Redefining the resilience beat

A new fellowship will train journalists to think critically about community recovery

For the first few days after Sandy hit the Northeast, journalists covered a story of destruction, unpacking all the grim details of the hurricane. But as communities began piecing themselves together after the devastation, the story quickly became one of resilience: What are the factors that allow one to bounce back after tragedy?

Using data from residents affected by the super-storm, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, has been studying this question. The Center, which is devoted to incorporating social science research into journalism, has been measuring the impact of the storm and assessing how neighborhood characteristics and social and economic indicators affect recovery. Now, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Center is sponsoring a fellowship to train a reporter to take a rigorous look at the academic literature on resilience.

“We find that often academics and journalists don’t connect on many levels,” said Trevor Tompson, director of the Center. “There’s lots of great work that academics are doing that would be of value for news but there’s often a gap in news.”

The fellowship will last for nine months, during which time the fellow is expected to become an expert in producing “research-based” enterprise journalism on resilience in all its forms. The fellow will divide his or her time between conducting social science research with the Center’s staff, taking classes on research methods, sociology, or psychology at the University of Chicago and reporting on resilience. (Tompson envisions a 40/60 percent reporting/research split; the reporting the fellow produces will be distributed by the AP.)

Prospective fellows should have at least five years of reporting experience; the fellowship pays $75,000, plus benefits. Applications are rolling and Tompson hopes to have the new fellow begin in January.

The Rockefeller Foundation has only guaranteed funding for this pilot year, but the Center hopes to make the fellowship an annual occurrence. “A lot of the coverage of disasters had to be pretty anecdotal,” said Tompson. “There’s a lot of storytelling, but it’s hard to connect it to the big picture.”

He believes that training journalists in data analysis and social sciences research will help the press tell a more nuanced—and more valuable—story of recovery.

“If [research is] not accessible to journalists for news then we’re missing a huge opportunity to get that information out there to people who could really use it,” said Tompson. “This fellowship is a win-win kind of arrangement.”

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Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: , , , ,