The role media plays in creating safe spaces


When journalists are kept out of the room because the community fears them

The following is a republished edition of GroundSourced, a weekly newsletter from GroundSource on listening and community engagement. It features successful community engagement efforts, highlights missed opportunities for listening, and offers strategies that help you engage and listen to your community. You can subscribe to GroundSourced here.

Last week, the national press picked up a story about New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez banning press from attending a campaign event. Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim tweeted Ocasio-Cortez was going to have a rough time in Washington D.C. “where reporters roam freely at all hours of the day and night.”

Derek Walters, Chairman of the Board at the National Press Club, remindedOcasio-Cortez “all parts of the first amendment are important.”

But campaign spokesperson Corben Trent explained that press was not allowed to attend in order to “help create a space where community members felt comfortable and open to express themselves without the distraction of cameras and press.”

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the event was “designed to protect and invite vulnerable populations to public discourse: immigrants, victims of domestic abuse, and so on.”

The back and forth turned an important conversation into an argument about how to categorize these types of events rather than the role media play in making spaces less safe. It’s the one thing I’d like to touch on today.

Journalism’s role in reproducing power relations and how it fosters distrust

Until recently, news organizations have not been overwhelmingly forced to reckon with how they reproduce existing dominant power relations, the thing that makes spaces less safe.

That includes considering the language they use (undocumented immigrant instead of illegal immigrant) or their points of reference (the view from nowhere or white heteronormative male points of view). The standard operating procedure for news organizations was to use people’s lives to produce content without any concern for the people whose lives they were touching.

In Philadelphia, a Tow Center for Digital Journalism report found that distrust of the media stems from that. What news organizations report and how they do it gives them undue and unchecked influence over the communities consuming or being featured in the news.

Here are two excerpts from the report:

On the malicious side of the spectrum, there was also a consensus among Germantown residents that the media often consciously chooses sensationalism over substance. Participants discussed corporate media’s desire to create “clickbait” due to financially-related motives, saying, “At the end of the day, it just all comes down to a dollar.

A number of participants also suggested that biased coverage of gentrification was financially motivated. Residents believed that the media is an organ for private businesses and political interests. Jamal said that the media was intentionally depicting North Philadelphia in a negative light because Temple University had plans to expand development in the area and wanted to keep property costs low.

Read the rest of it here.

More resources for journalists on safe spaces

GroundSource is here to create safe spaces for you to engage your community.