Virtual discussions, real impact on Rochester news coverage and community

Editor’s Note: This story was produced through the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations and universities dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. The group is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.

The Democrat and Chronicle has a rich history of hosting community discussions.

Such events presenting multiple views on pressing issues facing Rochester and Monroe County have taken place in schools, in community centers and in our own building.

The coronavirus pandemic put such in-person gatherings on hold, unfortunately. What’s emerged since has been a series of video chat discussions involving Rochesterians on a variety of relevant topics since early 2020.

In just the past month or so, the D&C has organized two such virtual sessions, one on Zoom about caregiving needs in Rochester and one on Streamyard launching a new project we’re calling Revisiting the Rochester Narrative.

Finding solutions on caregiving, racial disparities and other topics

A common thread here is that both efforts reflect our continuing association with the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization whose mission includes promoting "rigorous reporting on responses to social problems."

The group’s stated mission: "We seek to rebalance the news, so that every day people are exposed to stories that help them understand problems and challenges, and stories that show potential ways to respond."

The D&C is seeking to stir more solutions-oriented reporting into our coverage matrix for the simple reason that surveys make clear readers want to read about more than simply the latest bout of bad news.

It’s important to many of us that places like Rochester find a productive path forward in addressing social, economic and environmental problems that seem to persist without constructive action. It’s not enough simply to report there has been another shooting in Rochester; what is or could be done to make our neighborhoods safer and to provide conflict resolution pathways that don’t involve violence?

In autumn 2019, the D&C received its first Solutions Journalism Network grant. It has supported our examination of possible solutions to family caregiving in communities of color, which face disproportionately the burden of unmet caregiving needs in America.

That effort has led to several solutions-focused stories, with more to come soon.

It also resulted in the D&C partnering with WHEC-TV, The Minority Reporter, WXXI and other news organizations in western New York and more recently Michigan to examine caregiving solutions more closely.

We’re excited to contribute to what is now a large collaborative of radio stations, television stations, online news sources, newspapers and specialty publications. The leader of the New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative is former D&C Executive Editor Karen Magnuson, whose commitment to fostering a community and regional discussion on caregiving solutions is second to none.

One night of chat, months and months of coverage possibilities

As part of this ongoing effort, we hosted a Zoom discussion on May 19 in conjunction with The Minority Reporter and WHEC, whose journalists Tyronda James and Deanna Dewberry, respectively, participated along with the D&C’s Natalia Rodríguez Medina.

A number of caregiving experts, including licensed practical nurse Jenny Thomas, University of Rochester psychiatry Professor Carol Podgorski and Sasha Yerkovich, leader of the Buffalo-area Canopy of Neighbors project, joined us.

What the conversation made clear is the number of caregiving-related issues in need of solving, and how many more solutions our reporters can vet in coming months.

Among the unmet needs

  • The limitations of tele-health for people who lack Wi-Fi or struggle to use video-chat technology.
  • Language barriers at health centers, particularly in specialty areas such as neurology.
  • How stress among caregivers can fuel their own memory care issues.
  • How misinformation and distrust of doctors and health institutions lead to delay in dementia diagnoses.
  • The high hurdle of medical paperwork.
  • How our nation’s current worker shortage amounts also to a caregiver shortage.
  • Caregiver isolation and loneliness are significantly unaddressed in our society.

That last one is something worthy of further inquiry. Yerkovich described how many volunteers in the caregiving world step forward because of the extent of their own isolation.

Such insights help explain why news organizations like ours conduct community discussions in the first place: We always learn more about issues in our city and towns that require more reporting from us and more attention from community organizations, government, businesses, faith communities and individuals.

Revisiting past decisions in Rochester to inform modern-day choices

Last week, I wrote in this space we are partnering with the "Complicating the Narrative" unit of the Solutions Journalism Network.

Our mission: to build a body of stories and videos and community discussions helping massively segregated Greater Rochester find a more equitable path forward at a time our region and nation are becoming increasingly diverse.

With more than 3-in-10 Monroe County residents Black, Latino, Asian or of two or more races, our region doesn’t move forward economically if it does not become less segregated and more inclusive.

How might that happen? One way is to examine key decisions made in the 20th century that have saddled Greater Rochester with some of the most significant racial segregation and inequality in the United States.

Where a highway was built or how real-estate agents redlined neighborhoods had harmful impacts on Black families and individuals and on our whole community. Similarly, how we map out 21st century transportation strategies and where we build affordable housing could lead to more just outcomes that are more beneficial for Rochester and its surrounding towns — or not.

So we’ve launched Revisiting the Rochester Narrative this past week, building on reporting done over the past few years, to examine the past and point out possible pathways forward.

Our Thursday evening Streamyard chat was produced by News Director Scott Norris and hosted by Investigative and Special Projects Editor Matthew Leonard and Emerging Audiences Editor Maryann Batlle. Our two summer fellows on the project, Caroline Johnson of Cornell University and Marili Vaca of RIT, both participated.

Joining the rich discussion were:

  • Joan Coles Howard, writer, editor and publisher.
  • Simeon Banister, vice president for community programs, Rochester Community Area Foundation.
  • Maya Crane, program officer for equity, Rochester Community Area Foundation.
  • Bruce Barnes, director of the George Eastman Museum.
  • Bret Garwood, CEO of Home Leasing in Rochester.

I’ve run out of space here to describe properly the discussion, so I urge you to watch it on our website, YouTube channel or Facebook page.

Suffice it to say it’s clear that past decisions had consequences our community is still coping with. And therefore what Rochester leaders do here in the 2020s will determine how successful our community will be in the years and decades to come.

The D&C will continue hosting such discussions. To paraphrase the late, great philosopher Yogi Berra, who once said you can learn a lot just by watching, Rochester can learn a lot just by listening to the rich and diverse voices in our midst.

I pledge to you this: The D&C team will do its best to serve Greater Rochester and each of our readers every single day.

Michael Kilian is executive editor of the Democrat and Chronicle. Reach him at