What we did together in 2021: Understanding our collective power and ways to wield it
by Erika Owens and Sisi Wei, on Dec. 21, 2021
As we approach the end of another unexpected year, we did so exactly how you’d expect: in community. During our last community call of the year, we shared appreciations for what we’ve accomplished and movie recommendations, alongside what we hope to do together in the new year. We also validated our shared exhaustion — if you are reading this and feeling exhausted, please know you are far from alone and many of us feel this way too. Before we all (hopefully🤞🏼) take some time for rest, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on 2021.
On community calls, at SRCCON, in the DEI Coalition Slack, and in the multitude of spaces where we connect as a community, we built relationships with other people who also feel a sense of responsibility to each other and a responsibility to making newsrooms function better.
While the work of OpenNews began at the intersection of journalism and technology 10 years ago, this community’s success in arguing for more open and collaborative ways of working showed it’s possible to achieve culture change. Recognizing that possibility also brought with it a responsibility to push for change, especially in regard to pushing newsrooms to be more equitable and inclusive.
This experience taught us how journalists, with tech skills especially, hold a tremendous amount of power, and through OpenNews and other change-focused networks, we’re constructing a shared understanding of how to wield that power. Some examples from our work understanding power in 2021 include:
Power as workers. Unionization efforts continue to flourish in U.S. newsrooms, with workers banding together to fight for contracts that cover a range of improved policies and consider freelancers, too. Building on Carla Murphy’s Leavers survey, documenting the experiences of journalists of color who have left journalism, we began a series of “Exit Interviews” where journalists who have recently exerted the power of removing their labor from journalism entirely shared their experiences, as well as suggestions on what the industry needs to do differently to stop losing such talented journalists.
Power in shaping narratives. Journalists with tech skills are often the ones analyzing data or building those election results rigs. How we share data matters and journalists are pushing one another to rethink how we report elections results. They’re also documenting strategies on how to produce nuanced reporting about mixed race people rather than relying on oversimplified ideas of race.
Power as leaders. More and more tech folks are moving into broader newsroom leadership roles or demonstrating leadership in the field overall. Columns like Sincerely, Leaders of Color help journalists share strategies with other leaders, to help them understand the power they hold in creating a welcoming or a harmful work environment. Working with Jan Diehm at the Pudding, we also created a Speaker Rider for Meaningfully Inclusive Events, so that journalists can use their power as speakers to ensure more inclusive spaces for everyone. At OpenNews, we also announced our new Co-Executive Director structure, as another model for what it means to have leaders who share decision-making power and who are deep collaborators.
Throughout 2021 we’ve also seen that community support is a critical component in every way we understand power. We’ve created those structures for support together with the moderator model of the DEI Coalition Slack and documentation for sharing data reporting processes through story recipes. You also blew us away with your response to our fundraising campaign at SRCCON to help financially support this work, and continue to offer direct support to one another with peer data review and replying to Slack and listserv queries every day (sometimes within minutes!).
During our community call, there was a conversation about time — what does it even mean these days? And while we did not come up with an answer (remember, tired!), we do still appreciate even an arbitrary shift in the calendar as an opportunity to reflect and especially to share our gratitude for being in this work together. Thank you for sustaining OpenNews and for sustaining each other in 2021. If you’re thinking about making financial contributions at the end of the year, we invite you to become a sustainer and help support our work to change journalism’s culture, and help all journalists understand and wield their power. In the new year, we can’t wait to tell you more about some ideas we have for how we can continue our pursuit to use our power together in the service of justice.
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