American Journalism Project asks community to share experiences with news media

The American Journalism Project is now focused on reaching out to Waco residents to discover what their relationship with journalism and media is. Camryn Duffy | Photographer

By Luke Araujo | Staff Writer

The American Journalism Project is a philanthropy organization that has raised over $86 million for nonprofit news, backed 32 nonprofit news organizations and launched three startups, according to the organization’s website. Now, the organization is reaching out to local Waco residents to ask about their relationship with journalism and local media.

As a part of its work in Waco, the American Journalism Project partnered with the Waco Foundation to aid in its project. One of the ways the organization gathers public opinion is by recruiting community listening ambassadors who ask their friends, family and fellow Waco residents questions about their backgrounds and perspectives.

Meg Wallace, community listening ambassador, said community listening ambassadors have a template of questions they ask their interviewees.

“They have it set up really nicely so that we can just type in the answers and hit send,” Wallace said. “We can decide who we interview. I am meeting weekly with a person involved with the journalism project, Fiona Morgan. It started with me thinking of people I would like to interview. She was paying attention to what sectors of the community we are hearing from and brainstorming with me about who I might contact in sectors of the community.”

Jaja Chen, community listening ambassador, said ambassadors usually do about five hours of interviews per week.

“The interviews are with different individuals in the community who are interested,” Chen said. “That could be our friends, networks, neighbors. It can be anyone we know that is open to doing a Zoom interview regarding the ways they get news locally.”

Chen said she became an ambassador to ensure that there is a diverse representation of communities of color in the organization.

“As an Asian American in Waco, a lot of folks I know might be voices that would not otherwise be included without another Asian American ambassador,” Chen said. “I also love the news and journalism in general, so it is very important to stay involved in our community and it is just one way of supporting community involvement.”

Wallace said she joined the organization after seeing her friend’s work in the organization.

“I thought it sounded interesting,” Wallace said. “It is very important that people with disabilities are represented in media and policymaking. My thought process was that if I became an ambassador, I could reach out to folks I know in the disability community and invite them to interview. I can see that their perspectives are included in the research.”

Newspapers have been going out of business recently due to a loss of public interest, Wallace said.

“They’re being bought up by national companies, and the ability to do good, extensive local news coverage is shrinking because there isn’t money behind it,” Wallace said. “It is harder for print newspapers to make it because so much is going online, and we expect to be able to read our online news free. It has really upset the entire business model for newspapers because it used to be that subscriptions and ad revenue were the main drivers of their revenue. Now, the ad situation is different, as print is not being picked up, and people want to be able to read for free online.”

According to Wallace, when asking local community members what they are most interested in seeing from the news, the most common responses included human interest stories as the center focus.

“What I’m surprised that I’m not hearing is that people are rarely saying they want investigative journalism,” Wallace said. “Journalism historically has had an investigative role, holding local governments accountable and things of the sort. It is hardly mentioned at all in the interviews I have done, which I think is interesting. I think part of it is that we have gone so far from the time where that is affordable to local newspapers. It is not even part of our conception of what papers can do.”

The future of journalism will heavily depend on social media and online media, Chen said.

“It will not just be through online news articles but through social media-based news,” Chen said. “Everyday folks will be writing, creating content, vlogging. I think there will be a lot more direct journalism through live interfacing. Of course, folks will still reach out to the news, whether that be online articles, blogs, TV or physical newspapers. But social media is going to become more common in our news.”

“I think it is very important to stay involved in projects like this,” Chen said. “News is one of the biggest ways people can learn about what is happening in our local Waco community. If we do not have accessible news or news that is relevant or representative of the population, it can be hard for people to get involved and take part in our community. Journalism is central to that.”