Black By God: Empowering community journalism through Folk Reporters Program

Black By God seeks citizens from diverse communities to participate in the Folk Reporters Program, attending public meetings and reporting on them. With a focus on Black and intersectional issues, the program democratizes news at the local level, fostering community engagement and amplifying voices. Volunteers receive training and guidelines, documenting meetings and sharing insights on social media.

The program combines Folk art with journalism, providing underrepresented communities a platform and promoting transparency in government. Join Black By God in filling the media void and shaping community journalism. 

My Experiences Folk Reporting

 By Tyler West, Black By God Folk Reporter

I started Folk Reporting a few months ago at the start of the 2022-23 legislative session. 

Folk Reporting has been one of the most rewarding things I have done. It has allowed me to do something constructive with interest in politics while using my social media platform to share information with others while also proving to be an amazing learning opportunity and connecting me with so many great people.

As a Folk Reporter, I regularly posted committee agendas on my Substack during the legislature’s regular session and interim committee meetings. I also posted short Twitter threads on bills of common interest that appeared on an agenda for the upcoming day. On occasion, I would also watch and live-tweet committee meetings, sometimes writing a short article to accompany the thread.

Beyond covering the legislature, I attended a town hall in Wheeling held by Governor Jim Justice on his personal income tax cut proposal while live-tweeting and writing an article about the event. I have also attended and tweeted about a Marshall County Commission meeting, which I plan on doing more regularly.

I use my personal Twitter account while folk reporting, which creates an interesting dynamic at times. I tweet my opinions on topics that are important to me, often overlapping with the state and local politics that I cover while reporting. 

This can also spill into my attendance at local government functions. 

While I’m covering events as a Folk Reporter, I’m also a member of the community with my own interests and opinions on what is happening. 

For example, when I attended Justice’s Wheeling town hall, I was there as both a Folk Reporter and a citizen that would be affected by the proposed tax cut and its implications on the state budget. As a Folk Reporter, I live-tweeted the event and wrote a short article about it after. As a citizen, I asked questions and took pictures with Babydog.

I try to limit personal commentary on my Twitter when acting as a Folk Reporter, and I label them with “#folkreporter” to separate being a reporter and a community member that attends the same meetings and uses the same platform The hashtag also helps to both make folk reporter tweets easier to find and identify them as folk reporter Tyler. 

If the tweet or thread doesn’t contain the hashtag, then it is coming from community member Tyler.

Folk reporting can have its drawbacks. Covering local government can be emotionally draining at times. Finding out who local leaders are and how local government works (or doesn’t) can be disappointing. 

It’s local, so it hits close to home. The actions of local government directly affect us all, and it’s hard to not care. 

It’s incredibly important to take breaks when needed so that it doesn’t take a toll on your mental health.

Even with its drawbacks, I consider Folk Reporting worth it, and I strongly believe that it is essential for us to grow. Many of the meetings covered by Folk Reporters are not covered by the press. 

Many local government meetings are not recorded or broadcast, and many local governments hold their meetings at times that many people cannot attend. Often, the only record of a meeting will exist in the form of (usually vague) minutes. 

Folk Reporters get to cover and create a more detailed record of meetings that would otherwise go unrecorded.

Folk reporting is important work. It creates a  record of important local government meetings that would otherwise go unreported. It empowers and uplifts diverse voices that aren’t usually heard. And it shares information with the community, empowering people to become informed citizens. 

Folk Reporters get to bring their own unique and diverse perspectives that are not usually seen in traditional reporting. Even with limited commentary, my (often snarky and always sparkling) personality still shines through in my work.

I highly encourage everyone reading this to go and give Folk Reporting a try. Go to a local government meeting, write a Twitter thread, a Facebook post, a short article, make a TikTok, get creative with it, have fun with it and Folk Report!

Contact crystal@blackbygod.org to learn more about upcoming trainings.

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