Peer leadership as an organizing principle, as Jessica Morrison & John Hernandez join OpenNews
by Jessica Morrison, John Hernandez, Erika Owens, Ryan Pitts
OpenNews is changing in a couple of big ways that we’re excited to share with you. First, our team has grown! We can’t wait for you to meet our new colleagues Jessica and John. And second, as we grow, we’re also reimagining how we work together, organizing as a team of co-directors — all of us! — who share responsibility and decision-making across the many ways we want to continue supporting this community.
We believe that in our work as journalists, we have many opportunities to just decide to be in a better future together. We have the power to make our individual practices and relationships more equitable, and that’s how we’ve made this decision for OpenNews. We also hold true that when we organize as a community, we can change even bigger things. By sharing power and knowledge, and supporting each other as peers, we can build that better future for all of our organizations.
And we love how we get to imagine that future together. We’re looking forward to seeing many of you in Minneapolis for SRCCON 2023, where you’ll also get to meet Jessica and John in person. For now, we want to take this chance to tell you a little more about the team.
Meet our four co-directors:
Jessica Morrison - based in Nashville, TN
For the better part of the last decade, OpenNews has been teaching me how to be a more empathetic and conscientious journalist, team member, and leader. I’m excited to join OpenNews as co-director with Erika and Ryan and alongside John to continue that work personally and with the OpenNews community.
Together we’ve already started to dig into the critical work of OpenNews: things like fundraising, exploring community partnerships, and supporting journalists who are changing the way their newsrooms operate for the better. I can’t help but reflect on the ways that I’ve been training for this exact job.
In the past, I’ve engaged with OpenNews as a speaker at SRCCON:WORK, a session facilitator at SRCCON:LEAD and SRCCON:PRODUCT, and a participant or facilitator at every SRCCON since 2015. I’m a founding sustainer, I’ve volunteered during events, and I’ve written about my work for Source. OpenNews is a visible thread running through my journalism career and has been critical to my professional growth.
With OpenNews running in the background, I’ve gathered newsroom experiences as a reporter, editor, project manager, product manager, team leader, facilitator, mentor, consultant, and separately, as a community-focused startup founder. I have built what has felt like an unconventional career by following my interests, staying curious, and working with the best people that I can as often as I can and for as long as I can. I’m excited to continue doing that with the team at OpenNews.
Coming off a two-year break, I’m ready to support a community of journalists who are grappling with the growth and use of machine learning in journalism, threats to our democracy, and the power structures that keep us from building equitable and just newsrooms.
When you see me online in Slack (News Nerdery, News Product Alliance) or on email, or in person at SRCCON, please talk to me about remote work, creating new roles in journalism, building teams, shredding our org charts, taking a career break, new parenthood, baking, running, ashtanga yoga, or boxing.
John Hernandez - based in Austin, TX
As I started to message people close to me about moving into this role, the overwhelming response was something like, “That’s such a great fit. I’m so excited for you.” They’re right. It makes a lot of sense for me to work here because I wouldn’t be here without OpenNews. I’m excited to join the cause as co-director because it means I can invite others to benefit from the community we’ve fostered at OpenNews.
Togetherness is a value I hold dear because solving the problems that plague journalism and our democracy requires collective understanding and action. But the news industry can be excruciatingly lonely. As newsrooms struggle to find their way, careers are derailed and the relationship between us and the public gets increasingly tense and fractured. It’s during those tough times when we need to have others to lift us up or be honest with us.
OpenNews has served that role in my professional life. Every community call, SRCCON event and conversation I’ve engaged in through the DEI Coalition has restored me in some way. Nothing else I’ve witnessed in journalism has offered that same sense of clarity or purpose, and I couldn’t imagine myself as a leader without OpenNews. I remember when I stepped into one of my first SRCCON sessions, on leading with influence instead of formal power, and I was amazed at the audacious new doors it opened for me. Why hadn’t anyone told me about these possibilities for our work before?
I haven’t stopped thinking about the possibilities since then. As a Colombian immigrant growing up in Queens, New York, I was surrounded by all sorts of people who made me value empathy and different perspectives. I also got my journalism degree at the ripe age of 31, occupied in my 20s by working in grocery stores, startups, and city government, which prepared me for journalism’s attempts to inculcate its systemic myopia within me. When I think of the reality that many thought leaders in our field occupy, sometimes one of unspoken privilege and backward reasoning, I’m reminded of that kid walking to and from public school in Richmond Hill, Queens. The problems that journalism tends to favor and cover don’t resonate with many of the people who made up my life before I became a journalist.
In my eyes, that’s who all of this is for. The community that made me who I am. So, please don’t hesitate to talk to me about engagement, audience, or information needs and the ways they intersect with data, digital, and social platforms. I want to explore how an interdisciplinary understanding of these things makes for better news coverage and gives us a bigger tent to include more folks in the community. Likewise, I’m interested in the experiences of early-career and young journalists. Having recently gone through what many of them go through to make it in media, I know we can empower them to find a path that honors the journalism they want to see, not the journalism industry we’ve created for them.
I can’t wait to see what we can do together. Reach out if you want to chat and start making some of our dreams into realities. I’m here to help make that happen.
Ryan Pitts - based in Spokane, WA
We’ve hit some really fun OpenNews milestones lately, from more than 10 years as an organization to now this, the 10th year of SRCCON too. I feel amazed and so very lucky to have been able to grow and change along with our work over that time—from an organization helping people figure out how tech could change journalism into an organization that supports the people changing journalism themselves.
At times it’s felt hard to articulate exactly what that work looks like. But the longer we’ve been together at OpenNews, the clearer things have become: We’re part of a community that won’t wait for this industry to get better—we’ll make it better ourselves. We don’t need permission from leaders, because from reporting practices to managing with care to resource sharing to prioritizing inclusion and belonging, there are so many actions we can take that we already have control over. Our relationships with each other make change feel possible: We get to figure out what each of us needs, and then be the people who meet those needs for each other.
In the past couple years I’ve gotten really into this concept of prefigurative politics because, for me, it helps all of the pieces and programs that we’re a part of click into place. When we feel what it’s like to spend time in good spaces together, it makes it easier to spot problems in the spaces we go back to. And the relationships we make plus the knowledge we share are the tools we need to fix them.
Sometimes I’ve wondered, then, if one of the products we create at OpenNews might be “dissatisfaction.” I’m grateful to have created some dissatisfaction—the good kind!—with Erika over the years. And I’m so stoked to create some dissatisfaction with Jessica and John now too. If you’d like to chat more about any of this, reach out to me.
Erika Owens - based in Philadelphia, PA
I’m excited about this latest iteration of the OpenNews team, and the opportunity to share leadership even more broadly while expanding our ability to serve this wonderful community of nerds, changemakers, and journalists dissatisfied with the status quo.
It’s been amazing to work alongside all of you over the past 10+ years and see how we have changed and evolved. This community that began with a focus on open source technology is now reshaping organizations to be more open, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of the people we serve. The need for change around diversity, equity, and inclusion, to build news organizations where journalists of color and from all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging and opportunity, has been a priority for this community for a long time and has been inspired by the leadership of communities of color inside and outside of news, too.
I’ve also appreciated how OpenNews has always operated from a stance of humility. I’m in a course about Jewish ethics this month and the first ethical principle we learned is humility, which our teacher described as a value to “seek wisdom from everyone.” I just had to laugh seeing that concept crop up in another area of my life given how fundamental it is to OpenNews. I’m excited to see how Jessica, John, and Ryan embody this value alongside the others that the OpenNews community holds and that they bring from their own lives.
I’ll be on leave for the 2023-24 academic year, but you can find me on email or probably still cropping up at events here and there. Part of what I’ll be studying is about how, from a position of humility, curiosity, and care, we can better own and use our personal power, linking it up with others’ for collective struggles for justice and change. Grateful to be in this work with this team and with this community.
That’s us, and these are the hopes that we’re each bringing into this work! We wrote each section individually, of course, and it’s been such a joy to see all the values we share, as well as the places where we’re each excited to help OpenNews grow in new directions.
And it’s a joy to be doing this work in community with you. We’re so grateful for your support in celebration of moments like this one, in sharing the changes and experiences emerging from your own work—and of course through your financial support that makes it possible to keep doing all of these things, together. Thank you!
The latest from the OpenNews team
Read all our news in our OpenNews blog