Media outlets seek to Bridge Pittsburgh with innovative collaboration
By Sonja Reis
Pittsburgh soon will be joining the list of cities, states and regions tackling partnership-based journalistic projects with the Bridge Pittsburgh Media Partnership being launched through the Center for Media Innovation (CMI) at Point Park University.
CMI director Andrew Conte announced at a gathering of journalists on May 22 that the proposed project would be moving forward.
“Bridge Pittsburgh has grown out of the idea that media outlets across southwestern Pennsylvania could be stronger by working together,” Conte said. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re excited to move forward with next steps to bring this project to life.”
Locally, meetings to gauge interest in the creation of what is now known as Bridge Pittsburgh began in September 2018 when news organizations across southwestern Pennsylvania were invited to work together on a collaborative reporting project of importance to the entire region.
Since then, 57 organizations have participated in the planning process, including 41 news outlets, five journalism groups and four universities. This process has engaged more than 140 people, including journalists, educators and citizens.
In the spring of 2019, five community outreach events were held to gauge public input on items of importance to the region. These events were held in McKees Rocks, California, Pa., and Homewood along with outreach to youth and the disabled.
The Heinz Endowments has awarded project funding for a two-year period. Immediate next steps will include hiring a director and choosing a direction for the collaborative reporting effort.
To learn more, BridgePittsburgh.com.
All together now: Collaborating on the future of journalism through solutions-based answers to societal issues
By Sonja Reis
Philadelphia – Philanthropists, community builders and media members from around the world joined here in May to learn how working together through solutions-based news reporting and community engagement activities can be paramount to addressing critical social issues including the future of journalism.
Montclair State University’s third annual Collaborative Journalism Summit focused on how partnership-based media projects are changing the news ecosystem in cities such as Atlantic City, N.J., Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia and beyond.
Martin Pratt, digital strategist for ecoWURD, a multimedia environmental justice journalism product published by Pennsylvania’s only African-American owned and operated talk radio station WURD, compared the collaborative journalist process to a collective of people getting together to create a Sunday dinner featuring gumbo or jambalaya.
While not all the ingredients are of equal amounts or values, everyone involved is providing “patience, love and sweat equity” with their “skills and skill sets” to create a nourishing product.
“Everybody is bringing something to make that gumbo,” said Pratt, whose group is partnered with the award-winning Resolve Philadelphia project.
The initial incarnation of Resolve Philly ran from November 2016 through March 2018. The 15-member Philadelphia partnership tackled solutions to the harsh realities of life after prison with the “Reentry Project.” Then in 2018, members of 19 news organizations came together to focus on the city’s status of being the poorest of America’s big cities with “Broke in Philly.”
Reentry Project explored the social and economic toll of high repeat offender rates and highlights “models that demonstrate promise in facilitating a successful transition for returning citizens,” according to its website.
Some key project impacts, according to Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, Resolve co-founder, include having Swedish furniture giant Ikea and others reexamine hiring practices. Additionally, the prison system there hired interpreters for the hearing impaired and extended a “virtual visitation” program that was scheduled to end.
The Reentry Project’s creation “seems to have spawned a lot of collaborative projects in Philadelphia,” said Mark Strandquist, co-director of the Reentry Think Tank.
It also prompted “cultural organizing” with unlikely partners representing groups from “the Fed to abolitionists," he said.
In January, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia worked with Resolve Philly and others to hold a prosperity symposium focusing on economic inclusion, security and mobility.
The Think Tank has created a “Reentry Bill of Rights,” a list of policy suggestions taken from the testimony of those returning to society from jail or the prison system.
“Part of why we did it is because we thought the media would not get it right. Oftentimes, they did get it right,” Strandquist said.
Sharing is tough
During the two-day summit, questions from some of the nearly 200 in attendance reminded everyone that collaboration has not always been an acceptable avenue for journalists to pursue.
For many, it still isn’t.
In the race to be the one to first break news, the competitive nature of journalism precludes some from sharing dwindling resources even as layoffs, cutbacks and closures continue to affect print and broadcast media outlets.
Ariella Cohen, managing editor of WHYY FM’s PlanPhilly collaborative focusing on city and urban planning and zoning issues, highlights why collaboration may be the answer to the future of journalism. PlanPhilly is also a member of the Resolve initiative.
The process of sharing is a way to create a “super newsroom” that showcases different media outlets’ strengths and skills, while allowing for experimentation, Cohen said, adding that new audiences are made available through the process.
“The old rules don’t apply,” said Wendy Warren, integrated media director NBC Philadelphia. “Either sink or rise together… [We have to be] intentional about leveling the playing field.”
Some key takeaways for those interested in how the collaborative process works include:
Topics should be timely and clearly defined to allow for engagement
Focus on equity, not equality;
Using a solutions-based approach is helpful;
Collaboratives require trust – building a relationship of trust shows ownership;
Independent project editor shows allegiance to project not a specific outlet;
Realize larger media outlets naturally provide more; and,
Dedicated outside funding is required
Collaboration continues to be a work in progress, said Cohen, who stresses that she is “not trying to give the impression that we have this all figured out.”
Sonja Reis serves on the committee to bring the Bridge Pittsburgh Media Partnership to southwestern Pennsylvania. A community journalist at heart, she is the contributing editor and mentor for Pittsburgh Westside News Gazette 2.0 project and provides support for community development initiatives for the municipalities of McKees Rocks and Stowe Township.
Students Join Youth Express to learn about Media Literacy
May 6th, 2019
By Kristina Marusic
Though it was sunny and warm outside, a group of middle and high school students excitedly huddled around microphones in a small, windowless recording studio on Monday afternoon to discuss the future of media with local journalists.
Staff members with Youth Express, a program of the Saturday Light Brigade—one of the longest-running public radio programs in the United States—recorded the students as they discussed where they get their news and what’s missing from the media when it comes to young people.
The group included thirteen 5th to 12th graders from schools from across the Pittsburgh region including Pittsburgh Obama Academy, Avonworth Elementary, Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school (CAPA), Hampton High School, Manchester Academic Charter School, and Elizabeth Forward Middle School.
“I think the media should cover more stories about how young people of color are struggling, but also how they’re thriving and succeeding in life,” one CAPA senior shared.
The students also cited issues such as a lack of equity in education, police violence and racism, pollution, and climate change as among their top priorities when it comes to local media coverage. Many said they enjoy stories about people making a positive impact in their communities, and that they’d like to see more stories that acknowledge how different the challenges facing young people today are than those faced by older generations.
The photo gallery from this event can be found here.
Homewood: They came, they saw – and they stayed to participate
April 30, 2019
By Andrew Conte
People who never had heard of Bridge Pittsburgh Media Partnership walked into the Homewood library Tuesday night, learned about the outreach discussion and ended up staying for more than an hour.
This immediate and long embrace underscores the hunger that local communities have for talking about the media — and for playing an active role in shaping it.
In all, 22 people – including a mix of residents and journalists – discussed the ways the media covers communities and brainstormed ideas about stories, good and bad, that are not being told. Residents talked about the negative coverage of places such as Homewood, Penn Hills and Westinghouse high school, and they asked for more positive stories about the organizations and people doing good work.
For many residents, the event marked a rare chance to break bread with producers, editors and reporters at traditional media outlets and new startups. Many thanks to the journalists who came from KDKA-TV, WESA-FM, the Post-Gazette, Post-Industrial, East End Print, and the New Pittsburgh Courier. And much appreciation for the community leaders who came from the YWCA, Neighborhood Allies and, of course, the Homewood Community Development Collaborative, whose members invited Bridge Pittsburgh into the community.
Most of all, we are grateful for the residents who came out to talk about journalism and who stayed to participate in its future.
Big thanks to Elwin Green and Homewood Nation for hosting the community outreach event, and to Denise Graham and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Homewood branch for providing the space.
California outreach event: We might be a family after all
April 23, 2019
By Andrew Conte
On Steelers Sundays or when the Penguins go into the playoffs, everyone across the region considers themselves Pittsburghers. We are a fam-a-lee!
But the rest of the time, a place like California, Pa., can seem a long way from downtown Pittsburgh. At least that’s what residents at the Bridge Pittsburgh community outreach event in Washington County told us. One woman drew a picture with Pittsburgh at one corner of the page – and California at the other, at the end of what she said feels like a long, winding and uphill road. A man used red marker to draw a person with an axe sticking out of his head, saying the regional media seem to show up only when something bad happens.
Yet, when we started talking about the issues that are important to people in rural areas south of the city, residents talked about many of the same things we heard in other places. People want more transparency from local government, they want the best possible education and opportunities for their young people, and they worry about the spread of drugs.
To be sure, some other issues felt more pertinent in Washington County: Gas fracking, for instance, counts as both a feel-good story and a concern.
At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see where all of this ends up. For now, it seems like we might have more in common than any of us realizes.
Big thanks to our new friends at California University of Pennsylvania for arranging the event, especially Pam DelVerne and Jeff Helsel. Also much appreciation for the media partners who attended from the Mon Valley Independent and Pennsylvania Bridges.
Telling Their Own Story
April 13, 2019
By andrew Conte
For several weeks this spring, Gazette 2.0 in McKees Rocks invited readers to come out on a Saturday afternoon for a journalism workshop. Nineteen people turned up on April 13 to talk about media coverage and story ideas over free pizza. People came from across the newspaper’s coverage areas in Moon, Robinson, Stowe, Kennedy, Coraopolis, Thornburg, Crafton, Ingram, Neville Island and McKees Rocks.
The group met in the back room of the Fox’s Pizza Den, where NFL helmets hung mounted to the walls next to photos of Steelers players, and arcade games played an electronic serenade in the background. Sonny Jani, who started Gazette 2.0 when the local newspaper closed in 2017, also owns the pizza shop.
Residents talked about how they believe when the media covers their western neighborhoods, stories tends to focus primarily on negative news such as crimes and fires. The good stories go under-reported or unnoticed.
So what topics are being missed? Some are happy stories about the region’s history, its affordability, academic successes and business developments. Others are more challenging such as gentrification, lack of government transparency, education problems and access to information and services.
Most significantly, the people who came out said they feel an ownership of their own story.
Speak Your Truth About Disability
April 4, 2019
by jennifer Szweda Jordan
April is "blue hell month" for many people diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder, one woman told journalists on Thursday. It's her alternate name for what's been labeled Autism Awareness Month--when one camp of Autism advocates encourages people to "light it up blue" to celebrate. Instead, the woman said, she and others witness an onslaught of media that many consider "inspiration porn"--images and stories that portray people with disabilities as inspirational, simply because they have a disability and are doing common things that people without disabilities do.
Another woman with autism criticized the demeanor of TV news hosts reporting on this disability: "There's this great sigh," she said, then newscasters say, "And he's autistic."
Disability advocates and supporters shared this and other frustrations and insights on media coverage at a listening session called "Speak Your Truth About Disability" in Pittsburgh's North Side. This community engagement event was hosted by local media outlets Storyburgh and Unabridged Press, and sponsored by the Pittsburgh Bridge Media Partnership. Journalists from PublicSource and Northside Chronicle attended as well. Access Mob Pittsburgh also partnered in bringing its constituents to the discussion.
Besides inspiration porn, other frustrations for people with disabilities were hardships accessing medical care, including marijuana now legal in Pennsylvania and other states. One group discussed topical events like the Tree of Life shooting. They said news coverage focused on the shooter's mental illness more than on his white supremacism. They said that while bullying is sometimes blamed for mass shootings, people with disabilities are often bullied, but rarely perpetrators of violent crime.
Alisa Grishman, who heads Access Mob, and others, discussed ways to better communicate with the media. Grishman said that the February death of Pittsburgh's longtime Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator Richard Meritzer has resulted in a loss of information for the disability community. Grishman is working to rebuild Meritzer's email list. Another outcome of the session was the idea that the disability community could create a database of subject matter experts for reporters to consult in news stories. One man, a supporter of his wife, who has a disability, said that journalists could even consult the list if a story has nothing to do with disability, in order to include voices of people who are typically excluded.
"Disability is a part of human life," said Grishman. "It's normal."