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Identifying Narratives to Shift + Elevate

The mental models you identified influence the dominant narratives about how your system works and how power functions within it. These narratives can often become entrenched and can contribute to misinformation, oppression, and exploitation.


Journalists can address and reshape these narratives. The following exercise will help you and your team identify those worth shifting and elevating.

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System: A set of interconnected and dynamic forces that have a collective function or purpose. Examples: transportation system, the ocean, education, a basketball team

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Dominant Narratives: The ways in which we articulate our mental models. They are the stories and accounts of how we think about particular issues.

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Mental Models: Mental models – The individual and collective assumptions, beliefs, and worldviews that we individually and collectively hold about systems. The ways that we internally model the world around us.



40 - 60 minutes

Materials + set-up


Pens and paper

Here's what you need to get started





Identifying Narratives to Shift + Elevate


Identify narratives

In pairs, think about the mental models

you've uncovered and identify one or two

dominant narratives about your system that

stem from them. For each narrative, write

two or three sentences explaining how

mental models can fuel it, and how it might

perpetuate exploitation, inequity, and/or

imbalances of power.


Try to identify at least two narratives.


Elevating voices

Next, in the same pairs, think about the perspectives and voices that you think could be elevated to challenge the narratives you described. What kinds of stories and information would help inform the mental models you discussed and shift the system toward health?


Write down a few specific examples that you could elevate in your reporting. 



As a large group, share the narratives you developed as well as your ideas for shifting them. Are there common threads between any of the examples you surfaced? 

EX: If your mental model is: "State representatives only care about corporate donations."

Your narrative could be: "Many people in a particular community assume that our state representatives are in the pocket of corporations, and that's just the way things are. This can contribute to voter apathy and deepen the influence of moneyed interests.


This is a great place to tell people more about yourself and peak their interest.

For more info, they can follow you on social in a click.

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Healthy SystemWhile subjective, it is one that is largely free from corruption, inequity, exploitation, and oppression.

Now what?

It can be easy to have these conversations with your team, but harder to sustain them or turn them into actionable items. After you’ve spent time with your team identifying narratives and brainstorming how to shift them, consider the following:

  • How can you make addressing problematic narratives center to your reporting goals?

  • What can you do to ensure the needed voices are elevated?

  • Are there action plans and structures you can put into place to make sure harmful narratives aren’t perpetuated in your journalism?

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