7 Tips for Journalists from Restorative Justice Practitioners – Free Press | Team Cansler

The warden had tried everything, he told Gatensby, and the men were unreachable. But Gatensby has managed to build trust and a connection over time.

“In my culture, they have a saying, a song that they sing when they meet people,” said Gatensby, co-founder of Restore Circles, an Indigenous-led restoration organization. “It says, ‘I will open this box of wisdom bequeathed to me by my ancestors. They come and look in there. If you need something, take it. It’s yours. If there are things you don’t need, leave them.’ As simple as it is, telling them this is like, “I recognize that you have your own power.” This changes the dynamic of the relationship. We spent 16 days together.”

Journalism is finally beginning to relate to itself some of the difficult questions it otherwise reserves for others: Who is in power here? Why do we make the choices we make? And who benefits? Anyone watching this (slow, often reluctant) process can easily see a truth that has long haunted journalists: we’re terrible at self-reflection (and personal responsibility). 20 years ago we might have dismissed that as an industry joke; Now the survival of the industry depends on whether we can improve.

Journalist Allen Arthur had a eureka moment four years ago while working with people who were incarcerated. He realized that by learning from restorative justice, journalists could create healthier, less transactional, and potentially even healing relationships with people.

Embrace the magic in the moment

The culmination of this work is the guide Arthur wrote for Free Press: The moment is magical, which contains seven tips from seven restorative justice practitioners. What you’ll find in it are actionable, high-impact steps journalists can take during difficult conversations. We hope this guide will demonstrate a new way of working, one that treats the other side of the “interview” as tender, sacred, and powerful.

free press news voices and Media 2070 Projects have ventured on similar journeys to revolutionize how media and journalism interact and connect within communities. For News Voices, this looks like organizing with communities, journalists and newsrooms to build power and champion the news, information and narratives people need to thrive. Media 2070 champions media reparations, a process to engage diverse sectors of media and philanthropy to radically change who has the capital to tell their own stories by 2070. By sacredizing every story, these projects have helped inform how principles of restorative justice can be applied to journalism.

And yes, engaging with these principles requires journalists to look inward.

“I call it spiritual archaeology. You have to dig into yourself,” Gatensby said. The industry flirts with different interviewing and reporting opportunities, Gatensby said, “but [they’re] pretty easily distracted.”

These distractions come from personal psychology, established industry norms, and regressive approaches that label certain communities as broken. (The industry’s anti-blackness, anti-indigenousness, racism, and class issues play a big part here.) Instead, Gatensby urges us to “disrupt the fabric of our work” by consciously making healthier choices, choices that standard industry practice does not meet supply.

“Equality is security,” he said, “even if it may not be healthy.”

On the other side of that equality, however, lives immense opportunity: the opportunity to build trust, share meaningful connections, and understand stories — all stories — differently. Journalists are not practitioners of restorative justice. But the experience of treating another person’s story with informed, conscious care and respect can be profoundly healing, said Marilyn Armor, a psychotherapist, professor, and researcher in restorative justice whose work often focuses on survivors of violence.

“If you want to convey to journalists that there are ways to get involved… that’s actually going to be healing, that’s healing: that people can hear their own stories.” You have insights. They’re putting things together in a way they’ve never done before.”

Journalism can help heal

The dozens of hours it took to create this Free Press resource underscored the need for journalists to burst their own bubble of wisdom, to stop pretending we’re the smartest observers in the room or somehow uniquely attuned to people’s motivations and inner workings. Those we interact with know that we are often the opposite. In fact, some of the tips in this resource are due in part to mistakes made by reporters (including Allen’s), such as: B. uninformed choice of words and botched interviews. This resource is not the product of perfection but of growth.

Each person who contributed to this resource shared similar ideas: journalists know the story we want to tell before we even speak to sources; we replace humanity with professional norms; we have a set way of telling stories; and we fail to grasp or care for people’s hard-won life experiences. In fact, being able to speak directly to journalists about how to treat people better has inspired people to share their perspectives with us.

But our contributors also believe in the dream of journalism so much that they’ve generously donated their time to help us get it right. It’s a common refrain: that people aren’t happy with journalism but haven’t given up all hope yet. They still think we can do better. That makes their claims about journalism’s damaging stories and misguided narratives less of an insult than a guide to a new way of working.

Fortunately, this is just one resource in a growing body to help us find this new path. Projects like News Voices and Media 2070 have worked with allies across the country to bring into view all the powerful and beautiful things that are possible for the future of journalism. In many communities, journalistic harm is accepted as the norm, not the exception. The question this guide addresses is how can we heal this together.

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