The Engagement Manifesto: Part I

On January 29th, 2016 a group of journalists, entrepreneurs, newsroom leaders and students gathered in Macon, Georgia for a summit sponsored by the Center for Collaborative Journalism and GroundSource focused on reimagining the relationships between news organizations and the communities they serve. The catalyst for the summit was twofold: The emergence of a community of practitioners within newsrooms advocating for deeper and more inclusive community engagement, and a growing recognition on their part of the entrenched cultures and habits within the news profession that are blocking meaningful change.

The product of this summit was a manifesto in three parts each of which shines a light on the dissatisfaction with the current culture of journalism, articulates a vision for more genuine engagement, and suggests some concrete, simple first steps that can help break down resistance to change.

Part II: Management’s perspective and Part III: The newsroom’s perspective.

Journalists, editors, managers, teachers and students gather to write the Engagement Manifesto. Photo by Andrew Haeg.

Part I: The Audience’s Perspective

Dear Newsrooms of America:

We are writing a letter because we didn’t think this would all fit in your comments section — and we know that you don’t often read the comments anyway.

We want to know: As your customers, why don’t you seem to care about us? Why do think you know what’s best for us without even asking us?

The truth is, the issues that we care about are not reflected in your stories. You are often either too busy trying to get a scoop or trying to get clicks that you sacrifice stories that would make a meaningful difference in our lives.

We want to know: As your customers, why don’t you seem to care about us? Why do think you know what’s best for us without even asking us?

The amount of real and useful news is shrinking while an avalanche of misinformation, sensationalism and chatter surrounds us. We see what you are doing: you care more about your metrics and your advertisers than you do about us.

At your worst, you mischaracterize who we are, perpetuating negative stereotypes that lack empathy and understanding. As a result, you are actually harming our communities, not helping us. Certainly not serving us or our needs. To add insult to injury, when you parachute into our communities to get a quick story, you also misspell our names and misquote us. Is it any wonder that we don’t trust you?

When we do try to engage with you, no one responds to us. Sometimes we put a lot of effort into giving you feedback or information, and then we never even know if you’re using it. So why should we bother?

We are real people with a diversity of backgrounds and a richness of experiences and perspectives, and we want to see full representation of who we are in your stories.

We are real people with a diversity of backgrounds and a richness of experiences and perspectives, and we want to see full representation of who we are in your stories. We want the information that will help us make decisions on issues that will impact our lives and our communities. And occasionally, we do want to be entertained and even delighted.

Until then, quite frankly, we don’t want to spend money on a product that is not valuable to us.

But here’s the thing: intuitively we know that journalism is important to democracy, and we do care about the news even if we’re angry with you guys right now.

So we want to extend an olive branch if you’re willing to meet us where we are. (We mean that literally.) We want to invite you to come to our neighborhoods.

But here’s the thing: intuitively we know that journalism is important to democracy, and we do care about the news even if we’re angry with you guys right now.

Let us get to know you and you can get to know us. Let us show you around — let us show you our favorite places and why we’re proud to live where we do. Let us be partners with you — we can help you write the stories that will resonate. We can be important sources of information and connections for you. We can help you learn new things, see new places, meet new people. If you let us.

We know that it means doing your work a little differently than you’re used to doing, and we understand it requires a little risk taking on your part. We will make it worth your while.

What we’re saying is this: we want you to invest in us. Invest in us deeply. If you do, we will invest in you — with our time, our energy, our respect, and our money.

Sincerely,

The people formerly known as the audience

Now read the Engagement Manifesto, Part II: Management’s perspective.