Democracy and the Informed Citizen

Solutions Journalism focus of Democracy and Informed Citizen series

Navigating the media landscape these days is not as black and white as the type in newspapers that once reigned as the trusted, number one source for news.

Today’s world of journalism looks vastly different – internet sources, websites, digital news, podcasts, blogs, cable television, radio, satellite radio, social media, magazines – and the already burgeoning list continues to grow.

So, who do you trust? That’s the question citizens striving to be informed must ask, and it’s the question at the heart of a new grant-funded Democracy and the Informed Citizen project of Alabama Humanities Foundation.

It marks the second time AHF has earned this grant, a national initiative/partnership between the Mellon Foundation and the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

AHF and its partners around the state are examining Humanities and the Future of Journalism in rural Alabama, hoping to inspire youths to pursue Solutions Journalism, which is an approach that makes how people are responding to problems in their communities the news — instead of making news of problems. It seeks to provide insight that others can use. The storytelling focus is on effectiveness, not good intentions.

AHF will provide humanities-based training for youth and adult community members interested in exploring the practice of Solutions Journalism in rural Alabama places.  While providing Solutions Journalism training, it will address the humanities’ traditional role in the training of journalists and in the development over time of the field of journalism.  

The project will take place over the course of 18 months in 2020-2021, but will need to take a
different course than originally planned due to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program will have public outcomes. Planned were participant-led forums held in the participants’ communities in Fall 2020/Winter 2021, as well as reporting on the project via statewide newspapers and blogs. Pulitzer Prize winners were to serve as faculty in the training and as presenters in public forums.

The forums will be re-evaluated in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new plans will be shared via AHF’s website and social media as the new path forward becomes clear.

Lead scholar is Nan Fairley, associate professor in the School of Communication & Journalism at Auburn University, where she has taught a wide variety of courses, including feature writing and community journalism, since 1992.

“Community journalism in rural areas of Alabama and across the nation is more important now than ever before,” Fairley said. “I believe the workshop and subsequent forums will be an opportunity for young people and community representatives to learn how to hear, create and share vital stories of importance to us all.”

Fairley has earned honors for her work in community journalism with youths. She has engaged many of her classes in outreach projects focused on rural communities and believes students learn best when they go “beyond the interstate” to develop as both citizens and future journalists.

The recipient of the 2011 AU Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach, Fairley is a faculty mentor for the David Mathews Center for Civic Life and is on the board of directors for PACERS, Program for the Academic & Cultural Enrichment of Rural Schools.

Fairley is representing the AU School of Communication and Journalism as a Faculty Fellow in the Alabama Community Capacity Network for higher education community engagement.

She continues work with Dr. Mark Wilson on the AU College of Liberal Arts Living Democracy initiative ( 2010. She is co-author of Living Democracy: Communities as Classrooms, Students as Citizens, a Kettering Foundation publication.

Democracy and the Informed Citizen seeks to strengthen media literacy through community conversations and other public programs with journalists, scholars and local and national organizations.

In announcing the grant for AHF and others, Esther Mackintosh, president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils said, “The councils are uniquely equipped to bring journalists into meaningful conversation with the communities they serve, to help citizens distinguish trustworthy from unreliable news and to explore the historic role that journalism and the humanities have played in informing Americans.”

Partners in the Alabama project are: The College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University — the School of Communication and Journalism, the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, and the Living Democracy Project; The University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences; the David Mathews Center for Civic Life; and the PACERS Newspaper Network, part of a multidecade Alabama cooperative of small rural public schools and their communities and partners.

Virtual workshop: June 24-26, 2020

WHO: Youth and adult community members from rural Alabama places

WHAT: FREE* workshop featuring training in Solutions Journalism
Solutions Journalism is an approach that makes how people are responding to community problems into news — instead of making news of the problems.  It seeks to provide insight that others can use.  The storytelling focus is on effectiveness, not good intentions.

WHEN: June 24-26, 2020 / 1.5 hour sessions each day / 10:00 – 11:30 daily

WHERE: Online via ZOOM (link provided upon registration)
* Participants may visit area public libraries for internet access.

WHY: To have fun learning about the history and future of journalism in rural Alabama communities

HOW: Through the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. 

We thank The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support of this initiative and the Pulitzer Prizes for their partnership.

To register:   

For more information, contact Laura Anderson / 205.585.5323