You know that feeling when criticism hits the mark? When your spouse tells says you are a slob, because you are? When your boss notes that you are scattered and it’s affecting your work, but you can’t find the time to argue plus, are those donuts in the break room?
Well, prepare yourself. Gregory Rodriguez has delivered a shot to our collective solar plexus.
Rodriguez is the founder of a wildly interesting enterprise called, Zocalo, which is Spanish for “public square.” Rodriguez founded the project 10 years ago as a response to what he saw as the segregated experience of life in Los Angeles. He found that even so-called public events and mainstream journalism served to separate us along socio-economic lines. Zocalo is run by the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, and its journalistic efforts are syndicated around the country.
This week Rodriguez wrote that American journalists are often their own worst enemies, that our collective cynicism about public processes is undermining our very business model. He notes public opinion polls showing that journalists are about as trusted as used car salesmen and points out “This chasm between vaunted self-regard and dismal public opinion suggests that journalists are out of touch with the public they claim to serve.”
Later he writes:
If American journalism ever wants to properly reflect the public it serves, it needs to discover new ways to bring regular people into the conversation. I’m not talking about more cheap social media tricks that ask people whether they agree with a court decision or what they plan to do over the long weekend. I’m referring to ongoing efforts to bring real people’s stories—with their conflicts of interest, their messiness, their refusal to be categorized in partisan terms—directly to the public. …
I could not agree more with how he lays out our mission. I also think that he’s primarily talking about large regional dailies. Most of us at Wick Communications are doing a much better job realizing that mission than perhaps he realizes.
Because it’s the newspaper I’m most familiar with, let me walk you through the latest edition of the Half Moon Bay Review. We not only have news that a police bullet killed a young Latino woman, we also have a separate story detailing the life of the woman who died. We offer two pages of local opinion. There is an editorial highlighting possible solutions to the problem of police interactions with the mentally ill as well as an 11-year-old writing about an overnight fishing trip that he calls “the best day of my life.” The week before we asked readers to write California State Parks to complain about a collapsed bridge. So this week we printed some of those letters. We have stories celebrating the diversity of the high school graduation class, of volunteers working to improve the homes of local seniors, of the need for more water conservation in a drought-stricken region. We graph rising revenues at City Hall. We have an entire page devoted to photos of a local Portuguese cultural celebration. And that isn’t half of what’s in the newspaper. You would be hard pressed to find a better representation of our community for any price, let alone 75 cents.
And I say all this not to bring glory to my own newspaper but just as an example of what you’ll find in good community newspapers.
Here is where his criticism hits home for me: Rodriguez points out that the work of real engagement goes beyond hashtags. I would add that some of the things necessary to build and reflect our entire community are exactly not the things you would do to increase search engine optimization and pageviews. As an industry, we suffer from a woeful lack of diversity. We’ve become overly enamored with ever-evolving digital tools. And we ought to ditch the “we know best” attitude that I catch myself affecting from time to time. For newspapers to remain relevant we must bring honor to the bottom rungs of society as well as the company’s bottom line.
I fear I’m preaching now, so I’ll stop. Please read Rodriguez’s essay. I bet you’ll find you can find points of agreement as well as points of your own you’ld make to him.