By Marlissa Collier
Dallas Free Press opened its doors with three questions in mind: “Whose voices are we listening to?”, “Whose voices are we amplifying?”, and “Whose voices are telling the stories of our communities and our city?” Their Journalism Pathway Program seeks to serve as part of the response!
It’s no secret that the United States has a news problem. From the constantly dying newspaper industry [which, according to Associated Press, currently loses 2 newspapers per week, on average] to the ever-polarizing TV news coverage, much of which has moved from simply reporting facts to sharing highly curated, attention-grabbing headlines that can be slanted to pacify both audiences and advertisers. There is also the lack of journalistic ethics required to launch podcasts, commentary shows, and opinion blogs; many of which have become the main source of news for Americans who have lost trust in the big business that news has become.
Then there is the issue of corporate consolidation. A recent study by TitleMax that analyzed America’s top 100 news sites found that about 15 billionaires and six corporations owned most U.S. media outlets. This consolidation is a direct result of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which reduced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations on cross ownership. In 2020, 90% of all U.S. media were owned by 6 companies, including AT&T, Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, National Amusements (which includes Viacom Inc. and CBS), News Corp and Fox Corporation. This is down from the 50 companies that owned 90% of U.S. media in 1983. Today, the media, [and therefore the news] is controlled by a handful of players who have the power to curate what and how information is shared with the public.
This intense consolidation has allowed for a rapid polarization in how news is covered. Not only does an individual’s news source of choice tend to help influence their thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but now, more than ever, their voting habits and, in extreme cases, their behavior. One could even go as far to say that the U.S. is at an informational crossroad. The road going east, and west is fairly unbiased. This road holds all the information mankind could ever want right at its fingertips. But heading north and south is a road laced with human tendency. This road is filled with disinformation, biases, and prejudices. The meeting of these two paths makes for a news industry that seeks to serve the interests of certain parties, self-serving politics, and growing profits, rather than the good of the people.
How the Dallas Free Press & Journalism Pathway are Changing News
But there is hope! Said hope is brewing in Dallas with the Dallas Free Press, a non-profit journalistic haven, founded by award-winning journalist, Keri Mitchell. Mitchell, who cut her teeth at Dallas’ Advocate magazines, founded the organization in 2020 with the belief that all neighborhoods, regardless of socio-economic standing, deserved reporting and storytelling that valued their communities while holding leaders accountable. The Dallas Free Press’ mission is to amplify voices in historically underserved and underrepresented communities to explore solutions to longstanding systemic inequities.
Keeping true to its mission, and as a part of the strategy to amplify the voices of the people, in 2021, the Dallas Free Press launched the Journalism Pathway Program, serving high school students in West and South Dallas. The program’s goal is to put the city’s youth in a writer’s room that would allow them to find, shape and publish the stories centered in their lives, around their neighborhoods and about their issues.
Now, in its second year, the Journalism Pathway Program has expanded to serve three high schools, spanning its reach to both West and South Dallas. Leveraging relationships with partners such as the Dallas Independent School District, Fairview Youth Foundation and Dallas Weekly, the program works at Madison, Lincoln and Pinkston High Schools to put students on a pathway to publication. Each week, students spend time learning the art of storytelling and the craft of sharing news, making for both a creative and tactical outlet for whom Dallas Free Press believes will be the next generation of storytellers.
Each week, students are granted time away from their core curriculum, spending up to two hours per week with their respective journalism cohort. The program’s curriculum, developed by journalist and Richardson ISD Journalism advisor, Angela Macias, covers topics that range from understanding what news is and why stories become news; to research, finding reliable sources and interviewing. Sessions include writing exercises, activities that help students understand current events, guest speakers, and from time to time, fairly passionate debates around tough topics, all in an effort to stretch the mental capacity of future freethinkers. From there, each cohort is tasked with identifying their storytelling mediums, finding stories, crafting their delivery and creating content ranging from published articles, on-campus newsletters, podcasts and social media content.
The Dallas Free Press opened its doors with three questions in mind: “Whose voices are we listening to?”, “Whose voices are we amplifying?”, and “Whose voices are telling the stories of our communities and our city?” The Journalism Pathway Program seeks to serve as part of the response to each of these three questions. The Journalism Pathway Program is creating a space wherein the youth of South and West Dallas are empowered and encouraged to develop their own voices, so that soon, they will serve as the voice for those who have, for too long, been voiceless.