In September 2021, Shasta Scout – a news organization serving Shasta County, in California – broke a story about how the Redding City Council was planning a closed session to discuss selling parcels of riverfront land to private investors. As other outlets jumped in, the nonprofit decided to give readers some context: why Scout’s coverage was different from other local media.
Usually, institutions that decide to be more open about where they’re coming from do that through a permanent statement. Shasta Scout does have an About page, where readers can find information about funding and editorial standards. That is important, but it’s not what we’re highlighting in this summary. This case is all about how a news site can walk its audience through an ongoing coverage plan and build trust by explaining its intentions and process.
“Journalists are not bystanders. The words we use, the people we choose to seek comment from, the history we choose to retell, and the subjects we focus on are just some of the ways we actively participate in shaping our reader’s understanding of their community. This is a responsibility we don’t take lightly, but it’s real and it’s inescapable. Bias is unavoidable. Objectivity is a false goal. Everyone is telling a story through a lens. And we are too.”shasta scout
Here is a breakdown of how Shasta Scout does this:
A disclosure about objectivity
Before delving into the details on how their values influence their coverage, Shasta Scout’s journalists acknowledge that they are not seeking objectivity, but fairness and truth. It’s a powerful statement that puts everyone on the same page right at the beginning of the text.
The power of real examples
After disclosing what some of their core beliefs are, Shasta Scout’s statement guides the readers through some aspects of how the organization is covering the land development deal. For example, the text explains why the news outlet chooses to cover the “climate” instead of the “weather” – an analogy about focusing on the big story, rather than on events and immediate consequences.
This point is supported by the coverage’s angle:
- Shasta Scout: “We prioritize stories that look at systems, not just symptoms. Is the way the city agendizes real estate information working for the public? Should past precedent or policy be the driving factor in how the city discusses such information in future? Does Redding have a pattern of engaging in land deals that are less than fully transparent?”
Explaining why it is important to add context
Shasta Scout stands for adding more depth to the coverage with historical background, commentary and context. That is another way to guide readers about what they can expect while reading their coverage.
- Shasta Scout: “We’re not interested in shallow reporting. Repackaged press releases aren’t real journalism. That’s why we take the time to examine the historical, societal, and political forces and events that shape the news we share. And it’s why we’re focused on reaching out to feature diverse and representative voices as we find ways to share it. Context deepens the news, commentary broadens it, and analysis takes a magnifying glass to current events in a way that provides greater benefit to the reader. All are essential to strong, democracy-building journalism.”
Note: We’d like to thank Marc Dadigan, Contributing Editor from Shasta Scout for recommending this example for consideration in the Coming From Collection.