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What Happens to News When Journalists and Historians Join Forces

When Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jeff Gammage writes an article on the immigration beat, he often thinks about the history of the city he covers.

Philadelphia, the first U. S. capital, has always been a city of immigrants, from Germans in the 17th century to Koreans in the 20th century. Gammage would love to get more historical context into his work, but it’s difficult under the pressure of daily deadlines and hourly tweets. He hopes that a new partnership between Inquirer journalists and local historians will help.

“Even when I was a young reporter covering city council meetings, I’d think, ‘This didn’t just spring out of thin air. A whole host of things happened to bring us to this moment,’” he says. “I try to think of all my stories that way: How did we get here? And what does the past have to say about the present?”

To try to answer these kinds of questions in daily journalism, the Inquirer has teamed up with Villanova University’s Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest and the Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships at Drexel University under a grant from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the nonprofit group that owns the Inquirer. The pilot program focused on three areas of coverage—infrastructure, immigration, and the opioid crisis—that could benefit from a historical perspective. The collaboration will continue this year. A December 2019 meeting focused on topics such as the 2020 presidential election and the U.S. Census.

“We’re at a very extraordinary time in American history, where agreeing to a common set of facts has become very difficult,” says Stan Wischnowski, the Inquirer’s executive editor. “When you combine high-impact journalists—with great track records of being accurate, fair, and thorough—with historians trained to dig up factual information, the driving force is getting to those common sets of facts in a way that makes it very clear to our audience that they can trust what we’re saying.”

Read entire article at Nieman Reports