Supporting newsrooms in advancing democracy

hands holding microphones and recorders

Democracy SOS is a fellowship designed to help newsrooms think big, plan long-term, and reinvent politics, governance and elections coverage with and for their communities.

In this low-trust, high-stakes era of American democracy, some journalists are starting to change how they cover those topics. Instead of writing about campaigns like horse races, they are moving toward more effective and proven reporting approaches that inspire greater engagement in the news, build trust within communities, focus on solutions, and address voters’ urgent need for fact-based, relevant information.

The Democracy SOS fellowship will support approximately 20 newsrooms committed to helping lead this transformation, with priority given to those in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

The Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) and Hearken are jointly launching this fellowship to tie together effective trainings that sit at the intersection of journalism and civic empowerment, with equity as a core value and practice. We envision a future in which newsrooms replace stories about conflicting and competing polls and candidates — which we know contribute to distrust — with more deep, ongoing examinations of important social issues, including the health of our democracy itself.

The fellowship will apply insights gained from other initiatives led by Hearken and SJN, among them Election SOS, the Citizens Agenda, Citizens’ Solutions, Renewing Democracy and Complicating the Narratives, all of which have helped newsrooms approach civic, political and elections-related reporting in new ways.

The program will help newsrooms transform their coverage:

FROM candidate/horse-race focused coverage TO constituent-focused coverage;

FROM journalists deciding what information the public gets TO journalists listening to the public to cover the information they're missing;

FROM problem-focused reporting TO solutions-focused reporting;

FROM assuming the public knows how journalism is made TO explaining how journalism is made;

FROM conflict-oriented reporting that contributes to polarization TO "good conflict"-oriented reporting that builds understanding;

FROM undercovering/miscovering communities TO inclusive, equitable coverage of communities;

FROM coverage of democracy that revolves around one day (Election Day) TO year-round coverage of democracy (with elections being one important event).

Along with the Solutions Journalism Network and Hearken, Democracy SOS will receive key support from Trusting News, Good Conflict and the Poynter Institute. To learn more about the fellowship and apply, visit the apply page.

Politicians have figured out how journalists work, and we haven’t adequately changed to meet the moment.”

Solutions Journalism Network (SJN): While journalists focus most of their coverage on what’s gone wrong, SJN seeks to rebalance the news by equipping journalists to investigate and explain, in a critical and clear-eyed way, how people are trying to solve social problems. Since its founding in 2013, SJN has worked with more than 600 news organizations and 25,000 journalists worldwide through in-person workshops and online resources and webinars.

Hearken helps organizations embed stakeholder listening into their growth and operations to build more resilient companies and communities. Hearken has shown that listening leads to stronger relationships, deeper engagement and better decisions, and enables individuals to make an outsize positive impact in the world. In 2020, Hearken worked in collaboration with more than two dozen civic organizations (including SJN) to stand up and deliver Election SOS, which supported journalists in responding to critical election information needs.

For questions about the program and curricula, contact:

For questions about supporting the program, contact: Elizabeth Share.

Participation is free of charge, thanks to the generous support of our funders