New coalition aims to find absent narratives

media narratives
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A local coalition is now in place that aims to change problematic racial narratives and their representation in local news media.

The Saint Paul & Minnesota Community Foundations in July awarded a $250,000 grant to Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narratives in Media, a partnership of six community, media and academic organizations to create program materials, training sessions and an outreach plan.

The coalition hopes to help news professionals “uncover their own biases and assumptions, and amplifying community solutions to narrative change,” a press release said. It also plans to reach out beyond the Twin Cities in an effort to improve statewide reporting on communities of color.

“Narrative change and racial healing are critical components of creating racial equity,” Foundations President and CEO Dr. Eric Jolly said in the release. “We know this work is only possible through effective community partnerships, and this collaborative effort is an excellent example of the creativity and fresh thinking that is possible when we invite others to the table.”

The partners and their primary roles include:

  • KMOJ Radio will help in content creation and community outreach.
  • Pillsbury United Communities will help in content creation and community outreach efforts as well through its Community Media Initiative, composed of North News community newspaper and KRSM-FM radio.
  • Minnesota Public Radio will serve as project and fiscal manager, partnership development, marketing and communications, and digital/social media support.
  • The Minnesota Humanities Center will provide statewide conference design, develop education materials, and program evaluation.
  • Hamline University will serve as host site for a proposed statewide media conference in 2019 as well as help design and develop program content, facilitation, and educational resources. In 2017, the school was selected as one of the nation’s first 10 Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Centers by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
  • The University of St. Thomas’ ThreeSixty Journalism, a nonprofit program that trains and supports diverse students, will lead in the collaboration of education and youth outreach and conference reporting.

The grant is part of the Foundations’ work in truth, racial healing and transformation. The St. Paul-based community foundation received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2017 to support and sustain this process around the country.

“We have to address the absent narratives…that are happening all around us,” Jolly said in an MSR phone interview. He said he believes that members of the media play an important role in dispelling false narratives within our communities. “Our goal is we will find a way” to improve media reporting of Blacks and other people of color, and the grant award will help the coalition to help news professionals “uncover their own biases and assumptions,” he said.

The idea of a statewide focus to address narrative change in the news media was a convincing point for the Foundations to fund the coalition, added Jolly. “We had some other [proposals], but they weren’t as diverse. What impressed the Foundations was the quality of the coalition representing many facets of our community.”

Although the partnership is Twin Cities-based, “I think it is essential that the outreach goes beyond the Twin Cities into the small towns and small newspapers” around the state, he pointed out. “We want to go beyond the traditional media… I think the conversations by this coalition in the next several months will bring broader sources and fuller context” in stories about communities of color, marginalized communities, and disadvantaged communities both locally and statewide.

“Our goal is to reduce the exaggeration in the representation [of communities of color] in traditional media.”

Jolly called the coalition’s proposed two-day, statewide media conference for 2019 “an opportunity” to constructively critique the news media and help produce better coverage.

“We will be talking in the community to our youth group and other organizations,” Jolly said. He also pointed out that the Foundations’ role in this effort largely will be what the coalition wants from them in terms of further assistance. “We will be involved if we are invited, but we want the community to have the power to do it.”

The grant will also help, in part, to create a curriculum for future journalists in how stories should be reported, Jolly said. “We are not backing down from this.”