Karma kicks back

By Josephine Stratman

One day last August, I was reporting on a shooting in an auto shop in Hunts Point, in the Bronx. A tow truck driver had been fatally shot in a gunfight after an angry teen customer, unhappy that his car wasn’t fixed and he had to pay a deductible, instigated a gunfight. The teen was charged with manslaughter.

I went to the scene the day after the shooting, hoping to track down witnesses and find more information about the victim’s family and the victim himself.

The article we already had online detailed the gunfight, along with some more context: The victim had just been charged with a fatal hit and run.

I expected to just catch some workers who might give me a vague quote about the victim or confirm a picture — basic information another reporter had already obtained. To my surprise, the first person I found at the auto shop was the victim’s brother.

I introduced myself and expressed my condolences. But as soon as the brother heard what outlet I was with, he completely shut me down.

The brother said another reporter from my outlet who had been there the day before messed up coverage of the shooting, misquoting one auto shop worker and making the victim “out to be something he’s not.”

“That’s not who he was… they made it look like karma,” he told me. “His kids are gonna have to see that for the rest of their lives.” He felt his brother had been misrepresented and inaccurately portrayed by my outlet’s reporting.

He was angry. I talked him down and apologized on behalf of the outlet if there had been any inaccuracies. I asked him to explain the supposed misquote, telling him the only way to get a different side of his brother’s story out there would be for him to share it.

The brother stayed adamant, telling me he couldn’t trust us — couldn’t trust me — after the last article.

As journalists, we have to be aware that our interactions with people are impactful beyond just us. Often, when we report on local or community issues, our sources have never spoken to a reporter. Our everyday is sometimes their once-in-a-lifetime.

And that means our responsibility to the truth applies not just our articles but to our interactions.

In the situation in the Bronx, I’m not sure if there’s a clear right or wrong. Did the other reporter misquote the auto shop worker? I can’t know for sure. It’s possible; mistakes happen.

It’s also possible that the brother was simply hurting from the loss of his brother and lashing out at me as a representative member of the media, who didn’t portray his brother in the most flattering light.

Regardless, the point stands: Mistakes matter. It’s perhaps the most basic rule of journalism. Inaccurate reporting harms reputations, outlets’ credibility and can even put public safety at risk. A 24-hour news cycle and constant competitive pressure can increase the likelihood of mistakes.

Fifty-five percent of Americans say careless reporting is a major factor behind significant mistakes in news stories, according to Poynter. Forty-four percent say they stem from a desire to mislead the public. They also point to ill-intentioned reasons, like the fast pace of breaking news.

Factual errors reinforce the public’s distrust of the media. They heighten the sense that journalism isn’t for public service but personal gain. Over and over, I’ve heard the same sentiment: Reporters don’t care about us, they just want page views and a front-page story.

That day in August, I circled the block and grabbed lunch to give the victim’s brother some time to cool off. After, I went back to the auto shop to try one more time, to ask the brother point blank what was supposedly inaccurate in our story. But he had left.

Mistakes matter not just because they’re factually incorrect, but because they erode the public trust, making it less likely they’ll stick around when we try to correct them.

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A Hard Truth

A Hard Truth about the Truth in Journalism

By Hayley DeSilva

As a young journalist on the precipice of graduation and getting out into the field, I am nervous.

While I’ve been told several times that I’m not alone in that camp, it’s not just the expected jitters that come with being a rookie that I’m wholly concerned about.

I’m afraid of the way the perception of news is going. More specifically, that we’re finding ourselves in a world where sometimes even facts are controversial.

I had a professor who sat our class down one day and told us a story of a reporter who did a story on the presence and dangers of global warming. A fact, no less, that has been continuously shared from scientists or other reputable sources time and time again.

He continued that this reporter found themselves in hot water, that their reputation and credibility was being questioned by those who refuse the existence of global warming.

It makes me wonder about, and at times even doubt, the value society places on journalism.

Seeing how reporters and publications are constantly under attack for being biased and opinionated makes me feel like it’s not enough to just seek and report the truth anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of journalists who make mistakes–and plenty of people on news stations who are being presented as journalists when they’re really just someone on a soapbox while they’re on air (I’m looking at you, Tucker Carlson.)

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel like there’s this kind of mystifying gray area in the world of information. The way I’ve been taught, facts are facts. If you have the proof, where’s the sense in denying that?

Yet, there are people who value the words of politicians and mouthpieces who affirm their preexisting biases and ways of thinking more than a reporter with stacks of FOIA’s, hours of interviews, and data that makes your head spin.

It’s no longer the days of Walter Cronkite, who refused to give his opinion on air until the Vietnam War, which he had been covering and evaluating. In an editorial report following his investigation, he stated that he thought the war was unwinnable. Then, President Lyndon B. Johnson was widely rumored to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

While some can still argue Cronkite giving his opinion was unethical, the fact remains that people believed him because he had never offered up his analysis of any story previously. Not to mention, they understood he had witnessed firsthand the reality of the war, which was the opposite of what Johnson was telling the public at the time.

Nowadays, certain presidents and people in power have upped their game. They’ve made us the enemy, us the one’s not to trust—most recently seen during Donald Trump’s presidency, which was effective in turning people against the media. He’d refuse questions from the press, has sued publications for libel, and attempted to strip correspondent’s White House press badges.

Maybe it’s not the majority of people, but it’s one too many who’ve fallen prey to that political tactic. It’s scary to think that so many people refuse to find out for themselves, to let someone else do the thinking for them and just follow without question.

We’ve seen the damaging effects that can have in our world. Imagine if Cronkite hadn’t reported about what was really going on in Vietnam. Or, if the Pentagon Papers, a once sealed study on the history and development of the Vietnam War, were never released–if those brave journalists at the Washington Post or the New York Times hadn’t published them despite facing federal criminal charges for doing so.

News, factual news, is a necessity for the American people–who have a right to know what the government is up to. But if those people refuse to listen, what then?

I know all I can do is what I’ve been taught. When I first set out to pursue journalism, all my college essays revolved around the height of the ‘fake news’ crisis and how I wanted to be a reporter who worked against that.

Four years later, I still do, and that value for the truth and a right to information has been a core principle in all of my classes.

I wish people who doubted the validity of the news could see that. To sit in those classrooms and see we are taught that the truth is paramount–that you never report what you cannot prove.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that seeing it all would just be another fact they’d refuse to believe.

The Power of Person-First Language

By Maureen Dunne

Aaron Tucker was taking the bus to a job interview in a neighboring Connecticut city one Wednesday when he saw a serious car accident. He sprang into action — jumping off the bus and rushing to the overturned car just as it started smoking. He and two other bystanders pulled the driver from his overturned car, where paramedics were able to take him to the hospital.

After his selfless act, ABC News ran this headline: “Ex-convict misses job interview to save motorist.”

It reduced Tucker, a 32-year-old father of two who had gone out of his way to help a stranger, to one aspect of his past irrelevant to his actions. The way the newsroom described one aspect of his identity tainted the way in which readers perceived him, and his act.

Person-first language can seem counterintuitive in journalism. In a field where clarity and succinctness is prioritized, adding an extra preposition to a sentence seems unwieldy. As a student journalist and editor in student newsrooms, I’m guilty of not having been conscious of the power of putting people first — especially with a deadline looming. But, person-first wording can dramatically alter the way in which the subjects of our reporting are seen and treated by our readers.

Admittedly, “ex-convict” is a bit more eye-catching than just “man,” but at what cost? How would readers have perceived Tucker differently had the headline described him as “father?” Would the tension between the word ex-convict and his selfless act be absolved if the article described him as being “formerly incarcerated,” instead of calling him an “ex-con?”

Disability rights advocates have long emphasized the impact of person-first language when writing about people who are disabled. Word choice can mean the difference between dehumanization and empowerment.

Describing someone who uses mobility aids as “wheelchair-bound,” a phrase I’ve read so many times, suggests a wheelchair is a hindrance to, instead of enabling a person’s autonomy and movement. The phrase positions being able to move about unassisted as the default, when countless people are unable to do so.

The assumptions contained in that phrase alone can alienate readers who use mobility aids.

The Associated Press Stylebook recommends ditching identify-first language, like “disabled person,” for person-first language, like “person with a disability.” In cases where the right terminology isn’t immediately obvious, it recommends going with the descriptors members of the community themselves prefer.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit publication dedicated to covering the U.S.’ criminal justice system, released a style guide to covering incarceration with a series of reflections on language penned by people currently in prison. One such reflection details how the word “inmate” is dehumanizing for people who are incarcerated. The writer sees it as stripping an incarcerated person of their individuality and worse, humanity.

I would not have known the gravity of using that phrase to describe someone who is incarcerated. Reading about its impact directly from someone who has felt its weight made me more conscious of how a seemingly innocent or common term may inflict harm onto those whom I use the word to describe.

At the end of the day, the communities we cover are people: People with disabilities, people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, people who are unhoused. Good reporting should be inclusive and accessible to all. Something as simple as being intentional about our wording — and putting the person first — is inclusive for our readers and empathetic to our sources.

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An Unignorable Problem

By Megan Avery

My therapist was surprised by my choice of profession.

I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, since childhood. Social situations can cause an undeniable state of dread. I avoid talking to strangers.

Journalism is bookended by those stressful social interactions. The meat of this job is personal connection.

I started this journey knowing my illness could be an issue. My therapist gave me contacts in the city. I prepared for the increased levels of anxiety that college would bring.

Then the first case of COVID-19 was discovered.

The country was in a state of high alarm. Journalists found themselves working from home. Many still braved the outside world in search of the truth. We worked to bring information to every fearful person in America. It took its toll.

The pandemic has caused higher levels of mental health disturbance in journalists. According to studies done by the International Center for Journalists, 82% of people surveyed reported negative emotional reactions caused by the pandemic.

The awareness surrounding mental health has increased in recent years. The intense workload contributes to higher stress levels. When left untreated, this stress can develop into anxiety and depression.

Multiple journalists have spoken out about how journalism affects mental health. A reporter at The Daily Beast, named Olivia Messer, ended up leaving her position due to extreme levels of stress. She said, “I have since interviewed a dozen local and national journalists. Many of them told me they do not feel… that they have the tools they need to handle the trauma they are absorbing.”

Julie K. Brown, a journalist who wrote about Jeffery Epstein’s crimes, met with her therapist many times during her investigations. The stories she heard were devastating. They lingered after the story’s publication. She found herself unable to sleep at night. Instead, she would review her research into the early hours of the morning.

While we are journalists, we are also humans. The emotions we report about don’t dissipate once the story is over. The industry is acknowledging the mental health issue. The next step is fixing it.

Dr. Glenda Gordon, a chief medical officer, wrote an article about mental health within the journalism field. She says, “only a few formal resources exist for aspiring journalists to learn about how to handle trauma and mental health issues.” Gordon continues by asking where mental health lands in the college curriculum.

DePaul does not have dedicated classes for navigating mental health in the field. Some professors touch on this concept. During my own college years, the topic has only been mentioned a handful of times.

The International Center for Journalist’s pandemic impact study collected positive experiences as well. They reported that 61% of journalists surveyed gained a better commitment to journalism during the pandemic. Another 43% of participants said that audience trust levels increased.

Take a deep breath. See where tension rests in the body. Check in with yourself. Mental health is important to all, not just those with diagnosed illnesses. As journalists, we can only keep going if we take care of ourselves.

Report despite fear

By Grace Ulch

I am a coward.

When people were hopping fences, I was taking the long way around. As kids zipped down the mini fire pole at playgrounds my second foot was cemented to the jungle gym. Friends would shout from their bike ahead, “look, no hands!” I would shudder at the thought of legs and arms covered in scrapes from lost balance.

I wish I could say this got better with age but my fear of getting myself into trouble just changed forms. Instead of cuts and bruises I now fear irritated neighbors or miffed bosses at countless customer service jobs (even if they irked me first).

As I spend more time reporting it dawns on me how ironic it is that a self-proclaimed coward chose a profession that above all else, other than accuracy, requires bravery.

When insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, Sarah Wire of the L.A. Times never let her notebook leave her hand.

She took many risks that day. Despite having an 18-month-old in the middle of a pandemic she “leaped” at the chance to cover the counting of electoral college votes for the 2020 Presidential Election. Before anyone could comprehend the magnitude of the riots, there were rumblings of a protest. Wire’s husband feared it could turn dangerous.

Through the distribution of escape hoods and cracks that sounded like gunshots splitting through the air Wire turned to Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) and asked, “Can I do the hardest part of my job and ask you what you are thinking right now?”

Editor at Nieman Storyboard, Jacqui Banaszynski says journalists become immune to the heightened emotions because this job requires a person who will race to be the first on the front lines rather than sit back.

“The job demands that you quit stewing and go in search of answers. Anxiety funnels to a point of clear action,” wrote Banaszynski.

Many didn’t expect the lootings and riots on Chicago’s own streets in the summer of 2020. Again, dangerous for many reasons. People knew exponentially less about Covid, and a vaccine had yet to be approved for administration. So, anyone present; young, old, activist, police officer, reporter was putting themselves in harms way.

This was combined with what would result from the anguish felt by Black and Brown people as they continue to battle against racial tension across the nation brought to a crescendo when a Black man named George Floyd was killed by a police officer.

In the thick of an emotional movement journalists needed to be the ones running towards the proverbial burning building, standing side by side with the movement’s most influential players and asking them their why.

The job is to tell the public what is regardless of the what ifs.

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Ethics still matter in sports journalism. So why has it been forgotten by many recently?

By: Lawrence Kreymer

There seems to be a growing problem in sports journalism, namely reporting something first rather than getting it 100 percent right. It’s a trend that has seemingly been growing in the past couple of months.

A few weeks ago, for example, Adam Schefter – ESPN’s lead NFL reporter – wrote on Twitter and in an article that quarterback Tom Brady was going to retire. As more information started to trickle in, Schefter’s reporting on that day proved to be inaccurate.

Brady did announce his retirement a couple of days later, but multiple people in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ organization and Brady’s agent disputed Schefter’s original reporting.

This has also been an issue locally in the past several months. A report surfaced from Patch.com in November that Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy would be getting fired after Thanksgiving.

Several days later, however, that reporting was also proven to be false. There have been other instances both in Chicago and around the country where sports journalists rush to report a story without confirming that the information is accurate.

Ethics have to matter in sports journalism. It shouldn’t be about who gets the scoop first or who can send out a tweet before someone else. It should be about verifying the information and making it sure it’s 100 percent accurate before publishing that story.

Plain and simple.

There seems to be some sort of competition between reporters who cover the same sport about beating your competition to the scoop. That is wrong. Journalism is not about one individual reporter, it’s about informing the public.

As someone who has always been interested in becoming a sports journalist, it is concerning that the field has become more about clicks and retweets over accurate and fair reporting.

That’s not to say that every sports journalist or outlet is engaging in this type of journalism. The Washington Post has done extensive reporting on the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and on some of its coaches.

The Athletic helped uncover a major investigation into the Chicago Blackhawks where a former player alleged that a coach sexually abused him in 2010.

This type of reporting matters. It makes a difference and shines a light on the issues facing different sports leagues and organizations.

But the sad reality is that more retweets and likes are generated from a tweet about Brady retiring or the Bears possibly firing Nagy than an investigation into the NWSL or the Blackhawks. That’s part of the business, with more people gravitating towards flashier headlines than to more serious articles.

That, however, doesn’t mean reporters should neglect the Code of Ethics to get a story out first. We have an obligation to give our readers the truth and a story that will inform them about a particular subject. If we do make a mistake, it’s also our obligation to make sure to correct that error and explain it to our readers.

ESPN never published an article explaining Schefter’s reporting, leaving a cloud of uncertainty hanging in the air for a couple of days until Brady made his own announcement.

Readers deserve to know the truth. It doesn’t matter if someone is doing political reporting or sports reporting, we all follow the same rules. Let’s be better and more careful when a breaking news story happens to not rush to print right away.

This is a field that I want to enter out of college and be successful at for a long time. It does worry me, however, that there is this unrelenting pressure – especially by larger sports outlets – to always be first rather than being right.

If there’s anything I have learned in my journalism classes at DePaul, it’s that being right is more important than being first. We lose our credibility if we report something false, and when you start to lose your credibility, the public doesn’t trust you nearly as much.

I’m thankful that DePaul has taught me that and stressed the importance of being right in my reporting. I just wish that more professional journalists recognized that and stopped rushing to Twitter to beat out another reporter.

 

This Headline Is Important

By Claire Malon

 No, I didn’t forget to write a headline. No, that’s not a placeholder title. This headline — like all others — is important. Headlines are important.

A headline can make or break even the best story, impacting the amount of engagement, the number of reads and how a story is received. For this reason, writing headlines can be difficult and daunting.

But then again, it should be. Headlines carry a lot of weight. Not only are they the first thing a person reads, more often than not, they’re the only thing a person will read.

A study from the American Press Institute found that six in 10 Americans don’t read past the headline. That means for roughly 60% of our readers, those big, bolded words at the top of the article are all that really matters.

So then shouldn’t we be cautious about what information we include in our headlines? I would argue so.

Acknowledging that a majority of readers won’t read any further, journalists have to ensure that our headlines are clear, accurate and not at all misleading or misrepresentative. That’s our journalistic responsibility.

The Society of Professional Journalists says as much. The SPJ Code of Ethics states that ethical journalism should “provide context” and “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.” And after all, what is a headline if not a summary of the story that follows?

Failing to provide context or oversimplifying a story in a headline can have dangerous and far-reaching consequences, even leading to the rapid spread of misinformation.

Take, for example, this headline from CNBC.  On July 30, the outlet published a story on breakthrough COVID-19 cases. The headline read, “Breakthrough Covid cases: At least 125,000 fully vaccinated Americans have tested positive.”

At face value, the statistic seems staggering. Though technically accurate, without context the headline dangerously distorted the reality of breakthrough cases at the time.

Further in the article, the necessary context is provided: “The 125,682 ‘breakthrough’ cases…represent less than .08 percent of the 164.2 million-plus people who have been fully vaccinated since January.” The article’s headline, however, noticeably failed to provide this essential context.

Conversely, in a story published on the same day as CNBC’s, NBC5 Chicago headlined their article on the topic, “Data Shows Less Than 1 Percent of Vaccinated Test Positive for COVID.”

Using the same underlying data, the two articles manage to convey strikingly different pictures of the state of breakthrough infections. Thus, from these cases we can see how the same story can be characterized in vastly different ways depending on their chosen headline.

Intentionally or unintentionally, as journalists we must not amplify the spread of misinformation. So, whoever in your newsroom is responsible for crafting the headlines — whether it’s the reporter, editor, or copywriter — must take great care to write something that is fully reflective of the story, factually accurate and provides all context necessary for comprehension.

These things are of supreme importance and should always be prioritized over a headline that is eye-catchy, SEO-friendly, sensationalist or clever.

In all fairness, it is hard to summarize thousand-word stories in just a few words. But, knowing how few people will read any further, it’s our job to make those words count.

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An Erosion of Media Trust: How Partisanship Impacts Americans’ Views of the Press and their News Consumption

By Theodora Koulouvaris

February 10, 2022

In 2018, he called the news media the “true Enemy of the People.”

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news,” wrote then President Donald Trump on Twitter. “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.”

These comments came after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation, a Pittsburg synagogue, in October of 2018 and a man mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It’s no secret that Trump detested the media, particularly the “mainstream media” and its criticism of him, throughout his presidency, frequently labeling news organizations he didn’t agree with as “fake news.”

But those words have real world consequences.

According to a Gallup poll from October of last year, just 36% of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the press. When it comes to individual partisanship, only 11% of Republicans said they strongly trusted the media compared to 68% of Democrats and 31% of Independents.

And while Republicans generally have a negative view of the press and its impact on society, Trump supporters tend to have an even harsher perception of the media.

In an August 2020 study from the Pew Research Center, 39% of Republicans who strongly approved of the job Trump was doing as president were less likely to expect accurate information from news outlets.

The role of the press is to provide viewers, readers, and listeners with accurate, objective information on a multitude of events, including political ones. But the erosion of media trust spells disaster for democracy. People give legitimacy toinstitutions in the U.S., including the media. Our democracy cannot survive if Americans don’t believe news outlets provide them with reliable information.

But what news sources do Americans trust in the first place?

According to a Pew Research Center survey from October 2019, 16% of Americans said Fox News served as their main source of political and election related news while 12% viewed CNN as the source of that same information.

Partisanship, however, plays a key role in determining whether viewers are tuning in to watch Tucker Carlson on Fox or CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

In that same study, 93% of those surveyed who claimed Fox News was their main source of information identified as Republican or Republican leaners while 79% of respondents who received their news from CNN identified as Democrats or leaning Democrats.

Both networks differ in their coverage of national issues. For example, Fox News and CNN reported on the Jan. 6 insurrection, when a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

In the hours after the attack, Fox News personality Laura Ingraham claimed that the individuals who stormed the Capitol were not all Trump supporters, and some may have been members of the left-wing, anti-fascist group Antifa.

“Earlier today, the Capitol was under siege by people who can only be described as antithetical to the MAGA movement,” Ingraham said. “Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that Antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd. We will have more on that later.”

There is no evidence to suggest that members of Antifa were involved in the Capitol attack, and many of the rioters present that day waved Trump flags and dressed in MAGA wear.

If you watched CNN on Jan. 6, you would’ve heard a different story.

As the rioters entered Sanctuary Hall inside the Capitol complex, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper called the situation “stunning” and “dangerous.”

“President Trump could stop this with one tweet, but instead, he’s on Twitter attacking Vice President Pence for refusing to go along with his attempt at a coup, a bloodless coup,” Tapper said.

Democrats and Republicans are living in two separate realities: Democrats with the perception that Trump instigated the attack on the Capitol to overturn a free and fair election, and Republicans with the false belief that a far-left group played a role in that day’s events.

When Americans only receive their news from a source that continuously delivers false information to their audience, they’re informing their worldview on a lie.

And when we can’t agree on basic facts and truth, not only does it pose a challenge for other news outlets reporting accurate information to maintain the public’s trust, but it leads to the eventual breakdown of democracy as we know it.

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If you can only afford one news subscription, make it your local news outlet

BY ANALISA TROFIMUK

Children were dying every month in Minnesota daycares due to violations of basic state guidelines. If it wasn’t for local reporters of the Minneapolis Star Tribune who through their investigative reporting forced state regulators and politicians to pay attention, children attending daycares could still be at risk today.

Brad Schrade, Jeremy Olson and Glenn Howat earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for their in-depth coverage on the spike of child deaths in Minnesota daycare facilities.

Allison Petty, Lee Enterprises’ Midwest regional digital editor, summarized in a recent tweet why investing locally is the wisest option if readers can only afford one subscription.

“Your (money) is critical to its survival. You get access to national and state stories via wire services, regional sharing,” said Petty. “Your community is strengthened by solid local reporting.”

The power of local news goes far beyond individual beat coverage, though that is certainly where it starts. Reporters who regularly work a beat meet sources, uncover issues, and get the closest look at concerns that impact their communities.

Joyce Dehli, a longtime journalist and Pulitzer Prize board member since 2008, wrote that local news is so much more than basic day-to-day happenings.

“It requires attentive listening to diverse sources, dogged examination of data and other records, and close observation of government at work,” Delhi wrote in an Pulitzer.org article. “It takes time and skill and requires on-site support of editors and other news leaders who live in the community and care about it.”

But newspapers, radio and television news outlets were struggling to stay afloat before the pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 only made it worse. Hundreds of newsrooms were hit with layoffs and furloughs. And it was a slippery slope. At a time when news was in high demand, especially accurate and well fact-checked stories, newsrooms were rapidly losing employees.

Time Magazine reported earlier this year that among six chains that own hundreds of local papers, ad revenue dropped 42% during a quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year. Circulation dropped 8% according to a Pew Research report.

More than 90 local newsrooms have closed so far during the pandemic, according to the Poynter Institute.

What is the cost?

City council and school board meetings took place without proper media coverage, leaving the door open for taxpayer money to be used with little to no public input. Stories about neighbors helping one another were never told. In some towns, vaccine distribution information, COVID case numbers and critical health news continues to be relayed in an extremely limited capacity.

It is no secret that subscribing to multiple news outlets can be costly.

The special attention that local news reporters offer their respective coverage areas allows for a more informed, well-educated community.

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Religion has influenced personal politics for many. So why isn’t it being covered?

By Richie Requena

Journalists are proud of their First Amendment right, which guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The First Amendment also covers the freedom of religion ensuring that people of faith can exercise their religion without fear of persecution. Religion is a very personal topic to those who practice it. So why isn’t it being covered as much as other topics?

As journalists, the most important thing to do is to get it right. And again, because it is a personal and intimate topic for believers, the consequences of getting it wrong could receive harsh backlash.

Telling a story by painting with the same brush can also be very dangerous. Many Americans can remember just how unfairly Muslims were treated in this country and abroad when it comes to topics of terrorism for the acts of 9/11 and other terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe.

Reporting on religion can be scarce, and does not need to be limited to scandals. Journalists need to be aware of the context and timing that show how faith believers are influenced by what they cover. Not all religious stories need to be serious news topics either.

Religion’s influence on politics has divided people based on what they believe in. Views on abortion, COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy, same-sex marriage, capital punishment— among other controversial political beliefs often can be traced back to a person’s religious background.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, younger generations around the world are becoming more and more secular; meaning they do not identify with any religion. Journalists should be able to ask why that is. Do younger generations not agree with the views and stances religious leaders have? Are institutions, like the Catholic church, simply out of touch with the times?

Because there are so many religions and ideologies in the world, it is challenging to even find out who we should ask these questions to. It is important for journalists and editors to be intentional with who we listen to and what stories we pursue. As calls for more diversity, equity and inclusion tactics for hiring have expanded in the country, it is just as important that we consider religion as a topic.

Just as we would not talk to one person of color for a story that touches on race, it is important we have a rich diversity of religious experts we can turn to. We know that not everyone thinks the same, making the intentional decision that shows the depth and context to religion can make a story about religion come to life and be more representative.

Just to show how different a religious group can be, white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics practice the same religion, but have very different political leanings. Hispanic Catholics tend to be more socially conservative than white Catholics, but when it comes to the voting booth Hispanic Catholics consistently vote for Democrats while white Catholics lean Republican.

Reporting on how times have changed for religion is also vital to show why they have changed. Take for example the topic of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court recognized those unions. It was a very dividing topic even for people in the same religion. Now a days there is a lot more acceptance of same-sex marriage compared to even a decade ago. The big question there to ask is how has religion changed since then?

We as journalists need to do a better job of reporting on religion. We have seen what dangers it can do when things are not  reported right. Following 9/11, Islamophobic attack skyrocketed because of the fear extremist had against Muslims. The perspective and beliefs of Muslims have been buried by Islamophobia. Bringing in more Muslim reporters and experts to get their perspectives can be the step to make them more familiar to people who have never seen Islam practiced.

And that is what reporting on religion can do. Religious reporters don’t have to report on sermons and scandals that catch the eye of an audience for a day or two. Sometimes the best stories can be the simple ones that capture life as it is, because those are the ones that show us that we are all human.

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