Last week, a journalism student from Northeastern University in Boston interviewed me for a class assignment. She’s writing about how journalists can gain the trust of communities of color to improve news coverage. Her research led her to MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and a recommendation from an acquaintance led her to me. 

One thing she wanted to explore was what it means to be a media organization that centers its community. I told her that I think traditional media believes that is what it is doing. But because it is supported by advertisers and hampered by a lack of diversity, its definition of “community” often leaves communities of color — in their fullness — out. 

When she asked how MLK50 works to gain the trust of our community, I had a  perfect example. Also, last week, as it happens, our housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer went to the Judge D’Army Bailey Courthouse on Adams Avenue and began handing out our guide to eviction court. 

The double-sided, single-sheet guide — designed by local artist Mikhaila Markham — draws from Jacob’s reporting and his observation that many people don’t understand how the court works and what rights they have. Jacob told me he had fun giving the guide out as people entered the court and watching the reactions from recipients. It was a labor of love. It was journalistic public service as an act, not just a principle.

It’s the kind of work we want to keep doing — informing our readership in a way that’s meaningful in their everyday lives, in a way that can change their lives for the better. While traditional media typically strives for a kind of distance between journalists and subjects in the name of things like “objectivity,” we embrace collaboration with our readers. That’s the heart of what “community” means. Serving the public requires actions that benefit the community. Service is a gift. And a gift should uplift.

Jacob and the rest of the team will keep handing out the guide, as will West Tennessee Legal Services. And, it will be available at the back of the Evicted exhibit at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. We invite you to print it out and share it, too.

We believe the media can gain the trust of communities of color by listening to them, understanding their concerns, responding to their needs and helping to empower them. Just as we’re passing along this guide, we want to pass along that message to future journalists.

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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