Overwhelming and depressing or empowering and hopeful? 4 stories that change the way we think about news

June 4, 2019 01:00

Struggling schools. Overflowing prisons. Chronic illness. Urban blight. These and many other challenges impact communities across the country. All too often, local newscasts are full of this doom and gloom – aside from the occasional lighthearted feature.

Journalism’s mission is to empower communities to make more informed decisions, but when news is upsetting in content and overwhelming in volume, news fatigue and even news avoidance creep up.

What if there were a way to not only provide the critical coverage audiences need to be informed about their communities, but also empower people to take action?

Here are four stories that illustrate four steps to do just that.

News 5 Cleveland On Your Side Investigators: How the Cuyahoga County Land Bank revitalizes homes
This is one part of a year-long special report looking at blight in the viewing area. News 5 had been reporting on the issue, its causes and associated problems. This piece added a new angle: a look at one organization trying to do something about the issue. It gets beyond just the problem by letting audiences know about one response to the problem.
PBS Newshour: How ‘the incarceration capital of America’ embraced criminal justice reform
This report looks at how Louisiana, which had been jailing people at higher rates than anywhere else in the country, has reformed its criminal justice system in the past year. It broke down the new reform laws, their goals and the implications so far. By talking to prison officials, formerly incarcerated people released through the changes, non-profits and law enforcement, the piece provides a well-rounded look at a complex issue.

It offers evidence of results linked to the response, including a lower incarceration rate, money saved by the state, challenges for the formerly incarcerated and potential for recidivism. It shows what’s working, what’s not and what still needs time or resources to tell.
PRI’s The World: This Iraqi couple fled ISIS but face another enemy in the US — diabetes
Immigrants, this radio report shows, face diabetes at higher levels than others in the U.S. Sharing the story of one Iraqi couple’s health challenges, and a program that’s helping them stay healthy, offers a key insight for others in healthcare. The program, and related research, shows how health classes specifically designed for immigrants and tailored to their country of origin and culture can help immigrants with chronic illnesses find community and better manage their conditions. It’s a lesson that could be replicated in more cities, for more illnesses and immigrant communities.
NBC Nightly News: This Detroit public school is attempting to beat tough odds
NBC’s report highlights how one school is responding to the challenges of educating children in poverty, including small but significant changes like using uniforms, adding washers and dryers, offering showers and providing breakfast and donated school supplies. It shows how the schools have worked to respond to growing challenges like lead in the water – largely without support. And it shows how student outcomes have improved, but still have a long way to go, by explaining the limitations the schools still face, including city policy priorities and funding.
Taken together, these four stories show four ways to report rigorously on community challenges, while combatting news fatigue and giving people the information they need to get involved. This reframing enables people to make more informed decisions to support a response, improve it or reshape it – and make their communities better.

Learn more about how to execute these four steps, and how to access more than 6,000 additional story examples and ideas in our last webinar, recorded here: Reporting on Responsesand at Excellence in Journalism 2019.