News Ambassadors is a reporting project designed to help American communities that hold vastly different political views to better understand each other, while giving young reporters a valuable learning experience in the creation of credible reporting.
In February 2021, News Ambassadors launched a sample project to explore the differences and similarities of the areas where our university partners are located: an audio snapshot of cities, towns and suburbs across the American political spectrum. For this test, we chose one subject of current interest: COVID mask-wearing and vaccine acceptance.
Here is a set of brief audio highlights, totaling around 6 minutes, from interviews conducted by student reporters. We found a wide range of opinions about vaccine efficacy, availability and acceptance in six locations we canvassed: Berkeley, CA; Marion County, FL; Randolph County, MO; Brooklyn and Harlem in New York; Macon, GA; and Orange County, CA.
- The three edited montages below show the differences between locations. The first location, Moberly, MO, does not have a mask mandate:
- By contrast, those we spoke to in New York’s Brooklyn and Harlem were in agreement that mask mandates work and vaccines are a good thing, but they had critiques of how the vaccines were being rolled out.
- The third edited clips are from the wealthy suburb of Orange County in Southern CA. Their residents were decidedly mixed on whether they wanted to be vaccinated, as represented here:
These clips will be combined with comments by reporters in 3 communities and edited into the finished sample in May 2021.
The News Ambassadors project originates in prestigious journalism schools and organizations in a range of locations. Teams of student reporters will engage with community members to surface their own locality’s views on contentious issues. And they will work collaboratively with other students from different backgrounds, to answer each community’s questions about the ‘other.’ The products of their reporting will be broadcast locally and possibly nationally, and be widely disseminated online.
The divisive partisanship that threatens democracy today makes it urgent for communities to bridge differences and forge dialogue based on shared understanding of established facts. Journalists have a critical role to play. News Ambassadors will empower a new generation of journalists to tackle this challenge through news literacy, on-the-ground reporting, and a process designed to facilitate collaboration across divides. News Ambassadors will surface the kind of insights which can only be found by exploring the perspectives of those whose views are different than our own. We will prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in the selection of partners and in decision-making. The viewpoints of the local communities where the young reporters are located will be a key element in informing the topics of the reports.
Each semester, the reporting teams in both locations will each assemble two reports. The first will be created in consultation with local groups and will describe their community, including some key issues they are facing. Working collaboratively, the second report will answer questions posed by the team in the other locality, about one controversial local issue. In the course of the semester, under the supervision of professional editors, students will gain hands-on reporting experience and build empathetic listening and self-reflection skills, as they challenge themselves and their counterparts to dig beyond stereotypes. The idea is to give young journalists tools to help them address the divisive rancor that challenges us all, and give communities a form of journalism that unites them in understanding.
A number of teaching and reporting institutions have expressed interest in participating, including Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, GA; Morehouse College Journalism and Sports Program in Atlanta, GA; USC’s Annenberg Media Center in Los Angeles, CA; YR Media (formerly Youth Radio) in Oakland, CA; CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NY;University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville, FL; and University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, SC.
News Ambassadors is part of InterAct’s Digital Citizen Project, which has been connecting Americans to their leaders, each other and the world since 1998. The project director is Shia Levitt, a longtime public radio journalist who has reported for NPR, KQED, Marketplace and other outlets and has taught radio to young people with WNYC’s Radio Rookies, UNICEF, and at the college level.