Georgetown students learned a critical and empathetic approach to homelessness and expanded their journalism skills through the class Media and Social Justice, a Doyle Seminar taught by Ann Oldenburg, assistant director of the Journalism Program at Georgetown University, in fall 2021.
Doyle Seminars are small, upper-level classes that foster dialogue on diversity and difference through student research and co-curricular learning. The seminars are sponsored by the Doyle Engaging Difference Program at Georgetown University.
Balancing Critical Writing and Empathy
Students in Media and Social Justice used the question “Should journalism be about justice?” to guide their exploration of different ways to report on social justice topics, including opinion writing, solutions journalism, immersive journalism, and investigative journalism. Financial support from the Doyle Engaging Difference Program enabled students to visit encampments of people experiencing homelessness, as well as collaborate with Street Sense Media, the award-winning DC-based outlet dedicated to ending homelessness. As a result, a student-authored article appeared in the December 2021 edition of Street Sense.
According to one student who visited the encampment, Kira Pomeranz (C’22):
We learned firsthand how difficult it was to get homeless people to speak to us, especially since many of them don’t trust journalists, since they haven’t been accurately portrayed. Once we approached them as students, they opened up more to us.
For Pomeranz, the course helped her better understand how to approach people with the correct positionality, an important skill she plans to use as she pursues a career in audience strategy.
The course was a learning experience for everyone, since this was the first time the Journalism Program offered Media and Social Justice. As an instructor, Oldenburg found that “the collaboration with Street Sense gave an added purpose to the course, as students analyzed their annual News Blitz on covering the homeless population in DC for the previous five years, along with this year's blitz in October.” The annual News Blitz brings together 15 local newspapers in the DC area to dedicate a portion of their resources to cover homelessness.
Meredith Miller (C’22) was the main author of the article “DC Homeless Crisis Reporting Project: News Blitz Analysis,” published by Street Sense Media as part of the sixth annual News Blitz in 2021. The student journalists found that the 2021 blitz had the most partners since the project’s start, including more work with student newspapers and an article published in Spanish. However, the 23 published articles did not match the peak from 2019, when the blitz included 28 articles, and the number of articles from Street Sense Media, a founding member of the project, decreased substantially from 2020. In 2021, only five of the articles were attributed, in whole or in part, to Street Sense Media.
The student analysis also revealed that homeless voices are not consistently included in the articles. Most people interviewed were described as “advocates for the unhoused population” rather than homeless individuals themselves. To increase equity and representation, Miller and the student team recommended that “more people experiencing homelessness are interviewed across the board… [and that outlets] write more pieces that are specifically directed to and written for the homeless community.”
Building Networks and Awareness
Eric Falquero, a former Street Sense editor, worked with the students through the end of 2021, visiting the class via Zoom and helping to edit their publication. He believes that the students provided crucial insight into improving the work done at Street Sense, pointing in particular to their recommendation that Street Sense offer a training program for outlets and reporters participating in the News Blitz.
“It was hard to coordinate the first two years, so I gave up, but that was one of the big stand-out recommendations to shape how people experiencing homelessness are represented. It will be implemented next year, and that gives me great hope because that would yield incredible change.”
Nate Kral (C’22), a spring 2022 Street Sense intern, is one of three students from the Media and Social Justice course currently working with Street Sense Media. Kral is able to use his insights from the Doyle Seminar in his Street Sense internship and engage a topic he cares deeply about: homelessness.
I have been able to report in and outside of encampments, talk to government agencies, build relationships throughout the city, and do hands-on work with the unhoused population in DC. Being able to see the impact in a clear and measurable way is awesome.
Thanks to the support of the Doyle Engaging Difference Program and curricular creativity of professors like Ann Oldenburg, Georgetown students are expanding awareness about homelessness in the District through journalism—exemplifying how the Spirit of Georgetown values of academic excellence and being people for others continue to inspire the Georgetown community to make an impact for good wherever they are.