The nine-month Democracy SOS fellowship will support reporters and editors in significantly strengthening journalism’s role in advancing our democracy through innovative approaches that build civic engagement, equity and healthy discourse. As the last presidential election made clear, the need couldn’t be more urgent or important.

Journalists who participate in the fellowship — the only one of its kind in the nation — will gain expertise in how to report with and for, not just about, their communities; prove out practices that heighten civic knowledge and participation; and build trust with audiences, especially communities that have long been marginalized and stigmatized.

The idea is to help newsrooms embrace a deep, ongoing examination of issues that will help communities see — and work toward — possibilities for building a better world. And while the fellowship will last nine months, we’re designing it to help journalists build the knowledge and skills they need to sustain new habits and practices into the foreseeable future.

The fellows will receive training and support on time-tested and new evidence-based reporting approaches, participate in two “sprints” to apply these practices to their elections coverage, and catalyze change in their newsrooms. Editor/reporter teams will be required to participate in the core workshops. The elective workshops are optional. The final dates and schedules for each workshop will be shared with finalists for the fellowship.

Core Workshops

  • What Does It Mean To Be “Pro-Democracy”?
  • Ethics in Politics and Elections Coverage
  • Aligning Coverage With Your Mission
  • The “Stop Doing” List: Making Room for New Practices
  • How to Report for Good Conflict
  • Introduction to Solutions Journalism
  • Introduction to the Citizens Agenda
  • Introduction to Trusting News Practices
  • Introduction to Asset-Framing™
  • Fostering Change in Your Newsroom
  • Measuring the Impact of Your Democracy SOS Work
  • Electives

  • Reaching People and Expanding Audiences
  • Fundraising for Elections Work
  • What You Need To Know About Elections and Democracy
  • Resiliency for Newsroom Staff
  • Best Practices for Voter Guides
  • Extremism 101
  • 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.


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