What we did together in 2020: setting "the bar for how to be wonderful, gracious, thoughtful change agents in journalism"
by Erika Owens
At the end of an exceptional year, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we were able to do for and with each other. And if OpenNews was a part of what helped you get through this year, please consider becoming a sustainer to support this work.
We began this year with transitions, one new team member joining and another moving onto new things. At the time, I asked what does it mean to create systems-level change? and shared some themes that arose from SRCCON:LEAD, namely that a next SRCCON could be named:
- BURN (as in “burn it all down”)
Back in February, I had absolutely no idea how prescient those notes would be or how intense of a year 2020 would become. Now, at the end of the year, we’ve just finished SRCCON:❤️. As we’ve had to contend with so much this year, with people from marginalized backgrounds dealing with the most pain, sickness, disruption, and grief, we came together as a community to share in:
"Empathy, vulnerability, humanity"
The immense generosity and thoughtfulness of this community never ceases to astound me, and charts such a powerful, inspiring way forward for doing journalism better —doing journalism that is anti-racist, centers those margins, and serves justice. Together this year, we’ve found so many ways to push for that change, while organizing for what we know is much more work to come.
Truly getting to know each other
We know that it is through deep relationships that we build empathy and the trust and friendship of our colleagues. These relationships are what sustain us through challenging times and allow us to build power together for lasting change.
- For many community members, NICAR was the last in-person event of the year, where we got to catch up over meals and music.
- By July, SRCCON 2020 went virtual, but still presented ample opportunity to actually connect with colleagues. Instead of sharing meals, we shared stories about parenting and cooking, and made numerous Slack channels for meeting up with old friends and making new ones.
"OpenNews has been a much-needed place for reflection, refuge and personal growth as I've built my career."
Understanding our own power
Even in a year where so much has been out of our control, through the network of networks that sustains this community, we’ve shown up for each other and demonstrated how much we can accomplish when we work together.
- As the pandemic took hold in the US, we released a community care package and worked with colleagues to help get tens of thousands of dollars to laid off journalists.
- Community members also supported one another by offering peer data review support and writing story recipes to help make it easier for colleagues in other states and localities to cover the waves of COVID-19 data. In addition, community members quickly created the Newsroom Guide to COVID (also facilitating translations), and numerous community members are contributors to the COVID Tracking Project (co-founded by Source’s founding editor Erin Kissane).
- In August, Carla Murphy helped us all better understand the inequitable landscape in which we work through the Leavers survey, which gave vocabulary and data to the painful experience of Black journalists and others who have left the field.
- Throughout the year, the creation of unions in newsrooms continued aroudn the US. With the DEI Coalition for Anti-Racist, Equitable, and Just Newsrooms we’re helping community members facilitate spaces to make it easier to learn from those efforts happening in individual newsrooms.
"I do not know any other media community which is so great in making everyone open up and participate."
Organizing to wield our power
While helping each other get through the day to day, together we’re also manifesting a bolder vision for what journalism must be.
- We’ve found financial strength and the space to define that vision for ourselves as a community because of the year-round support of 175 sustainers, flexible and intentional relationships with funders, and earned income from consulting with partner organizations we’re proud to get to work with. Shifting how we think about money, and the many forms contributions can and must take, is an integral part of our work as an organization and the experience we bring to movements for change.
- Through a collaboration with Big Local News, we worked with Justine Isaavi of Stanford University to understand the realities of covering the pandemic and respondents were clear about the exhaustion, confusion, and isolation they’re facing and the conversations newsrooms must have to better cover this story, and serve their communities. These conversations are possible because of the trust within this community, and raise a range of ways we need to do better, from considering how readers interpret data to language translation to supporting the new skills this reporting requires.
- In collaboration with ONA and the Maynard Institute, we partnered and launched Vision25, which seeks transformative action to create institutions of true belonging. Sisi Wei laid out how we must move beyond “diversity” to actually achieve social justice in journalism.
"Open News is the leading organization for connecting people over the deeper meaning in our work and helping us organize toward real, positive change."
Even though this has been an extremely tough year, OpenNews got through it by centering the people in this community and their needs, our collective power, and our shared purpose of creating a better industry.
We close this year with SRCCON:❤️. It offered a heart, a hug, a bit of love, a well of care and connection from living room to laptop screen. We take this nourishment from SRCCON friends to the meetings where we will be a part of making the decisions that reshape this industry, to the DMs where we get advice on how to write that tricky reply. Even in a year of such challenge; Especially in a year of such challenge, we showed up for each other in so many ways.
Thank you for your many contributions this year. And, if you’re thinking about financial contributions, we invite you to become a sustainer (or, if you’re already a sustainer, please consider making an additional gift or tweeting about why this community matters to you).
"This community and its leaders give me so much hope for the journalism industry!"
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