News becomes plural

“The bones of our fractured Union are still there. In 2021, journalists either will need to learn to knit them back together — or will hasten both the country’s disarticulation and their own irrelevance.”

October marked the point of maximum saturation. “I’ve had enough news now, thank you,” wrote Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post. News avoidance was up, wrote Medill professor Stephanie Edgerly in The Hill, noting that even avid journalism consumers were now opting to detox for their own mental health. Not only were current events themselves painful and disorienting, but the modes of reporting themselves felt poisonous.

My solution: Step away from the stories and pundits endlessly grinding on about how divided we are, and get out and actually see other Americans.

Cody, Wyoming

My results were mixed. On one hand, as the photos I took along the way underscore, the public debate in America is vociferous and polarized. On the other hand, the country’s infrastructure is still intact. The national parks were open, with rangers gamely staffing outdoor gift shops. The interstate highways still runs coast to coast, crossing state borders smoothly despite the heated rhetoric about secession. For better or worse, the country is also bound together by its chain stores and gas stations and hotels, homogenizing experiences and challenges across blue and red.

Arches National Park, Utah

The bones of our fractured Union are still there. In 2021, journalists either will need to learn to knit them back together — or will hasten both the country’s disarticulation and their own irrelevance. We need a media that’s not just diverse, equitable, and inclusive, but that positively revels in pluralism — and one that spends as much time reporting on what still functions as it does on what’s broken.

Keystone, South Dakota

We know the old mass-media ways of creating false consensus no longer work: so-called trend stories based on a few shared Upper East Side observations, one-sided crime coverage focused only on certain neighborhoods, stories about women and culture cordoned off and dismissed as soft. Too many of us now have too much agency and voice to allow a narrow swath of reporters and opinionators to pretend to speak for us. This piece about generational and cultural skirmishes at The New York Times illustrates the dynamic nicely.

Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Some of the more recent approaches to journalism are still premised on old mental models. What is a “newsroom” when we can no longer be in the same room? Perhaps it’s better to think of reporting as a distributed, networked product. With legacy outlets and their staffs increasingly decimated, is the concern that they wield too much power as gatekeepers still salient? Maybe it’s smart of “Leavers” to strike out independently. Do outlets led by members of historically excluded communities need to focus on “engagement”? Or perhaps that’s a frame more relevant to outlets led by those who still wield privilege.

Cisco, Utah

Honing fresh approaches to honoring difference — while affirming the systems and strengths Americans share — will take new people, processes, and power relations, as our team at Dot Connector Studio documented in July’s “Reconstructing American News” report for the Ford Foundation. It will also take the courage to step outside the many kneejerk binaries — red/blue, white/black, male/female, rural/urban — that deform and oversimplify our public discourse, without denying the real-world consequences of related prejudices.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Jessica Clark is founder and executive director of Dot Connector Studio and publisher of Immerse.news.

October marked the point of maximum saturation. “I’ve had enough news now, thank you,” wrote Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post. News avoidance was up, wrote Medill professor Stephanie Edgerly in The Hill, noting that even avid journalism consumers were now opting to detox for their own mental health. Not only were current events themselves painful and disorienting, but the modes of reporting themselves felt poisonous.

My solution: Step away from the stories and pundits endlessly grinding on about how divided we are, and get out and actually see other Americans.

Cody, Wyoming

My results were mixed. On one hand, as the photos I took along the way underscore, the public debate in America is vociferous and polarized. On the other hand, the country’s infrastructure is still intact. The national parks were open, with rangers gamely staffing outdoor gift shops. The interstate highways still runs coast to coast, crossing state borders smoothly despite the heated rhetoric about secession. For better or worse, the country is also bound together by its chain stores and gas stations and hotels, homogenizing experiences and challenges across blue and red.

Arches National Park, Utah

The bones of our fractured Union are still there. In 2021, journalists either will need to learn to knit them back together — or will hasten both the country’s disarticulation and their own irrelevance. We need a media that’s not just diverse, equitable, and inclusive, but that positively revels in pluralism — and one that spends as much time reporting on what still functions as it does on what’s broken.

Keystone, South Dakota

We know the old mass-media ways of creating false consensus no longer work: so-called trend stories based on a few shared Upper East Side observations, one-sided crime coverage focused only on certain neighborhoods, stories about women and culture cordoned off and dismissed as soft. Too many of us now have too much agency and voice to allow a narrow swath of reporters and opinionators to pretend to speak for us. This piece about generational and cultural skirmishes at The New York Times illustrates the dynamic nicely.

Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Some of the more recent approaches to journalism are still premised on old mental models. What is a “newsroom” when we can no longer be in the same room? Perhaps it’s better to think of reporting as a distributed, networked product. With legacy outlets and their staffs increasingly decimated, is the concern that they wield too much power as gatekeepers still salient? Maybe it’s smart of “Leavers” to strike out independently. Do outlets led by members of historically excluded communities need to focus on “engagement”? Or perhaps that’s a frame more relevant to outlets led by those who still wield privilege.

Cisco, Utah

Honing fresh approaches to honoring difference — while affirming the systems and strengths Americans share — will take new people, processes, and power relations, as our team at Dot Connector Studio documented in July’s “Reconstructing American News” report for the Ford Foundation. It will also take the courage to step outside the many kneejerk binaries — red/blue, white/black, male/female, rural/urban — that deform and oversimplify our public discourse, without denying the real-world consequences of related prejudices.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Jessica Clark is founder and executive director of Dot Connector Studio and publisher of Immerse.news.

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