Who is High Ground: A letter from the publisher and incoming editor

As Memphis celebrates its 200th year in 2019, High Ground News turns five. We, like the city, are undergoing some big changes.

In the spirit of transparency, the core team at High Ground News would like to take this opportunity to update our readers, offer possible solutions we’re considering for challenges we’re tackling and ask for your constructive feedback if you’d like to share. In addition, we’ve included a brief FAQ explaining the basics of High Ground and what sets us apart from other Memphis news outlets.

We’d also like to offer a sincere thank you for your continued support. We look forward to continuing to provide ethical, solutions-based journalism for Memphis' diverse communities.

We are High Ground News: sidewalk level journalism for Memphis neighborhoods.

Sincerely,

Emily Trenholm 
Publisher and Community Engagement Manager
Cole Bradley 
Managing Editor
 

Changes and challenges

As Madeline Faber, who has been the High Ground News executive editor since 2016, steps down, High Ground’s current On the Ground editor and primary writer, Cole Bradley, will step in as the publication’s new managing editor. Our long-time community engagement manager, Emily Trenholm, has recently taken on an additional role as publisher. We’ve grown our talented pool of part-time freelance writers and photographers, and we’ll soon hire our first full-time writer.

At the same time, we’re considering changes to our largest reporting program, On the Ground. Through this neighborhood reporting series, we spend four months embedded in a Memphis neighborhood and then move to another community as On The Ground journalists. We’re currently in our 11th focus neighborhood, Madison Heights.

As we approach 15 distinct neighborhood by the end of 2020, we’re examining where we have yet to cover and how best to fill those geographic gaps.

One option might be shorter, one-to-two month engagements. Another is shifting our primary focus towards maintaining coverage in past focus areas.

Currently, when we leave a neighborhood, we still maintain the relationships we built and continue our coverage. Most past neighborhoods see at least one story every four to six weeks. 

As we’ve added new neighborhoods, the On the Ground section has grown and is quickly becoming synonymous with High Ground as a whole. We’re now considering how that affects our coverage, our branding and our identity.

We’re also developing strategies to tackle our biggest organizational challenge — recruiting creatives of color. While our staff is diverse and includes women, immigrants, religious minorities, LGBT people and people of color, the fact remains that our city is more than 60 percent Black or African American and we should work diligently to ensure our staff reflects that diversity.

We understand that race-based barriers in education, housing, the justice system and employment contribute to journalism’s racial divide and are actively exploring ways to create more opportunities for promising writers and photographers of color in Memphis.

One possible solution is a neighborhood-based training program where people in our focus areas can hone natural storytelling talent with instruction on the fundamentals of writing and journalism. They could then manage that neighborhood as their “beat,” acting as a liaison between High Ground and their neighborhood’s news. We are passionate about implement such a program but must first secure dedicated funding to ensure it's sustainable. 

Lastly, we launched our new On the Ground podcast in December 2018. The podcast is an exciting way to reach new audiences and give our guests the chance to tell their stories with their own voice. Many of our guests were featured in a previous written story, and the podcast is an opportunity to dive deeper into specific points for greater richness and clarity.

You can listen on The OAM Network, Spotify, Stitcher and iTunes. The On The Ground podcast is produced in partnership with the Daily Memphian. 
 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is On the Ground?
High Ground News is unique among Memphis new outlets because of its deep engagement and On the Ground reporting series.

We believe that neighborhoods are the building blocks of a city and microcosms of the larger community. Local decisions affect quality of life at the neighborhood level, and Memphis has many acute issues — education, poverty, crime, housing — that come to a head based on geography. We believe we can reach a deeper, more nuanced understanding of these issues when we meet Memphians in their neighborhoods and on their sidewalks. 

Engagement reporting starts with recognizing various stakeholders as neighborhood experts and potential partners and committing to building lasting and mutually-beneficial relationships.

In each neighborhood, we host events and advisory sessions where residents, business owners, faith and community development leaders help us identify the area's biggest assets, challenges and solutions. We listen for the most important people, places and hidden gems to include in our coverage. We sponsor and attend other community events and meetings to capture as many unique perspectives and as much feedback as possible. We meet regularly with key neighborhood partners to ensure we’re on the right track.

We also spend time each week in the neighborhood meeting one-on-one with stakeholders and at weekly team lunches, which are held at a locally-owned restaurant in the neighborhood.

We then build our coverage based on a story’s relevance to residents and other direct stakeholders and how it fits into the larger narrative of that neighborhood at that time and place.

You can follow our On the Ground coverage at www.highgroundnews.com. Use the On the Ground tab at the top of the page to see each neighborhood's individual coverage.

We welcome you to email Cole Bradley at [email protected] to let us know how we're doing and what you want to see from High Ground News. 

How do we find our stories?
Most often, we get our story ideas from advisory meetings that include residents, business owners and other community leaders. We also accept story pitches in-person and by email.

We’re generally looking for stories with a focus in one of our On the Ground neighborhoods, but we also love pitches centered on entrepreneurship, youth and early childhood development, housing, transportation, food justice, technology, innovation and more. 

If you’d like to be included in a future advisory session or would like to pitch a story idea, email Cole Bradley at [email protected] or Emily Trenholm at [email protected]

You can also follow our social media for updates on our on-location community newsrooms where you can stop by to say hello, give feedback or submit a story. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

How do we pick our neighborhoods?
We are currently in our 11th focus neighborhood, Madison Heights.

Our past neighborhoods include: Binghampton, Frayser, The Heights, Klondike-Smokey City, Orange Mound, Soulsville, South City, University District, Uptown-Pinch and Whitehaven.

We choose our focus neighborhoods based on a number of criteria including a strong neighborhood partner, typically a community development corporation, that can help us learn about the area and connect with residents and other stakeholders. We look for additional organizations and community leaders invested in the area's development, as well as a mix of uses including housing, schools, businesses, places of worship, and public spaces like parks, libraries and community centers. Our focus communities typical have some of these assets and lack others. 

Perhaps most importantly, we look for neighborhoods where we can help stakeholders craft a balanced narrative that’s otherwise missing. Our focus neighborhoods typically don’t get a lot of media attention and what attention they do get can be sensationalist and devoid of context, neighborhood history and cultural competence. Coverage may lack resident perspectives or mention of communities’ grassroots solutions.

We hope that our intensive coverage generated alongside community members helps tell a more holistic, solutions-oriented story of Memphis’ neighborhoods.

How are we funded?
High Ground News is a free online publication. It is not a nonprofit, but it is not funded like a traditional news outlet where revenue comes from ad sales and subscriptions.

High Ground is funded primarily by underwriters including city government and local philanthropy. Some of our key funding partners including the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development, Hyde Family Foundation, the Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Duncan-Williams Inc., Urban Child Institute and Epicenter.

With underwriters, we maintain our editorial integrity. Our underwriters support news that moves Memphis forward, even when that conversation is difficult or unflattering. They have no authority over editorial content and decisions.

How are we structured?
High Ground News launched in 2014 under parent company Issue Media Group. IMG got its start in Detroit with its first publication, Model D, and now has 12 similar publications across the U.S., including High Ground. They each take a solutions-oriented approach to neighborhood reporting in developing cities.

The High Ground team consists of a local publisher, managing editor, community engagement manager and a pool of part-time freelance writers and photographers. We will soon add our first full-time writer. 

The publication covers several interest areas impacting Memphis as a whole including entrepreneurship, youth and early childhood development, housing, transportation, food justice, technology and innovation. The bulk of our coverage examines these key focus areas from the neighborhood level with our On the Ground embedded community journalism program.

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017. 
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