Melody Kramer

Why I Made A List Of Hidden Journalism Groups And What I Learned

05 Aug 2015

On Monday, I shared a list of every journalism group on social media that I could find, and invited people to share more. I didn’t anticipate the conversation that it would trigger, and I’m still not sure where this all will go, but I wanted to respond to the thoughtful criticism I’ve seen so far.

I can’t explain what I was hoping to do better than one of the people who commented on the original article: “People like me don’t even know there are doors to knock on, let alone that there are rules for entry. Mel’s just said ‘here are the doors you’re missing.’”

I’m not saying ‘Make the groups public as in the content is open.’ That would be crazy. I’m saying ‘Let other people know about these spaces who might not be as well-connected as those already present.’ My goal was and still is to point interested people who might benefit from knowing about the groups to the groups themselves.

I contacted several people - some of them moderate these closed Facebook spaces - in advance to ask for advice and show them a draft of the blog post. I also posted a request for groups in several of the Facebook groups I listed and received several suggestions. No one asked to have their group removed from the list.

There are other things I wish I had done.

I regret not including a paragraph about the importance of safe spaces. I have heard and thought about what’s been said, and agree with a lot of it. There is enormous value in a members-only group in which conversations are held within the group. My intention was never to imply that these closed groups be made open and public. Nor do I believe all of these groups should be public in the sense that everyone should be able to see what’s posted in them or who is in them.

I, too, find value in these spaces. I bounce off of people — in forums, on email, on private channels — every single day. My work benefits enormously from these spaces and people within them. From the emails and messages I’ve received, it is apparent that many journalists do not yet know about these spaces, particularly if they work in smaller newsrooms outside of DC, NY, or SF.

I have benefitted from these groups, and I know how hard they can be to find for journalists working outside of DC and NY. When I worked in smaller newsrooms, I had no way of knowing that listservs or Facebook groups existed for women or LGBT journalists. I also know — as someone who doesn’t hide much about my life — that the outside world can be hostile and that members-only groups are necessary in order to have frank discussions.

When I worked in smaller newsrooms, I didn’t attend conferences because they’re really expensive. I didn’t even know they existed. Many times, I’ve heard about these closed groups at conferences - but if you don’t have a lot of money and you’re not attached to a large institution, these groups might as well be invisible.

I wrote this column for people like that - not people in New York or DC who know that these resources already exist. There are many people in smaller newsrooms who don’t and aren’t connected in those ways.

A few practical notes: Closed groups on Facebook are already readily findable. They are not hidden. Facebook hasn’t built that feature out particularly well, so closed journalism groups are more easily findable if you’re already in a journalism-related Facebook group. (To contrast: on Reddit, all groups are findable, but passwords are required for closed groups.) And these closed groups — on whatever platform they happen to be on — are a refuge for people. They’re spaces where people can talk freely and connect and find jobs and bounce off of each other.

But many of them are on Facebook. Facebook’s poor surfacing mechanism means if someone is not connected to an active member of the group, there is little chance they will learn it exists.

Within closed groups, I believe that moderators can and should have the ability to say who can and can’t enter each group. It is important that these safe spaces are moderated and continue to have gatekeepers.

But should their existence be a secret? I am a journalist, and was speaking about groups of journalists. We know as well as anyone – perhaps better – that back-room conversations might be productive, but they are exclusive and aren’t always good for the health of a larger system. That’s a principle – you might not agree, but it’s the basis of my ongoing work. I believe in sunlight and openness for everyone.

Whether or not Facebook is the right place for these groups - or gives moderators the right tools they need to give people access - is also an interesting question. What is required of platforms to maintain safe spaces while also remaining accessible? Is Facebook the best spot for that? That’s a question I’ve been thinking about all day.

I’ve spent the past 10 years of my career connecting people with resources and sharing what I learn. New and diverse voices in journalism deserve fierce, strong advocacy. Sometimes they find it in closed groups. Sometimes they find it in very public lists of where to find those groups.

I usually end with a question, because I really do believe that solutions come in when you leave the door open for them. So: How do we make spaces that are both safe and accessible for journalists? I’m happy to round up the responses.

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