Originally Published on OpEdNews
Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township reaching Metro Philly and South Jersey. Sponsored by opednews.com
. My guest tonight is Mallary Jean Tenore, Managing Editor of Images & Voices of Hope. The website is IVOH.org. Prior to joining IVOH, Mallary was Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute's media news site, Poynter.org. She remains an adjunct faculty member at the institute and teaches sessions on social media.The reason I invited Mallary on this show is...she wrote an article, published on Images & Voices of Hope, on why restorative narratives are an important part of the media landscape. And I really like what it had to say because in some ways it reflected conversations that the Managing Editors at Opednews have had. So, welcome to the show Mallary.
MJT: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Rob: So, why don't we start off by you just telling us what it means, "restorative narratives," and why they're important.
MJT: So restorative narratives is a term that we coined at IVOH to basically describe stories that show how people in communities are learning to recover and rebuild in the aftermath or in the midst of difficult situations. These stories are often sustained inquiries, so sometimes they can take a while to work on or sometimes they may not originate or come to fruition until a little while after a tragedy, simply because these stories show and highlight resilience. So you never want to assume or make it seem like a person or community has overcome something when in fact they haven't. So sometimes you might see a restorative narrative come out a year after tragedy. Sometimes you may see it come out later than that. But we also see restorative narratives in more chronic situations, like in Detroit...seeing these grass-root efforts of people and communities trying to move the community forward. And so there have been some media organizations that have covered efforts like that in Detroit and those are restorative narratives in a lot of ways.
And we got the idea for restorative narratives after talking and hearing from Curtis Clark, who's the editor of the Newtown Bee, which is the small newspaper in Newtown, CT., and after the shootings that happened at Sandy Hook, he really was asking himself, well, what is the purpose of the paper during a time like this when the community is experiencing so much tragedy? And he really wanted to look at how the community could help strengthen the....or how the paper could help strengthen the community as opposed to kind of causing or adding to more of their stress because so often during tragedies we see reporters swoop in and they cover what happened and those stories certainly serve a purpose, but we don't necessarily see as many papers and TV stations and websites really sticking with the community and looking at what resilience and what revitalization and recovery looks like for that community.
Rob: So, the idea is as things happen, restorative journalism explores how people and members of the community respond to it in ways that are restorative or healing, or that show signs of strength and capacity to face the tragedy?
MJT: Uh hmm, exactly. Yeah, and those are the stories that often get overlooked. We do see one year anniversary stories or five year anniversary stories when after a tragedy, but we don't necessarily see those deep dives into what resilience looks like for a community. And we know from research that resilience is an acquired skill. So our hope is really that restorative narratives can help show communities what it means to be resilient. So maybe there's a restorative narrative that comes out of Detroit and in reading that restorative narrative or hearing it, other communities can draw lessons from it and learn what it means to actually try and rebuild and recover after experiencing a difficult time.
Rob: Okay, so you've written in the article restorative narratives are not always positive or happy-go-lucky and they don't necessarily end on a high note, but they're positive in a sense that they touch upon themes like survival, growth and rejuvenation -- things that at some point in our lives we could all relate to. Restorative narratives capture hard truths, but they don't focus on what's broken. Instead they reveal hope in times of despair. Well we sure need that. I mean all around us now we hear people like Madeline Albright saying just how messed up the world is.
MJT: About hmm.
Rob: Yes, so what makes a story and one that is...one that has a restorative narrative -- let's say, let's talk about what the big news now...is Ferguson, Missouri.
MJT: Um hmm.
Rob: How would that look in Ferguson, Missouri?
MJT: Yeah, so I think that's a really good question because I think anytime something like the story that's happening in Ferguson, Missouri occurs, it is helpful to think, okay, is there a restorative component to this, and if there is, what is it? And if there isn't, what might be the restorative component down the road? And I think with Ferguson, it's really kind of too soon to tell. I mean, Ferguson is still really in the midst of this chaotic situation. There are still a lot of unknowns. There's still a lot that's happening and going on there. So I think that it's too early to say that there's a restorative narrative there. I think that once a little bit of time has passed and we look at how the community is really trying to grapple with the racial tensions and other issues, and constructive strength-based ways, then it will be easier to really see if there is a restorative narrative there.
It's not to say there's a restorative narrative for every story or every major breaking news event. But it's something that I think journalists can keep an eye out for, especially as they're on the ground cultivating sources because sometimes these restorative narratives may not necessarily be about an entire community. We may not see a restorative narrative necessarily about Ferguson, but we may see a restorative narrative based on an individual who really learns to become more resilient after experiencing this unrest, in this civil unrest, in Ferguson. I think that with Ferguson right now, there's just a big community narrative story. There's an opportunity to tell these more strength-based community narratives about how people can make sense of the chaos and identify meaningful pathways forward.
Rob: Now, I've long been a big fan of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" idea. You're familiar with it I'm sure?
MJT: A little bit, yeah.
Rob: Well just for the listeners, I'll just kind of throw out a brief overview of it. Campbell wrote a book that some have said is among the hundred most influential books of the 20th century called, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And what it was was a description of a pattern of a myth that appears in thousands of different cultures. And the basic idea of the myth is that someone starts out living in an ordinary world and something happens that is"acts as a call to adventure where the person can leave the ordinary world and cross a threshold by making a decision or deciding not to act in a usual way and that takes the person on a journey where he or she changes and in the process becomes a hero.
George Lucas used the concept and got to know Campbell in writing the Star Wars trilogy -- the original Star Wars trilogy. And if you think about it, Luke Skywalker, who is living with his aunt and uncle and all of a sudden a droid comes along and he meets Obi Wan Kenobi and Obi Wan invites him to go on this journey and help rescue a princess. And as often happens with a hero's journey, he rejects it and says I have to help my aunt and uncle harvest these whatever they are. And the next day, as often happens in hero journeys stories, something gets...it gets worse, and his aunt and uncle get killed. And so he goes, "Okay, I'm going." To cross the threshold for him it means going into a really dangerous city, being exposed to nasty troopers, and racing off into outer space and then to more dangers that put him on his journey.
The reason I bring it up is because in many ways, the tragedy that you're describing is the call to adventure that people don't have any choice to deal with. And the story it seems to me is one where they become heroic and that would be a transformative narrative. Make sense?
MJT: Um hmm, right. Yeah I think that's true for sure.
Rob: Now because I call this show the Bottom Up radio show, I'm really interested in the idea of how communities can work together. So, there's...the book, THE book written for writers on the hero's journey is The Writer's Journey by Chris Vogler. So at one point I saw a movie, I think it was The Avengers, a couple of years ago and I started...and it was around the same time as Occupy and I started thinking, well all these movies always have one person who changes everything and saves the world. Can't there be a community that saves itself or saves the world? So we talked about that. And there are mythic and archetypal images for that as well. And it was kind of fun to put that together.
I just kind of like to throw that in there because in a way, what you're describing it seems to me and you've got a lot more description of what's involved in it, is taking somebody who does encounter a bad situation and then turns around, goes on a journey and becomes a hero in a way.
MJT: Um hmm.
Rob: It doesn't have to be that I guess, but it seems like that could be a piece of it.
MJT: Yeah, I think that that's so true and I think, I mean, it reminds me of the Norah Ephron quote in which she says something to the effect of, "Instead of being the victim of your life be the hero of your life." And I think that that is something that is pretty poignant as you think about narratives and you think about someone's ability to go through something that is incredibly painful and come out of it okay.
One of my favorite examples for those sorts of narratives is a series called The Girl in the Closet. It was written by a Dallas Morning News reporter, Scott Farwell. And he had heard this story about this young girl who, as a child, was consigned to a closet. Essentially her mother had locked her in this closet and the young girl wasn't able to interact with anyone. she wasn't given any love, and she was starved and it was a horrible situation for her. And initially when the young girl was found and it was discovered that she had been locked in the closet, people in the media were really on top of this story and they were reporting on what had happened and it was devastating. But as time went on, as usually happens, the media kind of forgot about that story and moved on to other stories. And Scott Farwell, more than a decade later, he thought to himself, "Well, I want to find out where this young girl is. How does someone who experienced such neglect and such abuse overcome that or move forward?"
He ended up finding the young girl, whose name is Lauren, and he tried to get her to open up but because of what had happened to her when she was younger she really had a lot of trust issues and had difficulty deciding whether she wanted to share her story with him. So he took it upon himself to really get her to feel comfortable with him. So he played laser tag with her and he hung with her and her mom and he spent about 9 months just trying to her to open up to him. And after 9 months she finally called him and said, you know what Scott I feel like I'm ready to talk now. And he asked her why. And she said well because I feel like I can finally trust you. And so from there he started to talk with her more in depth about what she had experienced and where she is today.
The story that came out as the result of it was this 8-part series that looked at what she struggled with, but that also really tracked how she was able to get over that. And it's not to say that her life is perfect now. As you mentioned earlier, these sort of narratives really do capture hard truths so they don't pretend that everything is okay, they don't try to wrap up things with a tiny bow. But they look at someone's journey through that recovery process. And he really did that in this series. And he showed that she is now going to a community college. She's much farther ahead, both emotionally and physically and mentally than doctors expected her to be. She's building friendships, she's learning to test people and so, for her, those are huge victories.
That story really captured that and showed how she was able to learn to move forward. And so it's a really good example of taking something that happened a long time ago and taking a story that could have easily been forgotten or ignored, and really visiting it again and saying okay, well what has this person or community learned from that difficult time, and what might they be able to teach other people who are experiencing similar situations?
Rob: Excellent, yeah that sounds like a great story. So, what I'm really hoping will come out of this interview is the writers for Opednews at least, and there are a couple thousand of them, will listen to this, read the transcript and read your other writings and start thinking about how they can go beyond reporting the bad news to reporting what's hopeful and examples of how people recover. Because my background is...I got into positive psychology before it was called positive psychology, back in the early 80's, and what got me started with it was discovering that people who had thought about heartwarming experiences, all their physiology went in the right direction. That got me interested in what's a heartwarming experience and I realized human interest stories are built on them. Now, what you're saying is restorative narratives are not necessarily human interest stories. What's the difference between a human interest story and a restorative narrative?
MJT: It's a good question because I think restorative narratives can often be reduced to feature stories or human interest stories. And I think when people see them initially they think, "Oh, well, that's just a fluff piece," or "That's just a happy-go-lucky piece." And it's a little bit different in the sense that human interest stories don't necessarily focus on that component of resilience and recovery. They may, but that is not the focal point of human interest stories. Human interest stories often make us feel warm and fuzzy and they really kind of capture something that can be positive and hopeful. So in that sense they're similar to restorative narratives, but restorative narratives tend to take a deeper dive into what that recovering and rebuilding process looks like. And so rather than, you know, focusing on tragedy and despair, they focus more on the positive aspects of it. And so I think that what really separates them is that deeper dive...and they often take longer than human interest stories...they don't always. Sometimes there are restorative narratives that come out of breaking news stories, but sometimes like The Girl in the Closet series, they do take a little bit of time to report and they can't necessarily be reported in the week or a month after a tragedy has occurred.
Rob: It sounds like another element is that there's pain or loss or tragedy, whereas a human interest story can be about a cute puppy or...
Rob: ...some sweet act...sweet nice thing that a person did.
MJT: Um hmm, exactly. Yeah. And, I mean, I think that restorative narratives also have the potential to have a greater impact on people than human interest stories do because they have more depth. And you were talking about positive psychology earlier, and that's something that we've given a lot of thought to in terms of the importance of restorative narratives. And we really believe that these narratives can influence and mobilize people in ways that traditional news stories haven't. And we're reminded of a few different studies that have recently come out, including one by NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health that said that...found that 1 in 4 people say that they experienced a great deal of stress over the past month and consuming news, they said, was one of the biggest contributors to that day-to-day stress.
We believe, and research supports this idea, that when people are stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, they often feel paralyzed. And when they begin to envision the future they want and start experiencing more positive emotions, they mobilize their hearts and minds. And there was a university of Pennsylvania study that looked at the introspection of positive psychology in journalism and they found that "negative stories make people feel hopeless and passive and, by contrast, that positive stories make people feel more energetic and engaged." And so our hope is that really by shifting the traditional news focus from what happened to what's possible, restorative narratives can compel people to become more engaged in their community and act in ways that benefit society. So we really see these restorative narratives as filling an important need in communities. So that's also what differentiates them from those human interest stories.
Rob: Okay, so I'm going to dive in a little bit to some of the notes that I've taken from your articles. You list a couple criteria for restorative narratives and then I'm going to give you the header and if you can talk a little bit about them that would be great. One, "They are authentic and sustained."
MJT: Um hmm, right. So, we see "authentic and sustained" because we want to make sure, like I mentioned earlier, that we're not assuming that someone has overcome something when they're still in the thick of it. So we don't want the restorative narrative to be inauthentic for a person's experience....
MJT: So we call them authentic because we want to make sure they're authentic and true to a person's experience, and that they're not assuming someone has overcome something when in fact they're still in the thick of it. And so...in that sense sometimes they can be sustained inquiries because we know that someone doesn't necessarily become resilient a week after they've experienced something. So we see, for instance, with the Boston bombing, we started to see more stories of resilience come out about 6 months to a year after the Boston bombing. So in that sense, they can be sustained inquiries because they can't necessarily... a restorative narrative doesn't necessarily come out of a tragedy in the week or month following.
Rob: Okay, then "They're responsive to the community."
MJT: Um hmm, right. So we talked about restorative narratives in terms of people's individual narratives and then also in terms of communities. And so a lot of times restorative narratives are really looking at what the community needs and how the community is trying to move on. So I think that we're seeing a shift actually in terms of how news organizations are looking at communities and in the past news organizations were often hesitant to think of themselves as benefiting the community in some way. They wanted to really make sure that they were unbiased and that they weren't edging over into advocacy, but were seeing more news sites now that are realizing that they can help strengthen communities in the aftermath of tragedies without being advocates or without seeming super biased.
There's a new community news site in Philadelphia called Brotherly and the editor of it, Jim Brady, has said that "We don't want to just report on community. We want to be responsive to the community's needs and really figure out how we can help them during difficult times or other experiences." And so I think in that way restorative narratives really look at a community and try and help it through storytelling.
Rob: Yeah, some people might say journalism is supposed to be objective. Something like Brotherly sounds like it is a proactive, activist site or news organization that goes beyond just reporting the news.
MJT: Yeah, I think so and I don't know that they would necessarily call it an activist site, but I think that they would say that they do want to go beyond simply reporting what has happened. I think they really want to create a sense of community with the website because they are a community news site.
Rob: Sounds great to me. Sounds like what I'd like to see more of from all journalism. Now do you...but what about this idea? Is that something that some journalists, some J-schools might say that's not the way journalism is supposed to be?
MJT: I think some more traditional people might. I mean, I think that some people might say, well, our job is to simply report on what happened. We don't need to be looking for ways to help the community, but I think that we see these studies from Gallup and other places come out year after year, that say that the public's trust in the media continues to decline. So there's a very slight bump in this past year, but overall the trust in the media has really been on the decline.
I think that that's partly because they don't necessarily trust that the media is telling them the right information, but also because they don't feel a deep-seated connection to the media. I think that when we as the media say that we don't want to just shove cameras and microphones in your faces, we really want to hear your story and try and help you through this process. I think that that kind of opens their eyes to a different view of the media. And it's not to say that we're going to become therapists for the community or that we're going to be giving them money or doing anything that would be unethical, but it's us saying we really care about you and we want to be able to track you as you go through this process of recovery. We want to see what resilience looks like to you.
I think that by letting people know that you really care about their individual experience, that can really kind of open up doors. And it provides the journalists with more interesting in-depth stories and it also, I think, helps people realize that, okay, the media isn't just out here to get an A1 story. They're really out here because they want to see how the community is doing. So I think that it's beneficial for both sides.
Rob: So, the next one in the list of these criteria is "Awaken a sense of human connection." I think you just described some of that but maybe you could talk about that a little more.
MJT: Um hmm, right. So yeah, I mean that sort of narrative really helps people feel connected to their own community. And our hope is that a restorative narrative about one particular community might help other communities who are dealing with similar situations. And so these restorative narratives can create a place for discussion and they remind people of what's possible when they work together to rebuild and recover and I go back to Detroit again because I just think that that's a really good example of a city and community that is going through a lot of turmoil right now and I think that there are some sort of narratives already coming out of that but that there are a lot more that we're going to be seeing and so, we've been encouraging media outlets to really be focused on stories out of Detroit and communities like it. But yeah I mean I think that really they do awaken that sense of human connection because they make people feel connected through storytelling and they give people hope that there is potential to rebuild and get out of this difficult time.
Rob: Now there. Ding! Ding! Ding! I see a bottom up connection there because really what you're saying is that a lot of times when you see tragedy, it's about an individual, somebody who's had something horrible happen and it seems to me what you just described is that the restorative narrative is showing how a community comes together to help the person. How the person had connections to the community and how there was a social network, a social fabric, that was there and that rose up to reconnect to help make it a positive story or a healing story.
MJT: Um hmm, yeah. And oftentimes there's that intersection between an individual and the community and their restorative narrative because sometimes an individual may really get support from the community that it lives in. So I think that there's a definite intersection there and that it...those stories can be really powerful when we see how a community of people or group of individuals can really kind of help one person to move forward and to move beyond that painful time.
Rob: Yeah. Then one of the ones that I like the best is that "A restorative narrative will reveal something universal yet localized."
MJT: Um hmm, yeah, and I think that that's something that all great storytellers strive for, especially people who are writing memoirs or personal essays. But while the story is about them, they really want to be able to speak to universal truths that other people can relate to. And often in restorative narratives the best ones are ones that do speak to those universal truths. So for instance with The Girl in the Close t, people may not and most likely don't relate to the experience of being locked in a closet. I mean that's something that's so individualized and something that's in particular to that young girl's experience, but they can relate most likely to the feelings of loss, maybe the feelings of neglect, the feelings of having difficulty trusting someone. There are truths that came out of that that I think were universal, even though it was a story, a very personal story, about one girl. I think that the most moving stories really connect us to this universal truth or experience and restorative narratives really address the common experience or feeling that reveals that universal theme, but that also focuses on something that's local as well.
Rob: Beautiful. So what's the history of IVOH.org?
MJT: Yeah, so Images & Voices of Hope is a nonprofit that has been around for about 15 years. And it really started as a series of dialogues that were aimed at trying to talk about how the media could improve the storytelling that it was doing and that in looking at strength-based dialogue, to try and get media makers to think more deeply about the work that they were doing. And then after many years of being a series of dialogues that held around the world, it became a nonprofit. And the organization never really had a full time employee until I came on board in December. So right now we're really working to expand our offerings and to build our audience. And so I'm working to build a team of people and so it's been a really good way for us to expand our reach. And I think that this is a good time for IVOH to be growing in the way that it is because we're seeing more efforts like IVOH's pop up, and there are a couple different organizations that are really looking to help journalists create more constructive journalism.
We have an effort, actually in Denmark, and there's a young woman, Cathrine Gyldensted, who has created the Center for Constructive Journalism, where she's really trying to help journalists, particularly journalism students, look at how they can focus on solutions more than problems and how they can tell these stories of resilience. And similarly the Solutions Journalism Network has been around for a little while now, but it's starting to gain in popularity and they're really focused on helping journalists move beyond the problems and look to solutions to social problems. And they did a study that showed that people actually gravitate toward stories that are about solutions because they do offer hope and they offer people an idea about how they can get out of the problems they may be facing.
We see a lot more of these efforts popping up and I think that there's a shift in terms of what people are looking for from news. And there's a Time magazine article that came out last year and what was interesting is that they were looking at sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy and they found that people were really actually gravitating more toward the uplifting stories and they said that researchers are discovering that people want to create positive images of themselves online by sharing upbeat stories. And so as more people turn to social media to discover what's happening around them they say "news stories may need to cheer up in order to court an audience...and if social is the future of media then optimistic stories might be media's future." It's just interesting, I think, that there's a real opening for people who want to shift the traditional "if it bleeds it leads" mentality to this idea of stories that offer solutions and hope and stories of resilience.
Rob: Yeah, you know there's the website, Gives Me Hope. Are you familiar with that one?
MJT: Um hmm, yeah, I know which one you're talking about.
Rob: Yeah, that...now that is more along the lines of the personal interest story or can be that. Again, the criteria...it's not just optimistic, it's got to have I think that healing and recovery and resilience aspect to it. I think that's really a key part what you're talking about, isn't it?
MJT: It is, yeah. I mean it's really a way to distinguish it from fluffy human interest stories. I mean these stories require a lot of good reporting and so we see really seasoned reporters finding these stories and then realizing that their editors want them to tell these stories, both because they can have a constructive impact on communities, but also because they strengthen journalism. They really take a story that might otherwise be forgotten and they dig into it and they kind of take a deep dive into it and offer up lessons for people in communities.
Rob: Yeah, what's interesting is...you know, I've written a lot for Huffington Post over the last five years I'd say and now it only accepts shorter articles. They want it under 1000. They won't accept over 1200 usually and I have friends who write for them. Is that something that lends itself, shorter articles, to this kind of an approach?
MJT: Yeah, well, a lot of restorative narratives tend to be longer and tend to take a little while to report. There are some restorative narratives that can come out of breaking news situations. So that's not unheard of. And one example is from a Los Angeles Times reporter, Anh Do, who really transforms these reports of a brutal attack against a young woman into this compelling story about care, compassion and love. And this story was titled, "For Kim Pham's Hospital Team, Tender Care and A Hard Goodbye." So it's this story about this young girl who was brutally murdered and really looked at how the hospital and how her family were trying to care for her and how they dealt with her last days of her death. And so that was a really good example of a story that was turned around really quickly. It was based off of a breaking news story. And it was a restorative narrative but it didn't take months to report. So I think that story and some others are a good reminder for people who think, "Oh, well, I just don't have the time or resources to do these stories." They don't always have to take a long time to report. So there are some opportunities to tell these stories, even if you only have a couple of days or you do have limited resources.
Rob: So, if you're trying to write a really short article that's a restorative narrative, what would you say are the absolute key elements or ingredients from a journalistic point of view?
MJT: Um hmm, yeah. I think that part of it is really capturing the struggle that the person went through. Again, we want to make sure that you are not ignoring the difficult time or situation. So kind of capturing that, but then also making sure that that's not the focus of the story because restorative narratives are not stories that are 90% about the tragedy and only 10% about recovery and resilience. So mentioning the tragedy if you only have a...only able to write a short story and then focusing primarily on how that person has learned to rebuild...and really what resilience has looked like for them. So I think that just making sure that you're putting the emphasis on resilience is important and really kind of telling the story in an authentic way. And it can be challenging to do when you don't have much space, but it's doable, I mean I wouldn't encourage restorative narratives to be kind of these, you know, short one-offs, but there is opportunity I think for them to take form in that way.
Rob: Sounds good. So, is there an annual reward or contest or is there anything that's coming out that will look like a Pulitzer for hopeful articles or something like that?
MJT: That's a good idea. I've often thought, oh, how wonderful would it be if there were a Pulitzer category on restorative narratives. But we are not at that point yet, but maybe someday. But we actually have an annual media summit and our next one is going to be in upstate New York from June 25th to the 28th and we'll be talking a lot about restorative narratives there. And we are also going to be developing a fellowship, which will enable media makers to tell restorative narratives and our hope in creating this fellowship is that we can actually gain a deeper understanding of the impact that these stories can have because I think that's something we really want to get a better sense of. And so we'll be having that fellowship and we also give out awards at our annual media summit. And so our hope is that we can give some more awards this year, or rather new year's summit, to people who are doing this type of work.
Rob: So you did have one this year?
MJT: Yeah. So we had our summit and it was all about restorative narratives, this past June. And we got a lot of people interested in it and we were really able to deepen our understanding of restorative narratives and what they look like and how people react to them. So it's something that we want to be able to continue to develop.
Rob: Sounds really good. So, have we covered restorative narratives... your satisfied with our covering the restorative narratives?
MJT: Yeah, I think we've done a good job of them. If you go to IVOH.org, there's a tab on the homepage that says restorative narratives, and there's some more stories there about it for people who are interested in finding out more.
Rob: Okay, good, because I wanted to talk a little bit about your work with the Poynter Institute as well. Can you tell us about the Poynter Institute for those who are not familiar with it?
MJT: Sure. So the Poynter Institute is a nonprofit institute that offers training to journalists who are already in the field. So journalists can go there for day-long or week-long seminars on journalism education, on ethics in storytelling, leadership and management. So they have a seasoned team of faculty members who teach these courses and they teach a lot of the courses in the building in St. Petersburg, FL, but also do custom training for organizations around the country and also internationally, as well. And they actually own the Tampa Bay...
Rob: They own what? I'm sorry...
MJT: They own--that's okay. They own the Tampa Bay Times, which is the local newspaper here in St. Petersburg, FL.
Rob: Uh huh. And what's your role there? I know it does change. So, you went from one position to another. What where you doing there and what is it now?
MJT: So I was there for about 6 years and I was Managing Editor of Poynter.org, which is the Poynter Institute's website. So I worked on the site pretty much my whole time at Poynter and was interim editor before I left. And so now I'm at IVOH full time but I still do social media teaching for Poynter on an as-needed basis. So I do some social media consulting on the side, so I work with them occasionally to go into newsrooms and talk with journalists and help them to develop better social media strategies.
Rob: Oh, well let's talk about that. What would you say are the most important things that a journalist should know about and use for social media?
MJT: Ooooh! Big question! [laughs] Well, I think that journalists really need openness to experimenting with social media. I think that there have been huge shifts in terms of journalists thinking about Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites. And actually one of my first articles at Poynter was about Twitter and it was back in 2007 when not many people were on the website at all. And I got some nastiness from journalists and others who said, "I don't know why you would ever write a story about a site that's not going to become popular and a site that is just really silly." And fast forward a couple years later and all these people are on Twitter and it was becoming known as this really great tool for journalists.
I think that we're seeing certainly more of an openness to experimenting with social media. And I think that for some journalists it's still struggle to figure out how to integrate Twitter and Facebook and all these different social media sites into their workflow. But I think that it's important to set small goals for yourself and to really figure out how these tools can benefit your storytelling. Twitter, especially, can be a meeting place to find story ideas, to cultivate sources, to interact with your audience and that interaction is key because social media should always be a two-way conversation.
In many ways social media have broken down the barriers that traditionally existed between journalists and the public. And now it has made journalists a lot more accessible and I think for the most part that has a lot of benefits because it enables journalists to hear the community more and hear what they want and hear what they don't like and it gives them a platform for interacting with them. So I think in many ways social media has enhanced the way that we cultivate our audience and built relationships with them and also has enhanced the way we're able to tell stories.
Rob: How about the way that it changes the way people write stories? How does social media change the way people write stories?
MJT: Yeah, so I think that with social media" I've actually talked with a bunch of different writers about how it's helped them improve their writing. And with social media...I mean with Twitter especially, you need to write short. So you're limited to 140 characters. And in interesting ways, journalists and writers and authors have said, well actually having to limit myself to those 140 characters has enabled me to tighten my writing and write better because it's always harder to write short than it is to write long. From a journalistic standpoint, I think that some people criticize social media for taking the place of in depth reporting or for making reporters lazy and I think that when used at its best, social media enhances storytelling and writing, and it doesn't detract from it.
So while social media can be a great place to find story ideas and interact with people, it shouldn't replace traditional shoe leather reporting. But I think that as long as you're continuing to pick up the phone and talk with people and you're not using social media as your only platform for reporting, then your writing is going to continue to be strong. And sometimes it offers up an opportunity to include more voices in your writing. We see a lot of people incorporate tweets and other of things like that in their stories which I don't think is bad as long as you're not using the tweets to replace all forms of traditional reporting.
Rob: I guess part of what I was thinking in asking that question was beyond Twitter and Facebook, but just the whole idea of online journalism. How has that changed? How does the fact that you're publishing an article online with comments, knowing that there will be comments on the article, how does that change the way that journalism is taught; the way it's conceived?
MJT: Yeah, definitely. I think that now, when we think about telling a story, we're not as limited as we were in the past. So I think that initially, when we talked about writing for the web, we would talk about how you wrote a little bit differently. Where you would write shorter or you would make sure that you got the news up really high for SEO purposes. And, I mean, that's still true. You still want to have search engine optimization and make your content is easy to find.
But really, I think that the conversation has expanded to this idea of thinking about how we can really grow our storytelling and how we can enhance our writing with the web. There are so many different, interactive projects out there now that news organizations have created that they wouldn't have been able to create previously, so many of these projects have a written component. They'll have an article or series of articles, but then they also have interactive maps that help them enhance the story. They have slide shows. They have videos that are integrated into the text of the story so you can actually hear the people's voices as you're reading the story. And so I think all those different elements have really helped to enhance the storytelling process for both journalists and also news consumers.
I think too" I mean, some people criticize The New York Times and their "Snowfall" project and some people glorified it and loved it. "Snowfall" was this project that really did integrate a lot of different videos and interactives into this story about an avalanche and so it kind of showed the potential and it showed what's possible now with the web and what we're able to do with storytelling. I think it's important to note that not every story has to include videos and show those slide shows and interactive maps and graphics, but I think the fact that we can incorporate those into stories is really powerful. And for as much turmoil as the journalism industry has gone through in recent years, I think that the web has really opened up new opportunities for start-up news sites and for alternative platforms for storytelling. So I think in that way the web has expanded our opportunities tremendously.
Rob: Yes, for example, my site which, I've custom-designed with a coder, has a build in tool that we call "image gallery" that lets people search for creative comments, open source images, and look for videos and they just have to click on search and enter some search terms that can find either images or videos, and they select it at a caption, and it's included in the article with all of the attributions and links and everything, if the video is embedded, which makes it a lot easier for the average person to pull together an article that has all those multiple media elements in it.
MJT: Um hmm.
Rob: And I think" I'm kind of proud of that one. But the thing that I want to...when I write an article anymore, I don't just write an article saying "This is the story." I write an article saying, "This is my perspective of the story. I know that you, the readers, know more. Please add your element and aspects of it in the comments." And there are some people who say, "That's not the way it's supposed to be. Journalism is supposed to deliver a finished product." But it seems to me like the future of journalism is that journalism has "we" in it. It's not just me writing it.
MJT: Um hmm. Right. I think that that's so true. And I think that it's really helpful to be open minded about that because some people and some journalists just get really turned off by comments and I can understand that. I mean sometimes the comments section can just be horrific and people are just being trolls and...but what's interesting is that we've found, and I've reported this a lot at Poynter, that when people actually opened up the conversation and when they interacted as part of that conversation, then the comments section tended to be a lot better and the conversation tended to be a lot more constructive.
I think that when people know that journalists and the news organization are listening to what they have to say, then they are more likely to carry on a productive conversation. And I think that the more that you open up the conversation to your audience, the more that they feel like they can trust you and the more that they feel like you care about them. And I think that we can a lot from our audience and we're always going to have people who are going to post snarky comments and other things, but I think that there are some real gems in the comments section and they do help to sometimes give you new ideas about maybe new angles to pursue on a story. Or maybe they just give you ideas about how to improve a story the next time around. I mean I think that it's always a good idea to have comments and sometimes people will turn off comment sections on stories about sexual violence and other really series crimes and I think in those situations that can certainly be appropriate so as not to jeopardize the victim or make the victim feel more victimized. But I think in general they're definitely important and that people should open up the conversation to readers and listeners.
Rob: Yeah, we have the ability for an article submitter to turn off the comments if they want to and I can't remember any, ever, out of thousands, tens of thousands where they've actually done that.
MJT: Um hmm.
Rob: I think it's a...you know, people want to have comments. I mean I think a lot of writers look at the comments as an element in the success of a story really.
MJT: Yeah, I think that too.
Rob: And to me...and this is a debate with the...among the...we have a volunteer, managing and senior editors and line editors, we...about 40 editors all together. It's an amazing team that cares so much and works really hard as volunteers. But one of the debates is the site and news and opinions site and I say it's also a community because I believe that that's a really important part. To me the comments are so, so important and it really is a way to make for better journalism, I feel. It's not just about what the article says, it's getting the...getting people involved and having that conversation and creating a journalism community. Is that something that you're seeing that Poynter has explored?
MJT: In terms of the comments section and building that sense of community?
MJT: Yeah, I think so. Poynter's been talking about that for a while and they actually had this topic called Dialogue and Diatribe where they were trying to help news organizations figure out how to create a safe space and a constructive comments section. And so I think that that was maybe 5 years ago that they did that and it's something that continues to come up in conversations. And I'm not there anymore, you know, on a day-to-day basis so I don't know exactly what the bullet pointers are doing around comments, but it's something that Poynter.org writes about and that a lot of news organizations are still talking about.
I think the conversation has expanded to social media as well because there's overlap between the "comments" section and in "commentary" that you see on social media. So I think that there is real value to opening up the conversation because it can build that sense of community and also to just moderating the conversation. Like I said before, I think that moderation can be key because if you find that someone is just taking the conversation on this road that isn't really relevant or is not constructive or helpful, then you can kind of steer people back and say, okay, well here is what we're talking about. What do you think about this? And that does take a little bit more time, but I think that comment moderation and the journalists actually getting involved in the comments section can be helpful.
Rob: Yeah, we built a system so that the members can flag comments that are inappropriate or that are, you know, spam, that are just selling something, or that are even just off topic. And we decided to make it a rule that comments should be relevant to what the article is about and not just somebody popping in and bringing up something they're obsessed with or anything like that. That's just courtesy. That's what happens in a conversation really.
MJT: Um hmm. Right, exactly.
Rob: So, getting back to social media, are there some essential, key social media skills and behaviors that every journalist should have?
MJT: I think that whenever you are on social media, you always want to make sure that whatever you say is something that you feel comfortable saying in front of your boss. I say that because some journalists have gotten in trouble on social media for saying something that's inappropriate or for saying something that is just really insensitive after breaking news has happened ...something that's always important, to just really think about what you're saying on these social media sites before you actually say them. And so that's just kind of a cautionary note.
But I think too"Twitter, I think, is an amazing tool for storytellers and so is Facebook and Pinterest. There are so many different ones, but I think part of it is really it's important to be on all of these different social media sites because if you're not on them and you don't have a familiarity of how they work, you're not going to know how they could be incorporated into your storytelling. It's not to say you have to use every single one of these tools on a daily basis or for every story, but the extent to which you know how they work, it'll be easier for you to say, "Oh! We should use Pinterest for this story," or "Oh! We should be having a Twitter chat to go along with this story"...whatever it might be.
It's also really important to think about social media as a shared responsibility because it's very easy to say, "Oh! Well, the social media producer or the social media editor will take care of that...they'll tweet my story." But while they may do that, it's really important to actually be tweeting it yourself and be posting on Facebook, and really be part of that social media sharing process because social media has changed the way we think about publishing and that traditionally when you publish a story, you'd be done with it, right? You'd publish it and kind of move on to the next story. But now publishing is really the start of a process of sharing. And if you look at it that way and you publish a story and you start tweeting it out and sharing it with your followers and sharing it with other people on social media sites, you'll really be able to see how that story takes on a new life and how people are interacting with it. So I think that it's just really important to be open-minded to these different tools and to understand how they all work.
Rob: So, okay, so you've referred to Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter you've talked a little bit about how you can use it to see what's going on, to engage in a conversation. Facebook. How is Facebook different from Twitter?
MJT: With Facebook, it's a little more of a visual platform so posts with photos tend to get more than...they tend to get double the amount of interaction and people have a little bit more space to write too, so Facebook can be a good place to post questions, to post photos and a lot of news organizations find that they get a lot of attention through Facebook, especially TV news stations because I think that a lot of TV news stations are posting pictures of the TV anchors and others and people like seeing those behind the scenes photos. Other times, communities that are more rural may not have many readers or listeners who are on Twitter, so they find that they have more popularity and success with Facebook. I think it's perfectly find to post stories on Facebook that you're tweeting out, but there's a little bit more flexibility because you can post multiple images, you can post longer updates, but I think that it just has a little bit more flexibility built into it.
Rob: Okay, you mentioned Pinterest. Where does Pinterest fit into the cosmology of the new media?
MJT: Yeah, so Pinterest is, again, a very visual platform. I think it's interesting because more news sites have started to use it. And I know a lot of news sites create travel boards and recipe boards and what they'll do is take all of their old, maybe holiday cookie recipes and they'll post pictures of those on a Pinterest board. Then any picture that you post on Pinterest, you can include a link with it so it'll include a picture and then it'll link back to their website. They may do that with travel. So, for instance, The Orlando Sentinel has a Walt Disney board and they have all of their pictures that are tied to stories about Walt Disney on this board and they've found that it actually has enabled them to get traffic and reach an audience that may not have found their website otherwise. So it really works well for news organizations that have a lot of visuals. It used to be that it was hard to track how many views were coming in from Pinterest, but The New York Times actually just reported on BuzzFeed recently and they said that Pinterest now drives more traffic to BuzzFeed's life section than Twitter does. So we are seeing these news sites that are finding that they are reaching a new audience on Pinterest. Then it's a good way to research evergreen content.
Rob: You said evergreen content. So what about news? What about stories that are not about cookies and recipes? Does that apply to Pinterest too?
MJT: Yeah, it does. So when I was at Poynter I actually wrote a story about how different news organizations were using it for news-related purposes. And so there are a few different ways. There is a reporter named C.J. Shivers and he works for The New York Times and he has actually started using it. And he originally thought that it was just a site for cupcakes and wedding bouquets and he actually decided that he was going to use it to post pictures that related to his book called The Gun. He often posts pictures of weapons and other things that relate to his reporting out of Iraq. One of the things that I love is that he said, "After I signed up for Pinterest, people told me it was a site for cupcakes and wedding bouquets." He said, "I didn't know that beforehand and I don't think that kind of reputation needs to stand. Social media is a tool, like many others in our trade. It can be as good and as useful as we force it to be." I really like that quote because it shows that he's so open-minded to it.
There was actually another newspaper as well that used it in a very different way. It's called the Pottstown Mercury and they created a board that highlighted mug shots of local peoples who were wanted by the police. Readers would comment on the board and they offered tips about suspects who had taken on a new name or relocated to different parts of the country and within 3 months the tips helped lead to a 58% increase in arrests. So that was interesting. I think there are some ethical issues to be asking there in terms of posting mug shots of people, but I think that that's an interesting way of using it to relate to a news story.
Rob: Okay. Well, we've reached the hour limit on the interview. Anything that you want to add before we wrap?
MJT: Not that I can think of. I'm happy to answer questions that people have about restorative narratives or IVOH and social media. My information is-- if you go to IVOH.org, there's a little "contact us" button, so you can contact me that way. But I'm happy to carry on this conversation because I really want to build a community of people who are interested in restorative narrative.
Okay. Well, thanks so much. The Rob Call Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM. My guest tonight has been Mallary Jean Tenore, Managing Director of Images & Voices of Hope, IVOH.org. If you came into the middle of this show, we will have the podcast up soon at opednews.com/podcast
or go to iTunes and look for my name, Rob Kall.