The Constellation News Leadership Initiative is a career development fellowship to support mid-career media professionals of color. As the inaugural Constellation class completed its fellowship this spring, we asked each fellow to write an essay reflecting on their experience by answering the following questions: Based on what you have learned and seen in journalism, how do you think the field will evolve in the future? What role do you want to play in that transformation?
Journalism industries in the U.S. and around the Americas have as much in common as they have in contrast. While the reckoning is stronger around racial issues here and in Brazil, the talks around gender gaps, ethnic inclusivity, and elitism have been central in places such as Mexico, Peru, and Chile. Still, finding the new best business model to keep journalism afloat is a cross-border conversation, one that became so much more relevant during the pandemic.
As Jeff Jarvis, a professor at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, put it, “The media business was already on fire. COVID-19 threw gasoline on it.” We got the picture when The New York Times reported last May that 37,000 news publisher employees had either been laid off, furloughed, or had their pay reduced since the onset of the pandemic. Operational cuts and staff reduction kept coming just weeks before last November’s election, when disinformation, fake news and political manipulation became major issues.
The economic downturn created by the pandemic has hit news companies hard this past year, especially those embracing the “content-making machine” model, which keeps journalists fishing for whatever fills airtime so the outlet can drive users to pay attention to stories full of ads. The global crisis also reminded us that journalism is a service that should fulfill the people’s needs, when they need it.
As the field continues to evolve into a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse landscape around staffing and coverage, we will see the need to again challenge our ideas and perceptions around the definition of a news company and what journalists really do for a living.
In the era of influence, journalists can use the technology at people’s hands to motivate them, empower them, or help them experience some type of growth. News companies, whether a large organization or a newsroom of one, should work collaboratively to provide the information people need to make decisions or to improve their wellbeing.
And as an avid listener, I believe journalists will get personal and engage more with others to learn what the people in our immediate surroundings need from us, when they really need it, and how we should deliver it.
Taking journalism beyond stories, products and daily content-making is the move toward service-thinking that will prepare us for journalism on-demand and that I deeply look forward to shaping. Because, in the end, this is all about belonging: Where does journalism belong? How does it create a sense of belonging for others?
While finding the new best business model for the industry, particularly for local news, we will need to fulfill our communities’ expectations, the ones they have of us as their journalists, and stick to that for a living. Our audiences will pay for what shares their values and they will appreciate the journalists who serve them with accuracy, independence, and transparency.
The future of journalism in the Americas depends on our willingness to solve people’s problems, our connectedness to one another and our capacities to do what we do best —regardless of language, platform or topic — for our people, with our people.