If we are trying to figure out how to meet the information needs of people and communities who have historically been ignored or overlooked by news organisations, then asking journalists "Why did you become a journalist?" probably seems like the wrong question to ask the wrong people.
But think for a second about what your answer would be. For me, it would be something like, "Because I wanted to tell people’s stories and help make the world a better place." Hopelessly naive and idealistic maybe, but when I ask other journalists, a heartening number of us come up with a pretty similar answer.
By coincidence, that is exactly what marginalised people and communities want us to do. But I also ask a follow-up question: "How much of that do you get to do in your day-to-day job?". That is when things get a bit trickier.
In fact, the business model of much of mainstream journalism - in print, online and increasingly on TV - is actually built on attacking and harming those who are the most vulnerable. In that context, it should not be any surprise that so-called news avoidance is at the core of the existential poly-crisis facing the journalism industry.
I have written before about why news avoidance is the wrong framing for this problem, and why focusing on how we can provide real value for citizens is the only answer. Now, working as News Innovation Research Fellow for Media Cymru, and in collaboration with BBC News, I am trying to figure out how we might do that.
Over the next two and half years, I will be addressing the challenge I have masochistically set myself:
"How might we tell different stories, in different ways, to meet the information needs of people and communities who do not currently see or get a value from journalism, to enhance the capacity of citizens to understand and orientate themselves in the world and take action on behalf of themselves and their communities, because healthy societies rely on an informed public".
To answer some of those key questions, the News for All project will start with participatory research and co-design, working on the principles of Design Justice. That is about putting those who are generally the most adversely impacted by design decisions at the centre of the process. Rather than attempting to find a mythical "representative sample", we will be working with those who are most marginalised to find solutions which work for everyone.
To give you an example of how that works, we started by writing down all the things that would normally happen in user research: who we would invite, who we would get to lead the sessions, where they would be held and who would get paid. When we looked down that list we realised that in fact, the best way to run our research was to do precisely the opposite, and that is what we have built for this project.
That process will eventually lead to prototypes that will be developed and tested, live, with BBC News. But I have always believed that processes are outputs too, so we will be sharing what works, what does not, the big questions and the radical solutions, in a series of articles here at Journalism.co.uk. I will also be writing weekly notes on my own blog reflecting honestly on the ups and downs of the project.
We would love to hear from you if you have any questions, suggestions, or would like to get involved in the work. You are very welcome to get in touch and I look forward to sharing more here in the coming months.
Shirish Kulkarni is an award-winning journalist, research and community organiser with more than 25 years of experience
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