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While that critique could have stood alone, he did something else: He lifted up some of the movements looking to transform that culture.

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These are all important ingredients for shaping community-centered journalism, opening up opportunities to not only listen to people but to activate them into participating in the creation of a different kind of local news.

This past year, Free Press’ News Voices: North Carolina project has taken these ingredients — specifically engagement and solutions journalism — and mixed them into something pretty delicious in the city of Charlotte.

The Solutions Journalism Network is “rebalancing the news, so that every day people are exposed to stories that help them understand problems and challenges, and stories that show potential ways to respond”. Earlier this year, it anchored the public launch of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative (CJC).

The collaboration is comprised of six newsrooms (The Charlotte Observer, La Noticia, QCity Metro, qnotes, WCNC and WFAE) plus the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library, Queens Library and Free Press. We're on a mission to strengthen local journalism and encourage greater connection between reporters and Charlotte residents.

Alongside this collaborative effort, Free Press is deepening our work in Charlotte. Since we launched News Voices: North Carolina in 2017, we’ve been building power with communities so people have a stronger voice in the future of local news in the city. We’ve:

  • worked with residents and journalists to identify what their needs are and map what news and information looks like in their neighborhoods;

  • partnered with newsrooms to host community conversations and public forums to transform their relationships with Charlotteans;

  • and collaborated with residents on dreaming up and implementing their visions for local news.

We’ve begun to weave these two emergent movements in transforming journalism together, hosting a screening in an open newsroom and a festival of community engagement. And we began to ask ourselves: What are the recipes in the solutions-journalism cookbook? What are the recipes for strong engagement journalism? How do we create fusion recipes?

How can we ensure that those recipes are sustainable and easily accessible?

What will it look like when we cook up the transformed journalism we’re envisioning?

And what will it look like when a healthy, community-rooted media diet is the new common sense in Charlotte?

A Charlotte blend

We haven’t yet arrived at the feast we’re dreaming of. But I’m hopeful that we’ll get there because the recipes we’ve already tried have been invigorating.

And with the holiday season fast approaching, we wanted to share some of our recipes for “the Charlotte blend” of solutions and engagement journalism:

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The fruits of our labor

These recipes have yielded such delightful results in Charlotte.

We were sold out within 24 hours of beginning outreach for our “I Can't Afford to Live Here Viewing Party”. We pushed the space limits until all the journalists were standing and as many seats as possible were open to the public. Seventy-five people participated, which was all the space could hold. I believe this response shows the hunger our communities have for journalism that serves us all and engages communities as partners rather than parties in a transaction.

That evening, participants watched WCNC's news special I Can't Afford to Live Here: An In-Depth Look at Charlotte's Affordable Housing Crisis and had the opportunity to ask questions or comment on it. There was both appreciation and apprehension in the room. Feelings of “I’m so glad you’re working on this alongside other newsrooms” existed side by side with feelings of “In the future, could you bring us in before the special is complete?” But at the end of it all, everyone had a chance to either meet someone new or strengthen an existing relationship.

And then some of those same people joined us for “Imagine Home: Co-Creating Solutions to Housing in Charlotte.”

There, we had some people walk in asking where “the presentation” would be. When we explained that there would be no presentation but rather a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style array of engagement opportunities, we were met with some skepticism.

But then we introduced the stations and introduced the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative; we played some funk, soul and house music; and we ate delicious food from Uptown Yolk while journalists and community members alike engaged in conversation and brainstormed about ways to transform the future of journalism in Charlotte.

Through the engagement stations, participants offered visions for the future of housing in the city, including:

  • “All types of housing! Duplex, triplex, single family, apartment style. Everyone has a choice of which type of housing they want to live in. Most of all, each type has room for both silence and connection and close proximity to nature and food.”

  • “Comunidades con viviendas para los diferentes familias que ganan el salario minimo. Que puedan comprar casas y apartamentos sin necesidad de que tengan 2 o 3 trabajos.”

  • “Inclusionary zoning for new home building.”

  • “Creo que las personas que estan encargadas del desarrollo de la ciudad deberian estar muy abiertas a las necesidades de las clases menos favorecidas. No solo pendientes de las grandes constructoras y sus planes solo para las clases adineradas.”

And people shared stories about their own experiences with housing:

No one left unhappy. Instead, some people asked if these festivals would be regularly occurring events and offered to help organize something similar in other parts of Charlotte. The people who came in the most skeptical made sure to find one of us before they left to let us know how pleasantly surprised they were by the event.

Keep cooking

These recipes are not all it takes to transform journalism. There are so many more. A cohort of European journalists has already created some of them, highlighting them in something of a cookbook and hanging the recipes at conferences and events.

But we know there’s more, so we’re asking you to submit your recipes here so that we can collect them. And if you feel inspired, throw in a personal favorite since we know that hard work can make you hungry and we all have to eat. Our hope, at News Voices, is that we can begin compiling and sharing more of these recipe cards so that people in a variety of places can play with them.

And then maybe we’ll feast and create the sustainable, accessible, transformed journalism we know is possible.

But until then, I’ll leave you with this, one of my other favorite recipes: collard greens.

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