Fault Lines: A Master Metaphor for Connecting with the Audience

Article excerpt

During his life, Robert C. Maynard earned a reputation as one of the deepest thinkers in journalism. Long before he helped found what is now the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and before he became the first black owner of a major daily newspaper in the United States, he had commanded respect among colleagues and won the admiration of the many young journalists he helped train.

Maynard, a former Washington Post ombudsman, became editor of the Oakland Tribune in 1979 and bought it in 1983 with his wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard, in the first management-leveraged buyout in U.S. newspaper history.

Partly out of his experience living in the earthquake-prone San Francisco Bay Area and partly out of having lived through the many social tremors of the time, he formulated a theory that great fissures also explained many of the differences that shape opinion and human experience.

He saw the primary "fault lines" as race, gender, class, generation and geography. Maynard argued that they were the most enduring forces shaping our social tensions and that understanding them held the greatest potential for reconciling them.

As an African-American, he was no doubt concerned about the informational needs of and portrayal of people of color, but as a publisher/businessman he was also concerned about reaching and maintaining readers. As a journalist, he was always concerned about balance and accuracy. As a human being, he was also eternally concerned with the future of our society and convinced journalists had a role to play in assuring its continuance.

"The most important part is keeping our eyes on the master metaphor of the Fault Line," Maynard wrote. "The society is split along five faults, and we try in vain to paper them over, fill them in or pretend they aren't there. ... Underlying forces, like those in the center of the earth, will thwart us until we come to see our differences as deep, but completely natural, things, as natural as geologic fault lines. We don't have to resolve our differences. We can agree to disagree. "

Before his death in 1993, he asked his daughter, Dori J. Maynard, a journalist and former Nieman Fellow, to continue shaping that intellectual idea into a meaningful process that would help journalists understand, re-examine and recast how they cover news to meet the needs of all readers. She now directs the Fault Lines program for the Maynard Institute.

"Honest discourse across Fault Lines with the goal of reaching an understanding, irrespective of agreement, is a first step," she said. "For once we give up the notion that we are all alike, we can give up the idea that if we all talk long enough and loudly enough, we will win others to our side. And once we let go of the need to be right, the need to win, then perhaps we can begin to truly listen to each other. It is also our belief that we in journalism have a special responsibility. For together we can create foundations for those structures of integrity by making sure the picture our fellow citizens receive from the media is a picture that accurately reflects and defines the world.'

The Fault Lines framework provides the foundation of The Maynard Institute's Reality Checks workshop. Reality Checks is a module of Maynard's Total Community Coverage program. The workshop consists of a series of exercises and learning experiences designed to teach news employees how to use the Fault Lines framework to analyze and improve news coverage and to identify news business opportunities. Reality checks include an assessment of community demographics, content-analysis training and a case study on how to identify and create strategies to reach underrepresented audiences.

The goal of the content analysis is to quantify who or what is in the news and who is not. More important, Reality Checks has helped individual journalists and news organizations all over the country use fault lines to try to understand and to cover news in a broader, more comprehensive way. …