Journalism schools emphasize listening

“It’s not just about what reporters need for a story, or what journalists think they need from our communities — it’s about what communities need and deserve from journalists.”

In 2021, community listening and engagement will spread in journalism education because to truly serve our communities, it must.

Last August, at the start of the fall semester, I confronted the challenge of teaching a course called “Engaging Diverse Communities.” I was terrified. At a moment when we were all largely confined to our homes, communicating via tiny squares on screens, how in the world were we going to engage with one another, let alone communities? Without being able to send students out to talk to people, to interact with them in person, how was I going to succeed in showing my students the critical nature of the work?

And yet, somehow, it worked. In our last class, students presented their final projects via Zoom. One student asked: “How can we actually understand these community members and their needs, and what can we do to amplify their voices? I think a lot of the time, we’d go into it with this mentality that, ‘Oh, we know best,’ or, you know, ‘We’re just going to share what they have.’ But we never actually learn about their history, about what their goals are, and what the community needs.”

Her project focused on better serving communities affected by food insecurity in Los Angeles, and as she spoke, tears welled up in my eyes. Despite all the challenges we’d confronted over the course of the semester, the message at the heart of the course had made it through: Her question was personal, and it also showed that she had nailed the principles of community engagement in journalism.

Many of my students told me that these concepts were different from what they’d learned in other journalism classes they had taken. It wasn’t just about making the deadline, having a minimum number of sources, or getting the quotes or sound bites they needed for a story.

“What I realized and went on to learn is that it is not enough to have the heart and desire to help the community and that you need to be intentional with your work,” another student said. “The fact that we were able to ask more questions about how we can be more involved was certainly uplifting for us as journalists, because we were able to take the temperature of the community and get a little sliver of hope that, if we listen, then we can turn things around.”

I wiped my eyes as the presentations concluded and tried to avoid my Zoom camera. I was overcome with the importance and relevance of teaching students to report with communities, not from a distance. I knew this was critical, especially now.

The “Engaging Diverse Communities” course focused on several areas central or related to community engagement. These include empathy, community listening, identifying fault lines, human-centered design, critical issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion, solutions journalism, building trust in news, examining power and privilege, and ultimately taking concepts related to these issues and implementing journalism engagement projects that work directly with the community to address their needs. Central to much of this was listening.

In the process, students saw for themselves the need for newsrooms to better reflect the communities they serve. We examined and discussed the systematic racism that exists in newsrooms and that affects our communities.

As educators and students, we make up vital parts of our communities we aim to serve. We must focus on practices in journalism to better serve communities in more meaningful ways. We can begin through deep listening.

Next year, more journalism educators will embrace the fact that it’s not just about what reporters need for a story, or what journalists think they need from our communities — it’s about what communities need and deserve from journalists. Not what we think they need, but what we’ve asked them they need. We build these practices into every student journalist’s educational experience.

In 2021, we teach ourselves and our journalism students to pause…and listen.

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

In 2021, community listening and engagement will spread in journalism education because to truly serve our communities, it must.

Last August, at the start of the fall semester, I confronted the challenge of teaching a course called “Engaging Diverse Communities.” I was terrified. At a moment when we were all largely confined to our homes, communicating via tiny squares on screens, how in the world were we going to engage with one another, let alone communities? Without being able to send students out to talk to people, to interact with them in person, how was I going to succeed in showing my students the critical nature of the work?

And yet, somehow, it worked. In our last class, students presented their final projects via Zoom. One student asked: “How can we actually understand these community members and their needs, and what can we do to amplify their voices? I think a lot of the time, we’d go into it with this mentality that, ‘Oh, we know best,’ or, you know, ‘We’re just going to share what they have.’ But we never actually learn about their history, about what their goals are, and what the community needs.”

Her project focused on better serving communities affected by food insecurity in Los Angeles, and as she spoke, tears welled up in my eyes. Despite all the challenges we’d confronted over the course of the semester, the message at the heart of the course had made it through: Her question was personal, and it also showed that she had nailed the principles of community engagement in journalism.

Many of my students told me that these concepts were different from what they’d learned in other journalism classes they had taken. It wasn’t just about making the deadline, having a minimum number of sources, or getting the quotes or sound bites they needed for a story.

“What I realized and went on to learn is that it is not enough to have the heart and desire to help the community and that you need to be intentional with your work,” another student said. “The fact that we were able to ask more questions about how we can be more involved was certainly uplifting for us as journalists, because we were able to take the temperature of the community and get a little sliver of hope that, if we listen, then we can turn things around.”

I wiped my eyes as the presentations concluded and tried to avoid my Zoom camera. I was overcome with the importance and relevance of teaching students to report with communities, not from a distance. I knew this was critical, especially now.

The “Engaging Diverse Communities” course focused on several areas central or related to community engagement. These include empathy, community listening, identifying fault lines, human-centered design, critical issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion, solutions journalism, building trust in news, examining power and privilege, and ultimately taking concepts related to these issues and implementing journalism engagement projects that work directly with the community to address their needs. Central to much of this was listening.

In the process, students saw for themselves the need for newsrooms to better reflect the communities they serve. We examined and discussed the systematic racism that exists in newsrooms and that affects our communities.

As educators and students, we make up vital parts of our communities we aim to serve. We must focus on practices in journalism to better serve communities in more meaningful ways. We can begin through deep listening.

Next year, more journalism educators will embrace the fact that it’s not just about what reporters need for a story, or what journalists think they need from our communities — it’s about what communities need and deserve from journalists. Not what we think they need, but what we’ve asked them they need. We build these practices into every student journalist’s educational experience.

In 2021, we teach ourselves and our journalism students to pause…and listen.

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Cory Haik   Be essential

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter