Reinventing Journalism to Strengthen Democracy: Insights from Innovators
Kettering Foundation Press
OverviewWe live in a time of deep distrust—of each other, the media, and institutions of all kinds. In this volume of essays, innovative journalists from newspapers, public radio, civic media groups, and new media collectives examine how we've reached this point. The loss of newspapers and fracturing of the information ecosystem have weakened our sense of a shared identity, but many people have long felt excluded, misrepresented, and unable to see themselves and their experiences reflected in news reporting. These essays highlight opportunities that are emerging as old practices give way to the new demands of an engaged, diverse, and restive public. They call on us to create a more inclusive democratic narrative that better captures the rich diversity of our nation and its complicated history.
About the Kettering Foundation
The Charles F. Kettering Foundation, headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of inventive research. Founded in 1927 “to sponsor and carry out scientific research for the benefit of humanity,” the foundation is inspired by the innovativeness and ingenuity of its founder, the American inventor Charles F. Kettering. For the past four decades, the foundation’s research and programs have focused on the needs of democracy worldwide.
Linda Miller is a seasoned communicator, collaborator, and capacity builder working to advance equity and create social capital through journalism. She currently leads the Multicultural Media and Correspondents Association’s Equitable Media and Economies Initiative, a national effort to create a more just economy and caring democracy by investing in equitable, community-centered media as civic infrastructure. Previously, Miller spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter and editor and a decade leading diversity, engagement, and inclusion initiatives in public media. Miller has taught and lectured on journalism ethics and engagement at Arizona State University and the University of Utah as well as at the University of Wyoming, where she earned a BA in journalism.
Ben Trefny is interim executive director of KALW Public Media, based in San Francisco. He earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 2000 and got his start in public radio at NPR member station KLCC in Eugene, Oregon. He joined KALW in 2004. Serving as executive news editor and then news director, he helped the station win numerous regional and national awards for long- and short-form journalism, much of it focused on community reporting. He also helped teach hundreds of audio producers, many of whom work with him at KALW today. Trefny is president of the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and also serves on the Journalism and Media Ethics Council at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Paloma Dallas is senior program officer for international programs at the Kettering Foundation. She led the foundation’s work at the intersection of journalism and democracy, working with journalists across the US and around the world to explore strategies for reinventing the teaching and practice of journalism to support thriving communities. For more than a decade, Dallas worked as an editor and writer, reporting on Kettering research and findings. Prior to working at the foundation, she was a freelance journalist; a reporter with Reuters in Bogotá, Colombia; and a researcher with the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists in the Americas program area. Dallas earned a BA in political science and Spanish at Macalester College and a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where she studied journalism with a regional focus on Latin America. She and her husband, an artist, have collaborated on many projects, including raising their daughter.
Jennifer Brandel is cofounder and CEO of Hearken, a company that helps organizations around the world develop and operationalize participatory processes. She began her career in journalism reporting for outlets including NPR, CBC, WBEZ, the New York Times and Vice. Brandel received the Media Changemaker Prize from the Center for Collaborative Journalism and was named one of 30 World-Changing Women in Conscious Business. A Columbia Journalism School Sulzberger fellow and an RSA (Royal Society of Arts) fellow, Brandel also cofounded Zebras Unite, a global network of entrepreneurs, funders, investors, and allies creating a more ethical, inclusive, and collaborative ecosystem for mission-based startups. She also cofounded Civic Exchange Chicago, which brings together civic startups in a collaborative learning community.
A big fan of the value and joy of local journalism, Eve Pearlman worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for the bulk of her career as a reporter, editor, blogger, and columnist. In 2016, she cofounded Spaceship Media with a mission of reducing polarization, restoring trust in journalism, and building communities. Spaceship Media created a method known as dialogue journalism, which reconceptualizes the information and reporting process and puts divided communities at the heart of journalistic practice. Pearlman’s work has since reached millions around the world through her popular TED Talk, “How to Lead a Conversation between People Who Disagree,” and a book entitled Guns, An American Conversation: How to Bridge Political Divides, Simon & Schuster, 2020.
Martin G. Reynolds is co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. He oversees fundraising, external affairs, and serves as the institute’s lead Fault Lines® diversity trainer. In 2010, he cofounded Oakland Voices, an award-winning storytelling project that trains residents to serve as community correspondents. His career with Bay Area News Group spanned 18 years and many roles, among them, managing editor and editor in chief of the Oakland Tribune. Reynolds was also a lead editor on the Chauncey Bailey Project, formed in 2007 to investigate the slaying of the Oakland Post editor. Reynolds is a professional lyricist and, among his many musical endeavors, was part of a live album recorded with his band, Mingus Amungus, in Havana, Cuba.
Writer, journalist, and network builder Darryl Holliday is cofounder of City Bureau in Chicago, where he serves as a co-executive director of national impact. In 2019, he led the development of Documenters.org, an award-winning web app that pushes the boundaries of the traditional means by which journalism is produced and challenges the notions of who should have the power to report what happens. His writing and reporting have been featured in outlets such as the Columbia Journalism Review, Chicago Magazine, and the Guardian. Winner of the Rising Star award from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Holliday’s work has also been recognized by a Studs Terkel Award, a Sidney Award, and an Alfred P. Weisman Award, among others.
Long known for her work in innovation and community engagement, Paula Ellis began her career as a journalist at several metro newspapers. She worked for 26 years at the Knight Ridder news organization as editor, publisher, and vice president of operations, after which she served as the Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives. She is currently a trustee of the Poynter Institute and a board member of the National Conference on Citizenship. For many years, Ellis has collaborated with the Kettering Foundation as a senior associate, working with innovative journalists from around the world on covering the news in ways that reduce polarization and strengthen both communities and democracy. In 2022, she expanded on those themes in a journalism textbook she coauthored, News for US: Citizen-Centered Journalism. Ellis earned a bachelor’s degree in government and politics at the University of Maryland, and a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She is president of Paula Ellis Strategies, a consulting firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina.
Michelle Holmes’ work as an editorial writer, news executive, and producer of new ideas aimed at creating a more inclusive public square spanned two decades in American newsrooms and included leadership of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Alabama Media Group. In 2020, she opened Heart’s Ease Love and Freedom Center, a new hub for collaboration with artists, journalists, healers, and facilitators. Heart’s Ease functions at its core as a “feel tank” in a world of think tanks, using heart-centered ways of knowing to explore what it means to be free, while centering the experience of individual healing from cultural and individual trauma as a vital part of societal change.
Doug Oplinger retired from the Akron Beacon Journal in 2017 after 46 years working as a reporter and senior editor on education, business, public policy, computer-assisted reporting, investigations, and enterprise. During his time as editor, the Beacon Journal won two Pulitzer Prizes. He was also a member of the Knight Ridder collaborative team that won the Pulitzer for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. For five years, he led the statewide media collaborative, Your Voice Ohio, in experimenting with shared resources and community engagement for the purpose of representing people in local democratic practices. Oplinger is a graduate of the University of Akron and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Subramaniam Vincent directs Journalism and Media Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. He writes and synthesizes research on the subject of advancing pro-democracy norms in the news media and is the author of several book chapters and journal articles. He was a John S. Knight Journalism fellow at Stanford University in 2015-2016. He cofounded and led two awarding-winning news magazines in Bangalore, India, and pioneered a hybrid citizen- professional reporting model. Vincent was originally a software engineer and lives in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter.
David Plazas is the opinion and engagement director for USA TODAY Network Tennessee, which is part of Gannett Co., Inc., the largest news publication company in the United States. He has written award-winning editorials and columns on issues ranging from affordable housing to social justice to government accountability. He oversees the opinion team for multiple publications across the state, including the Tennessean, and hosts the Tennessee Voices video podcast. He also leads the Tennessean’s Civility Tennessee campaign on civic engagement and delivered a TEDx Talk in 2020 on the art and science of public disagreement.