Solutions-based media for our communities – Media Democracy Day

Illustration by Nick Booth

Media Democracy Day 2017 will take a more solutions-based view on journalism. As part of the Media Democracy Project in partnership with SFU’s School of Communication, the free event will be held Nov. 18 at Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch.

Media Democracy Day (MDD) is an annual conference, bringing together several smaller media outlets that serve specific communities – often ones that are marginalized – with bigger media outlets and non-profit organizations to work more collaboratively. Because of the Internet, more people are sharing their stories without going through journalists as a filter, which Tara Mahoney, lead program director and organizer of MDD, believes has forced a conversation on how journalists and the community can work together. She wants to know how the community can collaborate with journalists who have established platforms or bigger audiences nationally.

“How can we bridge that gap? I think that’s what Media Democracy Day is about. How can we all leverage our respective strengths? Whether that’s being on the ground, being close to community experience with having a platform, having access to resources, having funding…How can we work together to better serve communities?” asks Mahoney.

Mahoney says this idea of solutions media has been around for 10 years, but has been marginal to some extent. In the past, Media Democracy Days was typically attended by about 200 people and many discussions tended to be academic in nature, as well as quite gloomy, which she found worrisome. She does clarify, however, that the focus of solutions media is not saying everything is fine and always casting the future in a positive light.

“It’s not that all. We still talk about the problems, but the lens which you’re approaching them from is a constructive, solutions-oriented point of view so as you are describing the problems, you are describing [it] in the context of the variety of solutions that are proposed,” Mahoney explains.

She thinks solutions are a good way to discuss journalism and media production because they evoke feelings of positivity and empowerment, as well as addressing problems and promoting education on crucial issues.

Revitalizing media

I think the state of media is an in-between place right now where publicly, there’s not a lot of trust; there’s a lot of talk about fake news,” says Brielle Morgan, Discourse Media writer. “But on the flip side, there’s a lot of innovation.”

Morgan thinks the destruction of the media industry is forcing people to rethink the way journalists have been showing up in communities and what can they do to build trust. She feels people are tired of doom and gloom reporting.

“They’re tired of seeing newsroom of white journalists across the country and old white men sitting as editors. I think there’s a total re-shaping of our industry happening right now. I think focusing on solutions reporting is a big part of that,” says Morgan, who will co-present one of the showcases during MDD 2017.

Fair representation

Rabia Mir, a graduate student in Educational Studies at UBC who was part of the advisory committee for MDD 2017, says that fair representation of different ethnicities is not just a problem for Muslims, but for all marginalized communities. The project she is involved with, Not Just Your Average Muslim, is based on the Muslim Literacy Project.

“For me, it was important to realize it happened to all marginalized communities. We care about it because it’s not just a specific issue in itself, because the entire framework is faulty,” Mir explains.

Mir started this project because she was disheartened about problematic narratives and ideologies regarding Muslims. She wrote an email, which then turned into an opinion piece, to The Tyee. In the letter, she urged her liberal friends to challenge their own assumptions about Muslims.

“I am encouraged by people showing concern, but I am also disturbed by a somewhat reductionist approach it has taken. The hatred and discrimination run much deeper than [Trump’s immigration] ban and therefore, should be resisted against as such,” she wrote.

When asked to take part in organizing this year’s Media Democracy Day, she agreed to the solutions-focused approach in media critique.

“Let’s all have a day where instead of being thoroughly depressed about the problems we critique the problems. Let’s come together and also highlight some ways to building things to address those problems,” she says.

Media as a resource

Christopher Cheung, writer for The Tyee, agrees that solutions media is becoming more popular. The publication he works for has been reporting via solutions-media-style for about 10 years. Cheung, one of the presenters at the event, feels solutions are happening all the time behind the scenes but it’s not necessarily something that makes the front page. The goal of solutions media is to slow down and take more time to write pieces that can act as a resource.

“We want to be able to create something that’s ‘evergreen,’ so it’s content that doesn’t really go away and that you can continue to come to if you need a reminder of how an issue works,” he says.

Cheung is also looking forward to hearing some optimism at the conference.

“I don’t know if anybody knows what’s next but there’s a lot of new publications that are doing things differently, so the ability to hear about success stories in this industry is a good thing because we don’t hear about it very often,” he says.

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