On April 9, 2016, Executive Director of SpokaneFAVS.com and veteran journalist Tracy Simmons gave an illuminating talk titled “Creating Meaningful Interfaith Dialogue in Our Community in the Digital Age” at the Pacifica Institute. She spoke affectingly of her personal dedication to journalistic integrity and how the rise of the internet and the Great Recession made her adapt and in some ways pioneer a new model of “social journalism.”
She started her story with her work on the religion and education beat at a South Texas newspaper with a great degree of integrity while struggling with social media de-anonymising her.
“A reporter without neutrality may as well be a reporter without a notepad,” said Simmons. “I wasn’t doing anything on social media that advanced my mission as a journalist.”
She referred to the futility of using private and professional accounts alongside figuring our how to correctly use a hashtag, while struggling to “truly connect with readers until the expert and authentic selves merged on social media.”
Learning to be successful as an online journalist proved to be a tall order as it requires on to be positive, engaging, promote others, conversational, accurate, honest, sincere, professional, but at the same time be human.
The changes came slowly. While working at a Connecticut newspaper, Simmons found out that readers wanted more than just new reports, they wanted involvement.
In conveying her struggles to deal with a changing media landscape, the talk was well presented and used graphs and empirical data where necessary. For example, in understanding faltering readership and advertising revenue for newspaper in the wake of the Great Recession, the graphs were critical.
Simmons herself was also directly affected by sending her to cover the suburbs, while the religion beat was wound down in her Connecticut paper. However, she returned to religion as an independent journalist on an online platform called “Creedible.”
“Religion stories lend themselves to the web,” she said “Not only because people read about spiritual practices, but they could experience them, through photographs, videos, and audio clips.
The success of Creedible showed the public’s hunger for learning about other faiths, for intellectual and safe conversations, views and ethics, and a sense of community, and the decision to expand the Creedible model to other cities like Spokane, WA.
Finally, Simmons spoke about how her work with online journalism led to the nascent field of Social Journalism, which requires journalists to do the opposite of anonymising themselves, and instead organizing events and creating safe spaces for communities to discuss various theological points of view.
“Online, offline, back online is how community happens in the digital age,” she said.
About Tracy Simmons
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service.
Her goal as an educator is to share real world journalism experiences with students. Before coming to the Murrow College, Simmons taught at Gonzaga University.