February 20, 2020

Writing and performing in a play about local news is the most serious work Brigham Mosley has taken on in his career. And that’s not just because local news is struggling.

As a solo drag performer, Mosley (who goes by Brigham onstage) said “my practice has always been that. It’s been glitter and teeth.”

But he and fellow playwright Janielle Kastner spent two and a half years embedded in The Dallas Morning News — spending time in the newsroom, shadowing reporters, and listening to the community. Their play, “Playwrights in the Newsroom,” opens next month in Dallas, and it tells the story of what Mosley and Kastner themselves learned about local news, from process to layoffs and more. You can read about it here.

Their time with local reporters taught both playwrights that they didn’t know how local journalists do their work. The Dallas Morning News’ Tom Huang thinks that’s true for most people.

“We assume because we’re immersed in it that citizens know and value what we do, but it’s not true,” he said. Most people don’t realize newsrooms are made up of “real people who are trying to make the best decisions they can every day.”

One way to solve that — tell them.

“Demonstrate what the alternative would have been if they hadn’t been there to ask the questions they asked,” Kastner said.

In her time with the newsroom, she saw change happen because reporters went to meetings, told the stories of people authorities weren’t listening to and questioned officials when things didn’t seem right. Each time, that work caused change.

Related: Two playwrights embedded at The Dallas Morning News. Now, they’re taking what they learned to the stage

Journalists should help their communities understand “the darkness that would be there if you hadn’t turned on the light, and what light you turned on, and what questions you asked.”

Showing your work can mean:

– Becoming part of the story. Gasp. I know. But if you asked questions and things changed because of it, you’re part of the story.

– Including and linking to how-we-did-it pieces along with an investigation.

– Embedding source documents.

– Linking generously to the work of people that came before you (looking at you this week, Washington Post, but also, community members, bloggers, people who sounded alarms. They deserve credit, too.)

– Talk about your work on social media, at live events, local schools, libraries, civic organizations.

– And, you know, maybe follow Dallas’ example and invite people who aren’t journalists into the newsroom to help tell your story.

For some great resources, tips and examples, check out Trusting News project’s seven strategies for rebuilding trust and Trusting News’ webinar series.

Brigham Mosley and Janielle Kastner at a community event in Dallas. (Image by Kim Leeson)

While you’re here:

  • Do you know any local journalists who’ve quit Twitter? Poynter has a story brewing, so if you know anyone, please let me know!

  • Remember last year when j-school grads embedded in local newsrooms to work on an Instagram strategy? That fellowship is back!

  • Apply for a grant from Solutions Journalism to help you cover the 2020 election in a more meaningful way. The deadline is Feb. 25.

  • Consider adding NewStart to your newsletter diet. This is the newsletter from the fellowship program that wants to find the next generation of local news owners.

  • We talk a lot about what transformation means for print. Check out this piece from Better News about what it means for one public TV station, and from the Knight-Cronkite News Lab, what it’s meant for one local TV station.

  • Meet The Beacon, a new online newsroom in Kansas City.

  • And read this piece from Lauren Gustus, editor of The Sacramento Bee and McClatchy’s West Region editor. She wrote “The transition for local news is not a transition to digital. It is a transformation to deeper engagement with our communities.”

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe hereKristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org. She can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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