Five Answers is a series that features someone studying or working in the news industry answering five questions.
Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh) aims to show how the media can bring about positive change. NAA asked Mallary Jean Tenore, ivoh’s executive director, for an update on the nonprofit organization’s work. She emailed answers (and hyperlinks).
1. What drew you to working in news media?
At an early age, I was struck by the fact that we all have a story to tell. As a child, I used to entertain myself by looking for story ideas in my neighborhood. I’d then turn these ideas into stories and wrote about them in my journal. (Can you tell I was an only child?) As soon as I was old enough to get an internship my junior year of high school, I called my local newspaper to see if I could intern there. I got the internship, and from there began to learn more about the profession that I was always drawn to. I interned at a lot of papers throughout college and thought I would end up writing for a newspaper full-time. But a few weeks after graduating college, I moved from Massachusetts to Florida to work at The Poynter Institute, where I spent six years covering the media industry. Now I’m helping to strengthen the media’s role as an agent of change and world benefit through my work at Images & Voices of Hope. I love having the opportunity to improve media for the better.
2. What is the most exciting thing going on at ivoh?
We’ve built a lot of momentum around a storytelling genre that we’re calling Restorative Narrative. These are stories that show how people and communities are making a meaningful progression from a place of despair to a place of resilience. These aren’t happy-go-lucky fluff stories; they explore the tragedy, trauma, or problem at hand but move the storyline beyond what happened to show what’s possible. These narratives help journalists take a more holistic approach to their coverage. We didn’t invent this genre, but we gave it a name and, in doing so, we’ve built a community of support around it. We created a Restorative Narrative Fellowship and are getting ready to launch a second iteration of it later this year. We’ve also seen a lot of interest from journalism schools that want to explore this emerging genre. I’ve gotten a lot of excitement out of helping to grow ivoh and the Restorative Narrative genre over the past two years.
3. What has surprised you the most while working at ivoh?
During my time editing Poynter.org, I covered the media industry and often wrote and edited stories about layoffs, buyouts and egregious errors. These stories dragged me down after a while. My favorite stories to cover were about best practices in the media industry; I liked finding and writing stories about what was working, not what was broken. When I joined ivoh in December 2013, I wanted to grow the organization’s Web presence, so I started looking for examples of how media practitioners were creating meaningful awareness and change through their work. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough stories to cover, but I learned that if you actively seek the good in something, you can usually find it. ivoh.org‘s Web traffic has grown significantly over the past two years — which to me is an indicator that people are craving information about how the media can be a force for good. The growth of ivoh as a whole over the past year has also been a reflection of people’s desire to tell and consume stories that move beyond the traditional “if it bleeds, it leads” headlines.
4. How do you see the genre of Restorative Narrative growing?
Given how much the genre has grown over the past two years, I think it will continue to gain interest from media practitioners who are looking to have a greater impact. We’ve found that a lot of journalists want to tell Restorative Narratives, but they don’t always get the support or buy-in that they’re looking for from their editors. Over the coming year, we’re planning to work with more editors and newsrooms to help change this.
I think that the more journalists and newsrooms embrace this type of storytelling, the more balanced media coverage will be. There’s still a need for stories about trauma and tragedies because these stories inform people about what’s happening in their community and in the world at large. But when these stories make up the majority of media coverage, they can lead people to believe that the world is worse off than it actually is. A lot of people tell me that they’ve stopped watching the news and reading the newspaper because they don’t want to be brought down by all the traumatic news. And yet they want to stay informed. There’s a real opportunity for the media to balance out its coverage more. I think that as Restorative Narrative continues to gain traction — along with solutions journalism and constructive journalism — people may start to gravitate more toward news and maybe even regain trust in the media.
5. How do you see the future of news media?
The media industry has experienced so much turmoil in recent years. In the midst of that turmoil, though, there has been a lot of experimentation and innovation, particularly when it comes to storytelling platforms. We need to see more innovation when it comes to the types of stories we tell. I think Restorative Narratives can be an integral part of that innovation. I also think there are opportunities for news organizations to inspire people to act on the social issues they read and hear about in the news. Some news organizations, such as the Christian Science Monitor, have started to do this. In the future, I think we’ll start to see more efforts like this.
Members of the News/Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.