A little over a year ago I wrote a letter to our audience. “Decibel is changing,” I said. After a summer of great change, we decided to pause and think more deeply about our work. As a team we got together and talked about all of the things that were important to us. We had conversations about the type of content we could produce, what kind of stories we’d like to tell, who we really are. Basically, the question we ultimately were seeking to answer is what type of journalism do we want to put out into the world? We used all of those needs, wants and wishes to craft a new mission statement.
What was ultimately most important to us? The communities we cover. We wanted to put the community first, to listen before producing a story, to build trust with communities the news media often overlooks.To support this mission, the team developed a set of core values that would help not only guide our work, but give us a system to evaluate our success.
Representation - We vow to cover underrepresented communities and to allow those communities to have a say in how we represent them. We want to move beyond diversity. It’s not enough to feature diverse voices in our coverage. We strive to view and portray people from many angles and to not reduce them into a one-dimensional version of themselves.
Authenticity - We vow to create a space for people to be their authentic selves. Our measure of authenticity will not be what we deem is authentic, but instead what members of a community deem is authentic. We will strive to create content that is not exploitative and instead gives members of a community the opportunity to see their true selves.
Fairness - We vow to ensure fairness to all communities. To determine what is fair, we will use the Platinum Rule as our guide. We will strive to treat people the way they would like to be treated.
Storytelling - We believe in the power of storytelling. Genuine, thoughtfully crafted narratives have the power to create better understanding and bridge gaps between communities. We vow to tell in-depth stories that go beyond surface-level reporting and provide insight into a person’s true lived experience.
Transparency - We vow to be transparent about all that we do. We will strive to constantly explain our process. It’s not enough to tell stories. We need to explain how stories are made, what decisions we make and why we make them.
Accountability - We vow to allow the communities we cover to hold us accountable to our core values. We promise to host community events and build practices so the public can always give us feedback. More importantly, we promise to listen to that feedback and put it into action.*
When we developed these things last year we did so with a promise. A promise to review them again and again each year to ensure they still truly reflect the work we are striving to do. While we still believe the core of our mission statement and value system rings true, we have learned a lot from our work and felt like these both needed some tweaking.
You’ll notice two major changes in our new mission statement. This first is a subtle change from “community journalism” to “community-led journalism” because we truly believe the community leads and we follow. The major change is in our last sentence. Before the language made it seem as if we start conversations when in reality we seek to showcase the conversations already happening in communities. We think changing “spark” to “highlight” is a truer reflection of what we do.
Lastly, we thought it was incredibly important to change our scope from “world” to “local.” Yes, most of our stories have national resonance. People in the communities we cover often face similar challenges of those across the country, but our work is local. It strives to amplify the stories of everyday people in Central Texas communities whether or not their story has national resonance. More importantly, when we think about who our work is for and who ultimately we look to for guidance on our success it’s the local communities we cover.
We made two changes to our core values. We removed one and added another. We removed storytelling because it’s not a value that supports our work, it is our work. That’s why you see storytelling in our actual mission statement. But we still felt the need to add another value that we think is critical to our work.
We added investment because when we started this work we didn’t know what it would take to make this mission possible. Now, it’s clear to us that our work is about building trust with the communities we cover and doing that takes a serious investment. We know without a doubt we have to invest at least a year in each project. We also know we can’t produce in-depth stories without generous deadlines. That’s why you’ll only find a few stories on our site each month, and we don’t respond to typical breaking news situations. Our stories have nuance and take more than a day or week to produce. We invest the time and resources needed to listen and build relationships with the communities we cover. Our work just isn’t possible without this.
These may seem like subtle changes, but we know small changes can have a big impact. We hope that being open to making even the smallest change lets you know how committed we are to growing and serving you better.
You’ll see this new mission statement and core values posted on our website as well as some other information that helps explain our work. It will always be there because we want you to hold us accountable and to make sure we are living up to these ideals.
Throughout this work, we’ve hosted countless listening sessions with community members to get feedback on what we do. I end every listening session by telling participants, “Our work doesn’t happen without you.” Now, I say the same to you. Your feedback is critical to our success. Please let us know what you think of our updated guiding principles by emailing email@example.com.
Got story ideas, advice on how we can improve our reporting or just want to know more about what we do? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you value this type of reporting, then please consider making a donation to Austin PBS. Your gift makes the quality journalism done by the Decibel team possible. Thank you for your contribution.
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