The 10th annual Knight Foundation Media Learning Seminar in Miami was about some major and overdue soul-searching among the ranks of the news world. Journalists from the NPR, PBS, major television networks and local publishers such as BenitoLink joined in panel discussions and smaller break-out sessions to discuss the state of news media today.
Alberto Ibargüen, president, CEO and trustee of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, opened up the packed event held at the Marriott Biscayne Bay, with a serious speech that took national-level journalists to task and placed some responsibility for “fake news” on the media business itself. He took journalists to task for being disconnected from large parts of America, both in rural areas and inter-city communities.
The annual event is provided free to nonprofit and for-profit news providers and community foundations associated with the Knight Foundation.
Ibargüen argued that news programs in large metropolitan areas and on a national level must listen more and “rebuild the trust” of the public. He gently chided his audience about a pervasive attitude from the media of, “I write, you read. I broadcast, you listen.”
Ibargüen stressed working harder to get into neighborhoods, making personal contacts and getting back to a more local approach to news-gathering. He associated the incorrect analysis about the projected outcome of the presidential election with a lack of interaction and connection to communities.
Previously the publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Ibargüen reminded the audience, “Ten years ago, 98 percent of the country was still getting their news on printed paper." He credited smaller news outlets for doing a better job of “meeting people where they are” and being more embedded in their communities. “Trust has evaporated,” he said and warned that today media is controlled through the internet “by a handful of tech companies.”
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a national organization that invests in journalism, the arts, and in the success of cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers. BenitoLink was originally funded largely by a Knight Foundation grant as a project of the Community Foundation for San Benito County. On its website, the Knight Foundation explains, “Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.”
“Trust, Journalism, Fake News” was the first seminar topic of the day with Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources." Stelter encouraged journalists in the audience to be more transparent.
One of Stelter’s guests, Iowa native Nicole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times, said, “We’ve never felt represented by the media. Trust has always been broken down with communities of color. They talk like we all came from the coast.”
Listening to the seminars throughout the day, it is clear major media is in a whirlwind of self-reflection. However, many small to medium-sized media outlets expressed more confidence in their community relationships. Steve Beatty with The Lens, an investigative website based in New Orleans, confirmed during a break-out session that he wasn't seeing the same distrust in his community.
It was reassuring to see that as a local website, BenitoLink is operating in line with the Knight Foundation's philosophy of giving community members, non-journalists and professional journalists alike, access to their local news media. Instead of acting as the information gatekeeper, or “I write, you read”, BenitoLink continues to encourage community involvement and welcomes differing points of view in its “Commentary” section on the local news site.
In addition to allowing the public to have a voice in local media, articles written by paid BenitoLink reporters clearly state “Reporting for BenitoLink” just under the headline. Our reporters strive to approach stories with an open and curious mind that results in fair coverage
In its written material, the Knight Foundation explains, “We define journalism as the full, accurate, contextual search for truth, through both reporting and commentary. The sustainability of news organizations depends on the relevance of their journalism and the viability of their business model; we focus primarily on the former.”
While the Knight Foundation focuses on supporting professional journalism all across the nation, BenitoLink continues to serve San Benito County with a continually growing and improving product. BenitoLink is fortunate to see ongoing and growing support through writing and sharing information and financially through donations and sponsorships. By seeking out voices in our community and building a strong reporter base at the same time, BenitoLink is working to be the local news provider the community deserves.
BenitoLink was started in 2013, with three years of Knight funding for a total of $150,000. On Dec. 3, 2015, BenitoLink separated from the Community foundation for San Benito County and achieved its 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit serving San Benito County.
BenitoLink adheres to the original goals set forth by the Knight Foundation, to strive for an “informed and engaged community” and follow strict ethical guidelines set forth by LION Publishers (Local Independent Online News Publishers) and INN (Institute for Non-Profit News). In May 2016, BenitoLink and the San Benito County Farm Bureau held the first of three political forums, providing residents the opportunity to meet their local and regional candidates. During its first year, Benitolink has made a concerted effort to hire youth, improve their writing and reporting skills while providing them a better job portfolio.