20200
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2020
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Join local libraries on the frontlines of civic engagement

“We must study collaborations between local news outlets and libraries to understand what’s working and what could work better.”

In 2020, local nonprofit media, j-schools, and civic tech projects will continue to ally with one of our most trusted institutions — libraries — to empower citizens to build the communities they want.

Local news and public libraries collaborating isn’t a new idea; Eryn Carlson, David Beard, and Chris LeBeau have all written about it. But we need to study this form of collaboration in order to leverage it in a concerted way.

Journalism philanthropy’s support of local nonprofit media continues to grow, with $100 million more invested in 2018 than 2017. Just last month, the American Journalism Project granted $8.5 million in support of 11 local news outlets. Libraries, j-schools, and civic tech projects can help reinforce the survival and impact of these local and community media outlets, the support of which Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, says “is part of a civic-repair program.” The alliance of these institutions can help foster community engagement, earn trust, benefit communities, and strengthen democracy.

J-schools and affiliated centers like CUNY’s J+ and Center for Community Media are training community news outlets to overcome limited access to resources for news research, fact-checking, and verification. We train local journalists and citizens to conduct in-depth newsgathering and fact-checking using library databases, archives, and other public records resources, some created by civic tech projects like the Displacement Alert Project from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

Beyond resource sharing, libraries — because of their position on the frontlines of civic engagement — are one of the few institutions that isn’t suffering from the decline in public trust. Steven Waldman from Report for America summed up the reasons libraries earned the public’s trust in two words: service and presence. Local news outlets and social journalists get the service part of this equation; libraries’ social infrastructure can give local media the opportunity to be present and interact with the community, and interaction with local media is tied to trust. As trust expert Rachel Botsman says, “money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.” Botsman also notes that transparency isn’t a cure for distrust; aligning your motives and intentions with the community is what earns you their trust.

Although public libraries continue to face funding and staffing challenges, people still visit them more than a billion times a year. According to the Urban Libraries Council, libraries “cultivate social capital…the resources that help people connect to one another, their communities and find the information that helps them get by.” They give communities forums for discourse on the issues they value like inequality, the environment, and education, and can give local media the opportunity and physical space to listen to that conversation, understand misperceptions, and address a community’s critical information needs.

The local nonprofit news outlet The City is in the midst of a yearlong project called The Open Newsroom, collaborating with the Brooklyn Public Library to explore ways local news can be more connected with the communities they cover. Civic tech startup Cortico’s Local Voices Network teamed up with The City and New York Public Library to create a forum for discourse on community issues. Those recorded conversations will be made into a searchable database “for journalists, decision-makers, and other local stakeholders,” to consider in their reporting and decision-making processes. Local Voices’ public conversation network is operating in Madison, Wisconsin and has planned launches in Alabama and Massachusetts.

We must study collaborations between local news outlets and libraries to understand what’s working and what could work better. Perhaps we can create templates for effective collaboration between j-schools, local news nonprofits, and libraries, these community-focused institutions that are essential to the function of democracy. These institutions can collaborate with civic tech projects to engage citizens, amplify diverse voices, serve underserved communities, identify solutions to communities’ most pressing problems, and empower citizens to build the democracy they want.

Barbara Gray is chief librarian and an associate professor of investigative research methods at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

In 2020, local nonprofit media, j-schools, and civic tech projects will continue to ally with one of our most trusted institutions — libraries — to empower citizens to build the communities they want.

Local news and public libraries collaborating isn’t a new idea; Eryn Carlson, David Beard, and Chris LeBeau have all written about it. But we need to study this form of collaboration in order to leverage it in a concerted way.

Journalism philanthropy’s support of local nonprofit media continues to grow, with $100 million more invested in 2018 than 2017. Just last month, the American Journalism Project granted $8.5 million in support of 11 local news outlets. Libraries, j-schools, and civic tech projects can help reinforce the survival and impact of these local and community media outlets, the support of which Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, says “is part of a civic-repair program.” The alliance of these institutions can help foster community engagement, earn trust, benefit communities, and strengthen democracy.

J-schools and affiliated centers like CUNY’s J+ and Center for Community Media are training community news outlets to overcome limited access to resources for news research, fact-checking, and verification. We train local journalists and citizens to conduct in-depth newsgathering and fact-checking using library databases, archives, and other public records resources, some created by civic tech projects like the Displacement Alert Project from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

Beyond resource sharing, libraries — because of their position on the frontlines of civic engagement — are one of the few institutions that isn’t suffering from the decline in public trust. Steven Waldman from Report for America summed up the reasons libraries earned the public’s trust in two words: service and presence. Local news outlets and social journalists get the service part of this equation; libraries’ social infrastructure can give local media the opportunity to be present and interact with the community, and interaction with local media is tied to trust. As trust expert Rachel Botsman says, “money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.” Botsman also notes that transparency isn’t a cure for distrust; aligning your motives and intentions with the community is what earns you their trust.

Although public libraries continue to face funding and staffing challenges, people still visit them more than a billion times a year. According to the Urban Libraries Council, libraries “cultivate social capital…the resources that help people connect to one another, their communities and find the information that helps them get by.” They give communities forums for discourse on the issues they value like inequality, the environment, and education, and can give local media the opportunity and physical space to listen to that conversation, understand misperceptions, and address a community’s critical information needs.

The local nonprofit news outlet The City is in the midst of a yearlong project called The Open Newsroom, collaborating with the Brooklyn Public Library to explore ways local news can be more connected with the communities they cover. Civic tech startup Cortico’s Local Voices Network teamed up with The City and New York Public Library to create a forum for discourse on community issues. Those recorded conversations will be made into a searchable database “for journalists, decision-makers, and other local stakeholders,” to consider in their reporting and decision-making processes. Local Voices’ public conversation network is operating in Madison, Wisconsin and has planned launches in Alabama and Massachusetts.

We must study collaborations between local news outlets and libraries to understand what’s working and what could work better. Perhaps we can create templates for effective collaboration between j-schools, local news nonprofits, and libraries, these community-focused institutions that are essential to the function of democracy. These institutions can collaborate with civic tech projects to engage citizens, amplify diverse voices, serve underserved communities, identify solutions to communities’ most pressing problems, and empower citizens to build the democracy they want.

Barbara Gray is chief librarian and an associate professor of investigative research methods at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

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