meaningful, trusted relationships with their communities through audience-driven storytelling, inclusion, and transparency. We call this work “Engaged Journalism” and have seen firsthand how practical investments in these organizations and ideas can have a transformative effect on newsrooms.
As a part of this effort, we’re re-launching the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab on Medium. The Engaged Journalism Lab will focus, not on how to get a grant from Democracy Fund, but rather on what our grantees and partners are doing and learning. We’ll also discuss the big ideas shaping the field and shine a spotlight on the people helping to make journalism more collaborative and engaged with its community. We hope it will serve as a resource for those working at the intersection of media and democracy.
Managed by Paul Waters and Lea Trusty, the Engaged Journalism Lab will feature content on a variety of subjects, including how newsrooms can better:
- Engage their communities in content generation, production, dissemination, and discussion;
- Address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within journalism through inclusive newsroom policies and practices, including recruiting, retaining, and promoting diverse staff and supporting minority ownership of independent media properties;
- Experiment with new tools and technology that aim to help the public and news distribution platforms identify quality, trusted news; and
- Rebuild and fortify trust between the media and Americans.
We recognize that these are not small goals—and we know we can’t do it alone. We believe that collaboration is the only way we can begin to solve journalism’s most pressing challenges, and as a systems change organization, we are committed to learning, iterating, and partnering in ways that strengthen both our work and the field at large.
It is our hope the Engaged Journalism Lab becomes a place to highlight new ideas and uncover new solutions that we haven’t thought of yet. If you have a question or a thought, please share it. If there’s an idea or project that we should know about, please let us know. You can reach us at EJLab@democracyfund.org. We don’t pretend to have all answers to journalism’s problems, but we hope this will be a place where we can work through them together.