Ray Boyd: Local journalism to serve communities and enrich lives

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?

The past year has reinforced my journalistic calling. Storytelling — especially that of the local variety — has to be created in the spirit of serving communities and enriching lives. We have to allow people to see the fullness and nuance in the world. We have to open up windows to knowledge that folks might not be able to access themselves. We have to prioritize presenting facts and solutions to our most difficult problems.

These are all things that get at the core of our mission and are key to our survival.

The past year has been filled with unimaginable challenges and deep divisions. Unfortunately, “the media” has at times been cast as the enemy of the people and in some ways we do fall short of the goals I outlined above.

But 2020 proved that we can achieve those goals if we’re committed to service.

Journalists helped people navigate a devastating pandemic and continue to do so while braving it themselves. We told the stories from the ground of demonstrations against systemic racism in multiple facets of our country. We gave people resources to understand a presidential election that looked, felt, and operated like no election before. We presented the facts of a year that had many hard truths to tell and also provided some light in the darkest times.

To my eyes, it’s clear. Journalism’s next evolution should involve the prioritization of community-centered, solutions-based reporting that improves the lives of the people we call on to support our organizations. Local news needs to be of the community, not merely an institution that watches a place from on high. We need to bring communities together and bring stakeholders to the table. Community members should have a sense of ownership over the outlets that serve them.

That shift carries both a moral obligation and a business benefit. Too many people have no obvious reason to follow or support outlets — especially ones that don’t properly reflect their lived experiences. To grow and sustain our industry, we have to change this as soon as we possibly can.

Going forward, I want to devote myself to building trust between local news organizations and the communities we serve and rely on. I want to lift the veil on our work and begin to repair relationships that were shattered a long time ago.

The lessons we were taught in this program, the one-on-one mentorship I received, and the inspiration from the other fellows have shown me that this ideal vision of journalism’s future is absolutely possible.

But we have to start carving out that future today.

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