Day 2: The origins and the evolution of the Charlottesville Inclusive Media project
4:01PM Jun 20, 2023
Okay, so thank you. So next up, I would like to welcome Sabra Davenport, Charles Lewis and Anjali shot to the stage. I'm really excited about this one, we're going to discuss the evolution of the Charlottesville inclusive media project. And we're running just a few minutes behind. But take take, take your time, we're going to figure this out. So no worries about your time is not going to get cut off. So come on and have a seat.
Right, good morning.
Well, you know, as a man thinketh, so is he. So that's why the work that everybody here does is so important. And my preview, so can we give ourselves a hand, everybody give yourselves a hand.
And on the screen there, you got me Angilee, all right, and on screen there. So Charlottesville tomorrow, nonprofit, public service, news organization, where we're Anjali Shah is the CEO and editor in chief,
So yeah, so from there, sir, I'm gonna kick it over to Sarad to kind of show you all with the first steps of our project where
Thank you, Charles. And thanks, everybody. And I think everybody at this point, and Charles did the AKA, but understand that, you know, Charlottesville had a pretty critical inflection point
During that time, you know, early 2020, COVID hit, and also there was an uprising in America. And we created this series called The determined series and determined was based on the social determinants of health, which we thought efinor Go home magazine was an approach to address all of these concerns, like the health concerns with regards to the black community, and also the uprising, which we believe was rooted a lot in health if you look at the social determinants of health. So we did that series, we were able to get some funding some support from in and others, IMHO radio came on board, there was transformation at Charlottesville, tomorrow's board where they became more diverse as as an operation I'm sure Anjali will talk a little bit more about that. We created, you know, a show called Black truths, white truths as a part of this collaboration. And we also begin this, this direction around this this concept called first person, Charlottesville. And I'll turn it over to Angilee to kind of take us through that phase.
Yeah. And I can't under appreciate enough how much this partnership has been important to Charlottesville tomorrow itself. It began before I got there, but was so hard won. I mean, nobody, nobody, people in Charlottesville did not trust each other. It was segregated in the media, as well as in the built environment. And, you know, when I began when I came to Charlottesville,
you couldn't go to people and expect them to be like, oh, yeah, this is a great idea to talk to a journalist. It was it was not a good idea for most people, because they had been burned so many times. And they have local media that does things like run police press releases, and mug shots, and national media that shows up in times of crisis, unfortunately, which we've had many over the last five years. So, you know, how do you rebuild trust in a community? That was the problem we were trying to solve. And it started with rebuilding trust between our organizations or building trust that was never there, frankly. And that, you know, we had to one, our board was extremely courageous, and rolled over almost completely, we have an almost completely new board since 2017. It became more diverse, it became more community representative. And it became more dedicated to growing a broader ecosystem that it could include more people in news media. So our most recent project that you know, Charles and Stratton, I dreamed up when I became editor in chief of Charlottesville tomorrow is called First Person Charlottesville. And this is a very durable, ongoing project that we've worked on for one just over a year now.
Because one thing we saw in the local ecosystem, one there are so few journalists in central Virginia, I can count them on my hands, the number of independent journalists in our region. And to that means we don't have people who are thinking about media as a career, if they are from that place, and dedicated to that place. So we needed ways to get more people involved in the work of journalism, to get people involved in the work of telling the stories of Central Virginia. So our first sort of way into that was first person Charlottesville, which is a really simple idea in a lot of ways, but getting people who are very close to the issues that all three of our organizations cover to tell their own stories about what it is like to live through those issues, their testimonies, with reported material in it. So it involves both professionalizing the work I think marginalized people in Charlottesville get asked to tell their stories all the time. But you know, UVA researchers are everywhere, journalists everywhere. The Washington Post comes around every month or so. I mean, you know, people are always asking particularly black people in Charlottesville to tell their stories to tell their traumas and we want it To build a space where we could help people tell their own stories the way they want it to pay them properly for it, pay them competitively for that work, and give it the professional treatment it deserves, so that it comes out the way that they see reality is, and so that those narratives become core to the conversations we have in the city and our surrounding counties. So we're really excited about first person Charlottesville, we're really excited about the impact that we can have locally in terms of shifting who has power in our news media. So just a little bit about that impact, though, this was one of the first stories that we ran a really rare narrative that took a long time to develop trust. And what we can, from what we can tell from records, the first black woman detective and the Charlottesville PD wrote about what it was like to be an officer protecting the kk k, when they rallied in 2017. And for her to tell that story took a lot of guts, because her struggle was really taking it from all sides, people were very angry with the police. And they were all obviously very angry with white supremacists. And so you know, her, her ability to tell that story was really powerful. And the feedback, we got the feedback we continue to get from people who are looking at their relationships with the police, with community members differently, because she told that story has been really amazing. So we see that through a lot of the different types of stories that we tell.
Yep, yeah. So building off of that, you know, the whole first person, Charlottesville essay model, we had to figure out a way as well to once again, maximize the resource of of all of our entities. And so the podcast idea came about. And so our podcast channel is named after our show, in my humble opinion. So you all please subscribe. And so that again, that's that's another way to share the stories and to trust that you've heard mentioned multiple times cannot be overstated. Right to, for for people that have been underrepresented and misrepresented. There's a level of trust that has to be built first, like it can't just be, hey, I'm writing, like, I want to write better stories about your life and think they're just gonna be transparent. So it's definitely a community building. And I like to call the domino effect, I feel like the three individuals and entities that's that's on the stage in front of you right now. We had to set the example, right, three boards, organizations diverse, very different from each other, had to set the example that hey, we can work together and cause positive change. So saying all that, I can't think of a better example that we have out of all of our podcast episodes, the first person Charlottesville, then Miss India Sims that you see there on the screen. India has been wheelchair bound since she was an infant. And so she is someone that has been jaded by her reality of, of under representation and feeling like that nobody's listening, and nobody really cares. So, again, it's a prime example of how people in our community believe in our work and our platform. So here's a little clip. It's the audio gram of the podcast of India's episode. Do we play here?
Joe's, I think Joe can help us with this.
With my business,
It's so much. And Charlottesville, I'm gonna say it, Charlottesville put this big persona, that they love everybody and they accept everybody and they'll do whatever they want for everybody.
I'm here, start on me. Start on someone that actually wants it and will work for it. Because I know what it's like to be thrown away. I was thrown away after the doctors paralyze me. If anybody knows how to salvage and put things together and hold it in place, that's me
Yeah, so you know another thing that you know, I want to just lift up you know, Angilee's predecessor at a recent car
offense, he also said Giles Morris, he said that, you know, we're really also in a healing, this is a healing project. And all of us have decided to come together because we want to be intentional about, you know, healing our community. And, and we're using media as a way to be to be the healers of our community. So, a little bit about participation, like Anjali said, we've, we've been going on for about a year, I always have, I don't know if I've conceptualized it, but I've been using it on the road here, and I'm calling it multimodal. So you know, we use a multimodal approach in which you'll see the audio Graham's we will have first person that was photography only, because we want people to be able to come into the space of First Person Charlottesville, in a multimodal way in that may be non traditional in the ways that we think about journalism and how people still tell stories and community. So you'll see, there have been some there have been story pitches, written stories, podcast episodes, will recall them photo essays that I talked about events and panels, we've received some grants along the way that have been helpful to the infrastructure of the project. And you know a little bit about, you know, that piece is that, you know, Charlottesville tomorrow has back office has more infrastructure, but a lot of the emphasis of this collaboration has been on building the black media organizations and helping them get the back office infrastructure, the capacity, that they need to be able to do the great work that they can. Because that's often left out of the conversation, it's not that they can't do work, they don't necessarily have the resources to accomplish that at the highest levels. And we've been able to do that. So some of the resources that we receive in our community members are chiming. I mean, we've been like, if anybody knows anything about Charles was about philanthropy that goes on there, I think that we have more nonprofits per capita than like New York City. So a lot of people are giving, and it's a big competition. But you know, there have been some folks in the community have seen the work that we are doing, I believe in it. And we've been surprised by how people have supported it. And we continue to work on a product so that we can continue to have that type of engagement. And end objective is for us to start, you know, we thought about like I do, we wait till we get something big, but we made the decision to start and then scale and to produce an MVP, so to speak, like, well, you know, what's, you know, what's the minimum viable product, and let's put that together and demonstrate some success. And we've been able to see kind of growth over time by not waiting, in really with the intention to be healer in the community, we couldn't wait. We couldn't wait because, you know, things we're continuing to, and we can see it across our country. You know, I'm always championing the Fourth Estate and how we have to kind of step up and be more accountable. And we see our role. And, you know, having a more inclusive show, social narrative is a part of that work. And we have to, you know, kind of step up and be accountable in these times. So with that said, I'll turn it over to Angela to talk about kind of where we're going.
So I think a really important thing about our work together as partners is that we do this for the ecosystem. Charlotte, Central Virginia
needs journalism, and it needs a plurality of journalism. It needs different kinds of journalism, different types of voices, different perspectives. It doesn't just need traditional daily newspaper journalism, it needs traditional black journalism, it needs it, we have went off a Spanish language news outlet in central Virginia, we need more from indigenous people Monacan nation in our area. That isn't for the purpose of serving just black communities, or just Latino communities, or just immigrant communities or just indigenous
communities. We need folks in different communities to own the narrative for everybody.
But really, the goal of Charlottesville inclusive media is to change the ecosystem where we are to say, Okay, people are beginning to have an interest in local news. Finally, you know, we're at a we're at a point where people can't ignore the lack of local news, where we are.
How are we going to rebuild it?
How what is that going to look like? Is it going to look like it did 50 years ago because of that?
case, all three of us here on the stage have a problem.
Because that that type of media didn't serve our communities well enough, it didn't include our communities well enough. So our project is really about lifting people in our communities who are doing the work to keep people informed to connect people, and saying, can we build our ecosystem from that position of strength?
So as you can see, the sky's the limit. I mean, we Central Virginia needs resources and, and different communities needs resources to tell their stories. So we're building toward that.
Think he's back on me. So I've been coming up with all of these concepts. If you need a lexicon for anything you're doing, just talk to me, we'll work it out. But, you know, ripple effects. And I think that anecdotally, we've seen how our ability to, to be nimble and innovative, has affected you know, you know, the small ecosystem that we have in the Charlottesville region. And just between, like, our artistic approach, I think all of us are artistic in our own way. I certainly am, you know, artistically inclined and tech adjacent. And we try to bring all of those things to bear to the work that we do. And we've seen other media publications and to respond to what we've been able to do, and to also change their coverage the way they cover. And, and we think that's positive, right? Some people may be upset, like people make subtle shifts. But if we really want a more inclusive social narrative, and we're causing these ripple effects throughout the ecosystem, then we see that as positive, at least I do. And it also, we're able to amplify folks because we can mine for I got another one mine for genius, this probably isn't my concept, but mining for genius in the community, and really putting people in a place where they can be amplified, where there may be other publications that have broader or bigger audiences, and we want to be the first to find them. We want to be the first to find those stories. And that's okay. And if it changes the the media coverage of other organizations, because of our approach and our ability to be innovative, and move quickly to things, then we think it's all for the better and better for the quality of the community. So Well, that's it, I think we have some time for a few questions, if there are, so thank you.
Thank you so much for a lovely presentation. So for some context, one of the things I do in Philadelphia is work with the Center for better gun violence reporting, which helps pairs, gun violence survivors, or CO survivors with reporters to work on closely reported or credible messenger reporting projects. And that sounded awfully similar to a lot of the work you're doing in this collaborative, closely reported stories, new empowering regular committee members to do journalistic work. But what I know this from talking with the mentors in the editors in our processes, is that it's hard to modulate expectations, because these people come from a background where they, you know, because we're not the best at explaining our work don't understand how the do our jobs in the way they conceive of them, or the final product they're putting out. It's not necessarily their words so much or like their words or their works, because an editor is taking over to shape it in something that like is publishable. So I was kind of curious, like how you manage those relationships, and like the types of training you provide, and kind of how you balance giving people agency over their work and empowering their voice with also producing a quality product that matches an audience's expectation of like information?
Well, the first thing I'll say is that our product probably does not match our audience's expectations of what journalism looks like, we are teaching them to have new expectations about the kinds of journalism that matter.
And I will say, you know, it's, it's challenging, and it takes time. So you know, when we have a new contributor, we spend a lot of time talking with them about what the process is and what they can expect. And that we pay them because we expect to go through multiple edits. Because when Charles does interview, I definitely recommend listening to the podcast because a lot of these questions are answered and just Charles's style of interviewing and the way he both challenges and gives agency to people. And we have this beautiful producer who does beautiful non narrated work as well, to really draw that out. So for India story, for example, I think that
piece. So she wrote first. And I think that piece may be took three months to work through, we went through four drafts. And mostly I sat with her and did it.
So by the time she got to the podcasts, she understood her narrative, her own narrative it was working through, she has so many things to say. And a lot of it's like, alright, let's choose one or two things you want to focus on here. But it really is about being a great editor. And being a great teacher and being patient and understanding your job is to make their story powerful not to tell their story in the way that you want it told, we explained fact checking a lot upfront, and say, Okay, if you want to tell this part of your story, we're going to have to go back to the court record, or go back to the person who did you wrong and talk to them. And sometimes they're like, Okay, let's leave that part of the story out, because I'm not ready to do that kind of work. And they can make that choice understanding the process. Yeah,
and one thing that I would add to it is that, like, that's the sort of shining example of the importance of, of our collaborative media is that, like, we may, you know, one of us may get presented with someone who has a story, but we may determine, hey, like, this may be a better radio interview, or, or we may want to send a journalist or you know, a Reporter Out, you know, to, to go visit, whatever the, the incidence of situation is so, so that, like, that highlights why, you know, collaborating and having sort of options for people's comfort zones is so important.
I'm gonna try to do this real quickly, is that also, I think Anjali hinted to it about preparing the audience. And there's a concept called demonstrating a mastery, and how the expectation that people need to present in a certain way that that is acceptable to others, is part of what we're trying to attack. Also, like people that come from different cultures, like their way is not acceptable. When they have shown demonstration of mastery, maybe you need to shift and understand that there may be differentiation in presentation and stop expecting a status quo presentation that fits into a certain box. And there are different modalities by which information can come across. So preparing the audience for that also is important.
That's really helpful because our project does do podcasts does do personal essays, does do reported work in photos. But the other question I wanted to ask if nobody has another one, or go to a quick one isn't behind you, if you? Is it super quick? How do you kind of set expectations in the fact checking process? What I've heard from some of our partners is that it's always like, why are you asking me for proof? Why do I have to keep explaining myself? I explained myself to all these other systems, and they get really frustrated. And sometimes they quit. Because that's asking for fact checking is like, you know, it seems like you don't believe somebody's hard, right, but how do you how do you?
I remember ici je editors called it a colonoscopy. Yeah, yeah. It's hard is different.
Yeah. So how you work through that and kind of acknowledge their frustrations, but also, like level set with them, it's really
important to start that conversation before there's any words on paper, you know, because, you know, I think intentions matter. And if it's really clear that we have this partnership, and our intention is to make their story as strong as possible. And also to set the intention with them. What is it that you want this story to do? What do you want community members to hear? Okay, we're gonna bring our expertise to help you do that. So when we ask you a question, it's because we know that you want a community member who doesn't understand your neighborhood, or doesn't understand what it means to have brick cobblestone everywhere to somebody in a wheelchair. You want them to understand that. So we're going to have to make sure you don't have those bumps in your piece that are going to turn certain people off because they don't believe you. So it's all about intention setting. Our intention is not to question you, or inquest, our intention is to help you reach your goal with the story that you want to tell.
And of course, you know, we're in Yeah, sorry. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for the question. Real quick. I just wanted to add to you know, I know we're a smaller town in Philly, but like the relationship building is key. Like the the timing, they know us by time we get a lot of it is just so they may not be ready, but they want to know you care. Literally, they want to know you're not doing this just for a job. You actually care about their story. And so I've had people that may had to come back at a later date when they were ready.
I just had a really quick question about how you differentiate between sources and then journalists and then how do you go about paying people like how what does that process look like? When you decide oh, someone is just telling me their story to like publish versus that they are the journalism now they must be paid. And where do you get the money to pay these storytellers?
Yeah, so we live in a small town, right? Everybody has conflicts of interest always. There's just no, you know, what I like, I like this, I can count the number of independent journalists on my hands. Right. So, you know, everybody's been paid by UVA for something at some point, everybody has a conflict of interest for something. So our sort of way of dealing with that is just being completely transparent. If we say, you know, we have this like very strict to public media and you're set we'd like to what if we made very strict rules, we would literally have nobody to work with. So yeah, we have people who have been sources and stories who we also pay to do first person and, and we just pay them there's, I mean, I want to say some complicated answer. If they do if they do work and tell stories, we just pay them. They send us an invoice and we send them money. It's not super complicated in that way. And and you know, for us it's it's very practical. You know, it's there's a lot about journalism that has a lot of rules, but those rules are made for national media outlets are communities where you're playing into the power structure of the the existing power structure and we make rules to play into what we want for the community what the community wants from us.