If we’re trying to figure out how to meet the information needs of people and communities who’ve historically been ignored or overlooked by news organisations, then asking journalists, “Why did you become a journalist?” probably seems like the wrong question to ask to the wrong people.
But I’d ask you to think for a second about what your answer would be? For me, it’d be something like, “Because I wanted to tell people’s stories and help make the world a better place.” Hopelessly naive and idealistic maybe, but when I ask other journalists a heartening number of us come up with a pretty similar answer.
By coincidence, that’s exactly what marginalised people and communities want us to do. But I also ask a follow up question: “How much of that do you get to do in your day-to-day job?”. That’s when things get a bit trickier.
In fact, the business model of much of mainstream journalism – in print, online and increasingly on TV – is actually built on attacking and harming those who are the most vulnerable. In that context, it shouldn’t be any surprise that so-called “news avoidance” is at the core of the existential polycrisis facing the journalism industry.
I’ve written before about why “news avoidance” is the wrong framing for this problem, and why focusing on how we can provide real value for citizens is the only answer. Now, working as News Innovation Research Fellow for Media Cymru, and in collaboration with BBC News, I’m trying to figure out how we might do that.
Over the next two and half years, I’ll be addressing the challenge I’ve masochistically set myself:
“How might we tell different stories, in different ways, to meet the information needs of people and communities who don’t currently see or get a value from journalism, to enhance the capacity of citizens to understand and orientate themselves in the world and take action on behalf of themselves and their communities, because healthy societies rely on an informed public”.
To answer some of those key questions, the “News for All” project will start with participatory research and co-design, working on the principles of Design Justice. That’s about putting those who are generally the most adversely impacted by design decisions at the centre of the process. Rather than attempting to find a mythical “representative sample”, we’ll be working with those who are most marginalised in order to find solutions which work for everyone.
To give you an example of how that works, we started by writing down all the things that would normally happen in user-research…who we’d invite, who we’d get to lead the sessions, where they’d be held and who would get paid. When we looked down that list we realised that in fact the best way to run our research was to do precisely the OPPOSITE, and that’s what we’ve built for this project.
That process will eventually lead to prototypes that will be developed and tested, live, with BBC News. But I’ve always believed that processes are outputs too, so we’ll be sharing what works, what doesn’t, the big questions and the radical solutions, in a series of articles at journalism.co.uk. I’ll also be writing weekly notes on my own blog reflecting honestly on the ups and downs of the project.
We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, suggestions or would like to get involved in the work. You’re very welcome to get in touch at email@example.com and I look forward to sharing more here in the coming months.