“The future of community journalism lies in collaboration, as the current media environment cannot sustain competition,” argued Dean Baquet.

REDLANDS, Calif. – June 3, 2024 – In a bid to address the changing face of local news and its impact on civic engagement, journalists and media educators from across the Inland Empire convened at Esri in Redlands for the inaugural event of the Inland Empire Journalism Innovation Hub+Fund. Titled “The Future of Community Journalism in the Inland Empire,” the gathering served as a platform for dialogue and collaboration among local media professionals, particularly those representing areas grappling with news deserts.

Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher of Black Voice News, spearheaded the event, engaging in a thought-provoking conversation with Dean Baquet, the former executive editor of The New York Times. Their discussion explored the essential role of local media in sustaining democratic processes and strategies for engaging journalists within the Inland Empire to strengthen civic participation.

Dean Baquet emphasized the urgency of reinventing journalism in the face of rapid transformations within newsrooms across the nation. He acknowledged the challenges posed by the decline of traditional, manpower-intensive reporting models, leading to difficulties in maintaining in-depth coverage of substantive issues. However, he cautioned against romanticizing the past, saying that the present changes have equally opened up new opportunities.

CSUSB President Tomas Morales (left) poses with Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher of Black Voice News (center), and Dean Baquet, former executive editor of The New York Times (right), at the “Future of Community Journalism in the Inland Empire” event held at Esri in Redlands on June 3, 2024.

“I can assure you that the changes we are witnessing in journalism have also opened new avenues for reinvention,” Baquet stated. “Now we all have a chance to participate in the reinvention of this noble field – the fourth estate. It’s inspiring to see young people taking leadership roles in newsrooms, something that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.”

Mr. Baquet’s remarks highlighted the dual nature of the current media environment. While the decline of traditional journalism models presents significant challenges, it also offers unprecedented opportunities for innovation and reinvention. He pointed to the rise of digital media and the growing influence of social media platforms as areas where young journalists are making significant inroads.

Mr. Baquet argued that collaboration across media outlets is critical for the future of journalism. He acknowledged the shift from competition-driven models to audience-based ones, emphasizing that collaboration is now essential for the economic sustainability and strength of local journalism. This shift, he suggested, is necessary to address the financial pressures facing many news organizations and to ensure that local journalism can continue to serve its vital role in society.

“The economic model of journalism has shifted dramatically,” Mr. Baquet noted. “We can no longer rely solely on competition to drive our industry. Instead, we need to find ways to work together, share resources, and support one another. This is the only way we can ensure that local journalism remains strong and continues to serve our communities.”

Mr. Baquet’s call for collaboration resonated deeply with the audience, many of whom have experienced firsthand the challenges of operating in a highly competitive and resource-constrained environment. His vision for a more cooperative approach to journalism was seen as a necessary and pragmatic response to the current economic realities of the industry.

When the discussion turned to artificial intelligence (AI), Mr. Baquet advised journalists to embrace AI as a valuable tool, not a threat. He cautioned against repeating the mistakes made with the internet’s introduction, where resistance to new technology led to lasting repercussions. AI, he argued, has the potential to transform journalism in positive ways, from automating routine tasks to enhancing investigative reporting through advanced data analysis.

“The last time we buried our heads in the sand was when the internet was introduced to us. Instead of seizing the opportunity, we ran away, and we are still facing the repercussions,” he remarked. “We can’t afford to make the same mistake with AI. We need to understand it, embrace it, and use it to our advantage.”

Mr. Baquet’s comments on AI underscored the importance of technological literacy in modern journalism. As AI continues to evolve, it will become increasingly important for journalists to understand how to leverage these tools to enhance their work and stay competitive in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Overall, Mr. Baquet encouraged journalists to pursue in-depth, significant stories rather than succumbing to the pressures of routine and immediacy. “This might sound easy, especially with shrinking staff, but it’s not. It’s an endeavor we need to pursue,” he added. Mr. Baquet’s call to action resonated with the attendees, highlighting the need for a renewed commitment to high-quality journalism that informs and empowers communities.

Mr. Baquet’s emphasis on substantive reporting was a recurring theme throughout the event. He argued that while the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle and the demands of digital media often push journalists towards quick, surface-level reporting, it is the in-depth, investigative stories that truly serve the public interest and uphold the highest standards of journalism.

The event at Esri in Redlands served as a catalyst for change, encouraging a shift from traditional models towards collaborative and innovative approaches. Dr. Brown-Hinds echoed Baquet’s sentiments, highlighting the unique opportunity presented by the current media landscape. She emphasized the importance of innovative approaches to storytelling and community engagement, particularly in regions like the Inland Empire, where local news coverage is crucial for fostering informed citizenry and civic involvement.

“Community journalism is more important now than ever,” Brown-Hinds asserted. “In regions like the Inland Empire, where news deserts are a growing concern, we need to find new ways to engage our communities and ensure that they have access to the information they need to participate fully in civic life.”

Brown-Hinds’ remarks underscored the critical role of local media in supporting democratic processes and fostering civic engagement. She highlighted the need for journalists to be proactive in finding new ways to connect with their audiences and to ensure that their reporting is relevant, accessible, and impactful. That is why the event was aimed to facilitate networking and collaboration among attendees, thus fostering a sense of solidarity and shared purpose. “The challenges we face are too great for any one organization to tackle alone,” Dr. Brown-Hinds said. “By working together, sharing resources, and supporting one another, we can build a stronger, more resilient local journalism ecosystem.”

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