Summer Reading: Catching up on the Solution Set News Book Club

It’s hot out. Most of the United States is currently experiencing a heatwave, Europe is bracing for abnormally high temperatures next week, and there are record temperatures in the arctic. 

One of my favorite things to do when it’s super schvitzy is to sit by the pool or on the beach with a great book and a cool drink. 

This weekend, I’m planning on doing just that with “Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America” by Dorothy Butler Gilliam. 

Gilliam was the first Black woman reporter at The Washington Post and is a past president of NABJ. “Trailblazer” is a memoir covering her more than 50-year carer in journalism. 

It’s also the book we’re currently reading as part of the Solution Set News Book Club. Every few weeks we read a book together as a community and discuss it. (Scroll down to learn more on how to join us — and how you can win a free copy of “Trailblazer.)

This week in Solution Set, we’re trying something new. We’ll share some of the key learnings that emerged out of the first two books the Book Club discussed and also share some resources that may help you start your own book club. 


Here’s the TLDR: 


TLDR

• In our conversation about “Palaces for the People” author Eric Klinenberg joined us to discuss whether journalism can be considered social infrastructure. 

• We talked about how news organizations can better create connections with their audiences as part of our chat on “The Content Trap.”

• Learn more about how you can win a free copy of “Trailblazer” for our next Book Club meeting.

• Scroll down to see some other examples of how news orgs are using book clubs to engage with their audiences.


Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

Our most recent Book Club read was “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. The book’s author, Eric Klinenberg, joined us for the discussion. Here are some highlights of the conversation: 

Klinenberg defines social infrastructure as “a set of physical places and organizations that shape our interactions.” One of the key questions we addressed was whether, in fact, journalism and media organizations could be social infrastructure or whether they were just conduits to help others build those spaces. Here’s how Klinenberg answered that question: 

“I define social infrastructure more as a set of physical places than as media or communications infrastructure. That’s the basis for my decision not to have a discussion of the role of media as I’ve done in other places. It’s not really what I’m referring to. There is a discussion at the end of the book about social media and companies like Facebook and the extent to which they serve as social infrastructure. As some of you know, Mark Zuckerberg made very public comments after the 2016 election saying he wanted Facebook to be the great social infrastructure of the 21st Century given that, in his reading, the more traditional social infrastructures were in decline. I’m in argument with him about that…but I clearly think of media as being vital for a whole variety of communication and for the democratic process, I just don’t discuss it because I’m really focused on physical gathering places here.”  

Still, he said, that doesn’t mean news organizations shouldn’t create public spaces that bring people together. Klinenberg cited WNYC’s Greene Space as an example of media-created public infrastructure. Others brought up City Bureau’s Public Newsroom. Each Thursday evening, the Chicago outlet opens up its newsroom to the public to discuss issues and share knowledge. 

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for an organization that wants to be a civic actor, to do placemaking around it,” Klinenberg said. “In some ways, I think media organizations are ideally suited to that.”


The Content Trap: A Strategists’ Guide to Digital Change

Our inaugural Book Club pick was “The Content Trap: A Strategists’ Guide to Digital Change.” The book’s broad thesis focused on the importance of media organizations establishing connections between their users, their products, and their decisions.

This idea of connections underscores how important it is for news organizations to listen to their audiences, said David Grant, who leads Facebook’s accelerator programs and hosted the conversation. 

“As someone who is thinking about local news, thinking about how that plugs into the communities that these news organizations serve is the whole game. It’s really important for our entire industry to think more about what we help our readers achieve and what we do for them. That’s what unlocks a lot of growth,” Grant said. 

The book’s author, Bharat Anand, emphasizes that publishers and other media organizations need to think beyond just the content they’re creating.

“Content has been a curse,” Anand writes. “It caused you to think you can make what’s going to delight customers. It causes you to ignore user contribution. It causes you to focus on your own content rather than on how to get the best content in the world — content anyone can make.” 

As a result, Dallas Morning News Director of Digital Strategy Nicole Stockdale said her news organization is constantly debating how it can best serve its audience and also fulfill its mission of watchdog journalism.  

“This slice of the conversation is something we’re talking about every day: The balance between mission and audience,” said Stockdale. “How much of our time needs to be spent on watchdog journalism…this is what we do because it’s what newspapers do and it’s important to democracy, and how much of our time and energy and resources should be spent on better understanding what the audience needs from us and providing it to them. When you’re lucky, those circles overlap really neatly and everyone is pushing in the same direction. A lot of times they don’t and figuring out how to better define the role of the news organization and what the role of content is is a challenge. It evolves, and I don’t think we have it figured out yet.”


Join us for the next News Book Club (And win a free book!)

The next book we’re reading for News Book Club is Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America” by Dorothy Butler Gilliam. 

Every cycle, we have a host who picks three books that are then voted on by the community, which chooses the book we ultimately read. Our host this time is Teresa Gorman, Democracy Fund senior program associate for local news. Here’s her explanation for why she picked “Trailblazer” as one of our options: 

 “If you’re going to talk about the future of journalism, you can’t forget it’s past…The struggles she faced in the newsroom and outside of it will probably sound pretty familiar to journalists working today. It reminds us how much we still need to do to make our newsrooms and our journalism fully represent our communities.”

At Teresa’s suggestion, we’re trying something a little different this time. We’ll be giving away three copies of the book to encourage more folks to join the conversation. You only have to do two things to be entered to win: 

  1. Tweet about why you’re looking forward to reading and discussing “Trailblazer.” 
  2. Use the hashtag #NewsBookClub in your tweet. 

The deadline to enter is next Tuesday, July 23 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. We’ll randomly choose three winners and announce them next week. 

And mark your calendars: We’ll be meeting to discuss “Trailblazer” on Thursday, August 29 at 1 p.m. EDT. Click here to add it to your Google calendar. 

 If you can’t wait that long to discuss the book, you can join us in our Slack group by signing up here or by tweeting with #newsbookclub. 

I also have a separate newsletter just for the Book Club. (In fact, much of this already appeared in that newsletter.) You can join that list here.

You really should join us. Hazel is taking part, and she insists that you read along too.


Want to know more? 

• In Kansas, High Country Public Radio has created a book club to try and build community across its massive listening area. Learn how it invites listeners to share their insights on air in this Solution Set report.

• This spring, The Los Angeles Times announced it was starting a book club. Its next book is  “The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami. (Full disclosure: The LA Times just yesterday received a grant from the Facebook Community Network program to “fund community forums and provide copies of monthly book selections to nonprofits and others in conjunction with the new Los Angeles Times Book Club.” These grants are being administered by the Lenfest Institute.)

• For more on book clubs, check out this round-up of resources from Local Fix, the Democracy Fund’s weekly newsletter on local news. 


Anything to add?

Feel free to reach out with any questions or anything about book club or otherwise.

See you next Thursday!

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