VOICES: EMPOWER YOUR COMMUNITY THROUGH STORYTELLING
- “Voices” is a community correspondents program run by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education that trains residents from diverse neighborhoods (that may be underserved) to tell the stories of their communities in the pages or over the airways of the local news outlet.
- Based on a project run in partnership with The Oakland Tribune, and co-founded by former Oakland Tribune Editor, Martin G. Reynolds, Voices allows news organizations to reach into neighborhoods and communities that had not previously received a great deal of attention. The program was also replicated in Jackson, MS in partnership with the Clarion-Ledger, and in Sacramento, CA. Voices in Oakland graduated its fifth cohort June 30, 2017.
- As in the pilot project, correspondents’ coverage appears on a Voices website, created as part of the program, as well as on the host outlets’ primary distribution platform. If a newspaper, the content also appears in the pages of the printed edition.
- Participants are trained through a curriculum designed by the Maynard Institute and run by a local coordinator who works closely with the host outlet to define coverage priorities.
- The flagship program, Oakland Voices, has graduated 50 community storytellers since the pilot in 2010. Note: A gap in funding prevented the seating of a 2011 class.
- In Jackson, MS, one if the program’s graduates, Rachel James-Terry, is now a contributing columnist for the Clarion-Ledger and was able to make a complete career switch from paralegal to a member of the communications team at Jackson State University.
Because coverage of poor communities and communities of color often centers around issues of poverty and violence, Voices coverage is conceived with the goal of helping the audience understand the nuanced and universal issues in these communities. The following objectives will enable Voices to attain this goal:
- Provide a complete wrap-around community engagement program that connects the host news outlet to the community.
- Rebuild trust between the host outlet and the community.
- Cover stories that would otherwise go untold.
- Provide residents with the skills and outlet to tell the stories they feel reflect their community.
- Empower these participants to rethink their relationship to the media, and embolden them to be the storytellers on behalf of their fellow citizens.
- Produce and publish stories in the host outlet and on its website that more accurately reflect residents’ vision of their community.
- Many of the gains newspapers made in covering poor and/or communities of color have been eroded as the business suffers the worst economic crisis in its history. Efforts to diversify newsrooms and provide more complete and distinct coverage have been severely hindered in this economic climate. One newspaper executive went so far as to say diversity is off the table and that survival is the number-one goal. While circling the wagons may seem like the wise approach, it is shortsighted. This nation is becoming more diverse than at any time in its history. To remain relevant to changing communities newspapers must embrace the dynamic demographic shifts happening before their eyes.
- The steady erosion of trust in media, which has been exacerbated by a caustic election season and a president who openly asserts the press is the enemy of the American people, has made the need to engage communities in the journalistic process all the more vital.
- Voices tackles this issue by training local residents to tell their stories. In addition, the project helps rebuild and/or strengthen the bonds between the host news outlet and the community.
- Maynard Institute co-founder Robert C. Maynard famously said a newspaper should be a tool for community understanding. By empowering community correspondents to tell their own story—stories that often go untold—this project hopes to help the entire community see itself whole.
- Increasingly, philanthropic institutions have begun to understand the impact media has on individuals and communities. A 2006 Dellums Commission Report released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. revealed with stunning clarity the role the media plays in forming people’s perceptions about other groups.
- For the groups Voices endeavors to reach, many of the perceptions formed by the coverage of media are negative. Further studies have shown that consuming repeated negative images are unhealthy for those portrayed, and can shape the perceptions of others. This toxic mix, the Dellums study found, can have severe impacts in the areas of education, admissions, mentoring, employment, hiring, promotions, social networking and other market transactions. As a result, foundations, many with funding priorities that may have nothing to do with media, have begun to support journalism initiatives.
How Voices works:
- The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education has a long history of training journalists of color as reporters, leaders, multimedia editors and managers. The Institute, in concert with the host outlet and a local correspondent coordinator, designs a curriculum to train the selected participants.
- The Maynard Institute works with the host to secure outside funding to cover the cost of the bulk of the 9-month program. In return, the host outlet commits to publishing content produced by the participants when it is ready.
- The host outlet also commits to providing some level of in-kind support, whether it is computers, reporters or editors conducting short seminars, etc. The idea is to get buy-in from the host paper so this program achieves its intended goals.
- Oakland Voices continues to maintain its relationship with the East Bay Times (formerly The Oakland Tribune). Voices correspondents meet at the paper, receive training from journalists and contribute a bi-monthly story or column that appears in the paper and on the outlet’s website.
- Oakland Voices has developed a dynamic collaboration with KALW Public Radio, co-producing stories as part of the stations’ Sights and Sounds of East Oakland project. Voices correspondents come up with the topics and then work with KALW radio producers to create radio and print stories. Two of the stories were performed live during the Sights and Sounds community event at Castlemont High School on April 30 and all of the pieces air.
- In its first year, the joint project won a Community Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal Chapter.
Cost: $150,000 per cohort (up to 10 correspondents per 9-month program)
- Part-time coordinator who runs the program and manages relationship with host outlet
- Stipends for correspondents
- Curriculum development by Maynard Institute
- Program management by Maynard Institute
- Social media engagement consultant
- Website development and management
- Website hosting fees and other costs
- Nominal honorariums for trainers
- Alumni projects for graduates