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7

I’m ready for post-news

“One of the things that holds many of us back is that we’re beholden to the news more than we’re beholden to our communities.”

I have persistent memories from my first few days in my first newsroom. It was impossible for me to assimilate most of my new experiences into my previous understanding of what a workplace was like, or any abstract ideas of what a newsroom was likely to be. The humor was dark. So dark! Everyone was also much nicer than I anticipated, and so patient with my rookie mistakes. It was much quieter than I expected.

I love newsrooms. I love reporting. I fell in love almost instantly despite all the imperfections in our industry and our processes. But there’s one thing I’ve never been able to assimilate, that feels as incomprehensible now as it did in my first days in this work: I was shocked that there was no method to determining what “the news” was.

Every day, this decision seemed as arbitrary as the day before, with no system or order determining what our community needed from us that day. It just seemed to happen.

That isn’t good enough. It’s past time to get a better system — or, at least, a system.

News has lost its meaning for most of us. How do I know? Because when you ask people what they want from their news (we have), they tell you more traffic and more weather. But if you ask people what they see as their biggest challenges and what information they need to meet those challenges, you get something else. You get stories and tips and more importantly a roadmap for how to create something of value.

Few people want more news. But many, it seems, want more from those of us who work in the news.

There isn’t an infinite menu of things we can provide as producers, reporters, editors, photographers, engagement experts, digital and social wizards, fact-checkers, and all the other roles in a newsroom, but we can certainly do more. We can ask people what they want and build from there, as Berkleyside is building their Oakland newsroom. If it’s connection people need, we could offer something like the dialogues Spaceship Media provides. If our community wants a stake in what we’re building, we could create a co-op like Akron’s Devil Strip. If what they want is to participate and contribute, we can use the tools and programs City Bureau has come up with. If they want a more accurate record and a reckoning, we can create ambitious and powerful journalism in the mold of The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

There’s a lot holding us back from our ambitions. Local news is a tough business, because it’s not much of a business and hard-working people are still losing their jobs and closing up shops. Still, one of the things that holds many of us back is that we’re beholden to the news more than we’re beholden to our communities.

None of us can actually see the gulf between the informed and the ignored, between the legit and misinformation, and between the stories that get attention and the situations that deserve sunlight. We can see the consequences of letting that distance grow. We have to jump in there and try something new — and it’s not going to be the news.

Sarah Alvarez is the founder and editor of Outlier Media in Detroit.

I have persistent memories from my first few days in my first newsroom. It was impossible for me to assimilate most of my new experiences into my previous understanding of what a workplace was like, or any abstract ideas of what a newsroom was likely to be. The humor was dark. So dark! Everyone was also much nicer than I anticipated, and so patient with my rookie mistakes. It was much quieter than I expected.

I love newsrooms. I love reporting. I fell in love almost instantly despite all the imperfections in our industry and our processes. But there’s one thing I’ve never been able to assimilate, that feels as incomprehensible now as it did in my first days in this work: I was shocked that there was no method to determining what “the news” was.

Every day, this decision seemed as arbitrary as the day before, with no system or order determining what our community needed from us that day. It just seemed to happen.

That isn’t good enough. It’s past time to get a better system — or, at least, a system.

News has lost its meaning for most of us. How do I know? Because when you ask people what they want from their news (we have), they tell you more traffic and more weather. But if you ask people what they see as their biggest challenges and what information they need to meet those challenges, you get something else. You get stories and tips and more importantly a roadmap for how to create something of value.

Few people want more news. But many, it seems, want more from those of us who work in the news.

There isn’t an infinite menu of things we can provide as producers, reporters, editors, photographers, engagement experts, digital and social wizards, fact-checkers, and all the other roles in a newsroom, but we can certainly do more. We can ask people what they want and build from there, as Berkleyside is building their Oakland newsroom. If it’s connection people need, we could offer something like the dialogues Spaceship Media provides. If our community wants a stake in what we’re building, we could create a co-op like Akron’s Devil Strip. If what they want is to participate and contribute, we can use the tools and programs City Bureau has come up with. If they want a more accurate record and a reckoning, we can create ambitious and powerful journalism in the mold of The New York Times’ 1619 Project.

There’s a lot holding us back from our ambitions. Local news is a tough business, because it’s not much of a business and hard-working people are still losing their jobs and closing up shops. Still, one of the things that holds many of us back is that we’re beholden to the news more than we’re beholden to our communities.

None of us can actually see the gulf between the informed and the ignored, between the legit and misinformation, and between the stories that get attention and the situations that deserve sunlight. We can see the consequences of letting that distance grow. We have to jump in there and try something new — and it’s not going to be the news.

Sarah Alvarez is the founder and editor of Outlier Media in Detroit.

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