We transparently discuss our development in our Building Democracy columns, as part of our central commitment to strengthening society through journalism.
You may have noticed that Shasta Scout’s coverage of Redding’s recent riverfront land discussions has been strikingly different from coverage by other local media reporting on the topic.
That’s not a fluke, it’s a key reflection of the values we bring to reporting the news.
As journalists, our first and foremost responsibility is to tell the truth. We do so by gathering information, seeking diverse perspectives, adding context and analysis, and presenting findings in a concise and understandable format. It’s harder than it looks, but it’s incredibly important because with every story journalists write, we are shaping the narrative. Much as we may seek to write only the facts, there’s no getting around this reality — how we decide to tell the story reshapes the news, and in the process, reshapes history.
Journalists are not bystanders.
The words we use, the people we choose to seek comment from, the history we choose to retell, and the subjects we focus on are just some of the ways we actively participate in shaping our reader’s understanding of their community. This is a responsibility we don’t take lightly, but it’s real and it’s inescapable. Bias is unavoidable. Objectivity is a false goal. Everyone is telling a story through a lens. And we are too. Understanding this, at Shasta Scout we choose to be conscientious and transparent in articulating how we report the news.
So, as part of our commitment to truth-telling, here are the guideposts we use in our journalism and how they’re shaping our coverage of proposed Redding riverfront redevelopment.
- We scout out the truth to empower our community.
The truth can be hard to find. That’s why we view ourselves as emissaries from our community, sent into the maze of bureaucratic processes and public relations spin to “scout out” what’s really happening so we can carry the news back to our readers.
With the riverfront land story, we took the time to look up the series of parcel numbers listed on what looked like an ordinary closed session agenda. Those parcel numbers turned out to belong to riverfront land of extraordinary public concern. That kind of work takes time, and a commitment to actively monitoring the ordinary affairs of government.
As we grow, we’ll be able to do much more of this work. In the future, we’re hoping to work with Shasta County community members through a program like this one to include our community in the process of gathering this kind of important information.
- We carefully maintain our editorial independence
The temptation to depend on connections with important organizations or individuals in our community is significant. Their partnership can be tremendously beneficial. Donations and sponsorships often flow from money and power. And networking with people in positions of influence is one of the best tools journalists have to seek comment quickly and get close to the important stories that matter.
But those connections also complicate reporting. Our responsibility as journalists must be first and foremost to the people of Shasta County and to the truth. In a small, interconnected, rural region like ours, editorial independence is particularly essential. That’s why we’re careful about where we seek funding and with whom we develop behind-the-scenes connections — to protect our independence.
Our readers shouldn’t have to wonder if our coverage of important news is affected by our connections or our funding sources.
- We tell climate stories, not weather stories
Like many news items, the Redding riverfront redevelopment story could be covered as “weather” — something that’s real and immediate and worth informing the public about. But we’re covering it as more than that, because it’s also part of a greater “climate” story about how Redding’s government works and how the community is involved in decision-making.
We prioritize stories that look at systems, not just symptoms. Is the way the city agendizes real estate information working for the public? Should past precedent or policy be the driving factor in how the city discusses such information in future? Does Redding have a pattern of engaging in land deals that are less than fully transparent?
We work to provide information on patterns, practices and policies so the community can advocate for the systems that will best address the symptoms we all see.
- We question the powerful and amplify diverse community voices
Governments, nonprofits, and other organizations often have powerful means of communicating with the public, including their own public relations teams, press releases, and social media channels. Ordinary citizens, in contrast, have far fewer ways to communicate their concerns. That’s why we’re committed to seeking the viewpoints of a diverse audience and questioning the narratives of those in power.
Developers like Populous and K2 Development Companies and nonprofits like the McConnell Foundation and Turtle Bay Exploration Park work hard to portray a favorable image of their plans to the public. When we question them, we’re working to ensure that ordinary citizens also have a voice in processes that affect the city.
Should these organizations work together to develop the Redding Civic Auditorium or masterplan the riverfront? It’s a question we haven’t attempted to answer. What we’ve looked at instead is the process by which they’re organizing with our city government to accomplish their objectives, and whether that process is representative of the needs and desires of the broader community.
- We focus on accountability and transparency
We regularly review the practices of government agencies to hold them up against the requirements of the law and of their own policies, because that kind of accountability protects the public’s interests. That’s why we’ve focused on whether the city has followed the Brown Act in how they’ve agendized the riverfront land proposal. It’s also why we’re looking carefully at Redding’s General Plan, the Riverfront Specific Plan, and at how the Surplus Land Act may impact any proposed land deal.
A free and independent press is one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy. We hope our readers are carefully watching whom we seek comment from and whether those individuals and organizations respond to our requests for comment. Public officials and powerful private agencies that fail to respond to an independent press may not be serving the best interests of the citizens.
- We deepen the stories with context, analysis and commentary
We’re not interested in shallow reporting. Repackaged press releases aren’t real journalism.
That’s why we take the time to examine the historical, societal, and political forces and events that shape the news we share. And it’s why we’re focused on reaching out to feature diverse and representative voices as we find ways to share it.
Context deepens the news, commentary broadens it, and analysis takes a magnifying glass to current events in a way that provides greater benefit to the reader. All are essential to strong, democracy-building journalism.
- We engage the public as participants
We believe community members have an important role to play in helping us shape our coverage. We want your input in helping us decide what stories to tell, what investigations are most important to our community, and who should be considered a trusted source.
You’ll see us reaching out to community members through Instagram surveys, on Facebook posts, and hopefully soon through responses to comments on our articles, text messaging, community drop-in office hours, and listening events.
- We provide direct access to information sources
Where possible, we want to give you direct access to simplified, curated content that brings you right to the documents, meetings, and press briefings you’re interested in.
Public records can be revealing. Access to many of them is mandated by law. We spend a significant amount of time requesting public records to provide the public with source documents that inform their decision-making. We share those documents publicly in our reporting, and we work to simplify and provide context to help our readers more easily access what’s in them. For example, you can read the riverfront land proposal that was submitted to the City Council for the Sept. 7 closed session here.
We’re working on processes that will provide you advance notice of events of interest, direct links and contact information to take action on stories you care about, and real-time updates during public meetings.
We want you to have all the information you need to be not only informed but involved.
- We communicate with clarity and consistency
We recognize that the words we use, and how we use them, can build bridges, walls, or silos. That’s why we’re fundamentally committed to a publishing process that emphasizes clear and conscious communication.
We won’t shy away from calling things “facts” when they’re backed by data and science. There aren’t always two sides to a story. When appropriate, we will combat misinformation using verifiable evidence.
We’ll also use “explainer boxes” to help our readers understand words or perspectives that might be little known or controversial. When we use words like “nationalist,” we want you to know why we’ve chosen that word and what it means when we use it.
- We are solutions-focused and history-informed.
We’re committed to reporting in ways that provide a path towards solutions for our community. In order to do so, it’s important that we acknowledge some foundational truths.
The American news media plays an important role in contributing to, or opposing, systems of oppression and violence. At Shasta Scout we see it as our responsibility to actively address the darker legacies of journalism and of our society. When we find evidence of discrimination in the form of racism, sexism or ableism, we’re committed to honestly reporting about it. We will identify extremism in our community, when the facts and our reporting merit it.
Finally, our reporting is informed by an awareness that what we now call Shasta County comprises the unceded homelands of the Wintu, Pit River and Yana peoples. These nations have lived here for millennia and have unique and legally protected relationships to their ancestral lands. This understanding drives a focus towards amplifying the voices of our Indigenous community members.
In a world where bias is unavoidable, fairness still matters.
We’re committed to telling the truth. But we also acknowledge we can’t possibly tell the whole truth in every story. By using clear and consistent guideposts, we’re working to maintain the same journalist standard for every story we tell, and we’re letting you know, transparently, what that standard is.
We invite you to hold us to this and to call us out when we make mistakes and we’d love to hear what you think we’re getting right or wrong in the way we’re reporting. You can comment on Facebook or Instagram, respond to us on Twitter, or email us.
You can find our full riverfront land proposal series here.
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