On a recent Saturday morning in Germantown, community members gathered with WHYY to talk. But instead of the press interviewing local residents, local residents had a chance to ask the media questions.
Convened by the Germantown Info Hub and Temple University graduate students, the Behind the Headlines event at The People’s Education Center was arranged to foster a two-way conversation, not about a story being written but one that already had been.
Nearly 40 residents and stakeholders in Germantown showed up to discuss a recent story WHHY ran about development plans for the Maplewood Mall. Also in attendance was the reporter, Jake Blumgart, the editor, Ariella Cohen, and WHHY’s vice president of news and civic dialogue, Sandra Clark.
After introductions and an opportunity to read the story and listen to the segment WHYY aired on the radio, attendees were divided into small, student-led groups to discuss takeaways from the story, what residents would have done differently, what they want to learn more about and what else in the community should be reported on.
“I was very proud of our community,” said Sharrieff Ali, a Germantown resident and member of the advisory group for the Germantown Info Hub. “I thought the interests and comments from the local stakeholders were both honest and constructive.”
Other local residents echoed Ali’s thoughts.
“I was proud of our community as well,” said advisory group member Cornelia Swinson. “The outcome and take-a-way was laser focused and went right to the heart of reason for the convening.”
The groups were then brought back together to share with each other and those from WHHY about ideas or suggestions and had an opportunity to engage with the reporter and editor to ask questions. The passion for Germantown in the room was evident as a diverse set of views and thoughts were respectfully shared.
“At times during the discussion regarding the Maplewood Mall article, it may have been uncomfortable for WHYY and their reporter, however I believe we all left with the understanding that news outlets and our community need to work together as a team if we expect to produce quality news coverage for Germantown,” Ali said.
The sense of the session being productive was a sentiment also expressed by Cohen.
“The session really helped me better understand the desire of Germantown residents to see more varied voices from their community represented in the media,” she said.
Residents also had an opportunity to stick a Post-it note on the wall to give input on a simple question: What do you wonder about Germantown that you’d like a reporter to look into? Responses varied, from looking into illegal dumping to the status of the YWCA building, were added to the mosaic of responses on the wall.
There was also an opportunity to vote on three questions posed at previous community engagement events to try and get a better sense and narrow down possible stories for reporters to look into.
“I also heard loud and clear that people want public agencies and other decision makers to be held accountable by the media for decisions made that affect the community,” Cohen said.
The intent of the Germantown Info Hub and media participants like WHYY isn’t to simply hold an event to appease community members but to begin a relationship built on two-way dialogue.
“I thought the event was very productive and appreciate WHYY and Temple for taking the initiative to start this important discussion,” said Germantown resident Lawanda Horton Sauter.