High Ground News kicked off its second Community Correspondents program on July 11.
Correspondents are passionate, everyday Memphians with no journalism background. The six-week course gives them the skills to find and report stories that acknowledge their neighborhoods' struggles but focus on their resilience.
The 2020 correspondents are Shelia Williams, Glen Lloyd, Tamara Cunningham, Arieale Munson, Jolie Shaw, and Brandis Leverette.
Over the next several weeks, we'll introduce the correspondents in short stories and videos on our site and social media before publishing their first High Ground articles.
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The 2019 cohort hailed from South Memphis, Orange Mound, Frayser, and The Heights. The new cohort live or work in the Bickford-Bearwater area of Uptown and greater North Memphis.
Each of these neighborhoods is a news desert
—a community that doesn't get much media coverage and what coverage they do get focuses almost exclusively on problems like failing schools, crime, and poverty. Most of that coverage lacks nuance, resident perspectives, the histories that underlie major social ills and disinvestment, and a focus on the solutions the community is already leverage towards change.
The Community Correspondents program posits that the best people to craft neighborhood narratives are residents, who are experts on their communities through their own lived experiences. They should be both quoted sources and the journalists citing them.
Related: "Who tells the story? High Ground program trains Memphians to report their neighborhoods' news"
The correspondents program also aims to combat pervasive problems in journalism, specifically a lack of representation and diverse perspectives. Across the country, newsrooms are dominated
by white, middle-class, college-educated men. Memphis is majority-Black with pervasive poverty. A lack of diverse newsrooms here and it similar cities contributes to narrow, incomplete, and unproductive narratives.
As with the inaugural class, local reporter Micaela Watts with the Commerical Appeal will serve as instructor.
"Being offered a chance to contribute what I could to this needed evolution in media was the easiest decision I’ve made," said Watts ahead of the 2019 course. "Empowering others, equipping them with tools to speak truth to and for their communities is a benefit that cannot be quantified."
New this year are COVID-19 safety precautions that include tables spaced at least six feet apart, masks, temperature checks, and disinfecting the space.
The course begins with four, once-weekly sessions on the basics of storytelling and reporting. During that time, the cohort will also begin constructing their first High Ground News articles. They'll then spend two weeks mentoring with seasoned reporters from several Memphis-area publications to hone their stories before submitting first drafts.
At the end of the course, they'll work with High Ground's managing editor through rounds of edits and publication.
The Community Correspondents program is grant funded. The participants, trainer, and mentors are paid for each session. The funding provides for refreshments and transportation to class if needed, and correspondents are compensated for their published story. They also receive laptops that they will keep post-training to continue their reporting work.
After completing the program, correspondents can continue working as freelance reporters for High Ground and pitch to other publications if they choose.
High Ground is seeking partners for future correspondent courses. If you or your organization is interested in supporting or collaborating, email [email protected]