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A community experience: Findings from a survey of Gather members

Eric Garcia McKinley
Let's Gather
Published in
6 min readJun 23, 2023


Gather is a collaborative project led by the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon with a focus on providing resources to encourage the integration of community engagement as a standard practice of journalism. Since 2017, Gather has engaged with its members through a newsletter, a hosted Slack community, and resources on its website. As Gather looks to the future, the team wanted to include the community in reflecting on the impact of Gather and what is most needed going forward.

To answer these questions, Impact Architects in May 2023 partnered with the Agora Journalism Center to develop and distribute a community survey. Gather members were invited to participate through multiple channels, including Slack and the Gather newsletter. After closing the survey and identifying key takeaways, Impact Architects led Gather’s monthly lightning chat to discuss the results with Gather members. The presentation and conversation are viewable here.

Two major themes emerged in the survey: Respondents were experienced and from diverse professional backgrounds, and the Gather community plays an essential role in advancing the practice of engaged journalism.

Speaking from experience

We promoted the survey via Slack and Gather’s newsletter, potentially reaching more than 2,400 individuals who engage with Gather on one or both of those channels. We ultimately heard from 114 Gather members. The respondents hold various job roles, but overall they are experienced. About four-fifths (78%) of the respondents are employed full time, and 29% describe one of their work roles as “Director/senior management.” “Community or audience engagement manager” was the second most claimed role at 24%. Notably, the percentage of respondents who described an area of work in these two roles almost equaled the combined percentage who described it as “Editor” (21%) or “Reporter/writer” (10%), suggesting an expansive community of practitioners in Gather that tilts toward specialization and management.

Moreover, the respondents were highly experienced in engaged journalism, as 30% of respondents said they have ten or more years of experience in engaged journalism, while another 54% said they have 3–10 years. The respondents overall represent depth of experience, as well as longevity.

We also asked how well-supported people find themselves at work about engaged journalism. Most respondents felt supported by colleagues and higher-ups; however, support does not necessarily translate to actual “guidance,” as just over a quarter felt that higher-ups provided guidance for engagement work. That so many people find themselves in management roles might contribute to that. Respondents overall also felt that their organizations do not have sufficient staffing and funding to do engagement work well.

It’s about community

Community drives people to join, and when they do, they find what they’re looking for. We asked why people initially decided to join Gather, and the top two responses were:

  • Find people who value engaged and community-centered journalism (74%)
  • Access a smart “brain trust” around engaged or community-centered journalism (73%)
  • Keep an eye on community conversations as someone who supports journalists and/or journalism (61%)

Unsurprisingly, when asked what the most useful offerings of Gather are, the ones that stood out centered on community. The Slack community, which boasts over 2,000 members, is the most interactive element of Gather, and 62% of respondents called it “extremely useful,” while another 16% described it as “very useful.” The lightning chats also allow members to interact with others, and 46% of respondents called those either “extremely useful” or “very useful.”

When asked to identify some specific ways in which Gather has helped, the most common responses again center on the community. Nearly three-fourths of respondents (73%) said they “Feel more connected to others who care about or practice engaged or community-centered journalism,” and 50% of respondents said they “Directly connect with other Gatherers by asking questions or offering support.”

The support Gather offers doesn’t necessarily extend to an organization as a whole, however, as only 17% said that their participation has helped them “more effectively coach colleagues on engagement work.”

And finally, we asked a straightforward, yes or no question community: “Have you made any professional connections through the Gather community?” Two-thirds (67%) of survey takers affirmed that they have made professional connections. In open-ended responses, others indicated that while they have not made one-on-one connections, participating in and observing conversation (mostly on Slack) has made them feel like they know more people and are connected to what’s happening in engaged journalism.

What else can Gather do for you?

It will come as no surprise that when asked about what else Gather can do to be more useful to individuals and to help the field evolve, the answers tended to focus on doing more to encourage connections among those in the field. Multiple people mentioned bringing people together in person, either for sponsored local events or for meetups at existing conferences (Gather does do some of this already). Regarding the digital world, respondents mentioned creating tailored segments in Slack (by region, specialty, job role, or industry segment) for even more opportunities for direct connection. Conversely, some respondents expressed the desire for additional privacy, as the size and scope of Gather’s Slack mean that organizational peers and superiors are likely present, which might limit openness in discussing issues related to advancing engaged journalism.

Some solutions to these desires already exist within the structure of Slack, such as creating private channels. However, people might not know about them. Indeed, some survey respondents also mentioned that they learned about additional Gather resources simply by taking the survey. In the past, Gather has provided brief “onboarding” for people who join the community. It might be a good idea to do something similar in the future, such as a one-page document outlining Gather’s resources and indicating how community members can take agency over the benefits of the community.


Considering the professional position of the people who took the survey and what they value most about a place like Gather, the major takeaway is that Gather has been successful in its mission to create a community centered on engaged journalism.

The professional diversity and extensive experience of our survey takers suggest that engaged journalism is no longer a niche practice. When asked to describe the culture of engaged journalism in their newsrooms (if working in a newsroom), 44% of respondents said that it was either “the norm” or “frequently practiced.” A lower percentage (32%) said that it was the responsibility of a single person, and the remaining 25% of our sample said engaged journalism is practiced on a project basis. The results don’t indicate that engaged journalism is dominant, but they do imply that it’s been normalized.

And Gather has served as a site for these professionals to connect and grow. That the experience is leaving them with a hunger for more connection is not a bad thing. Rather, it points to a desire to gain even greater benefits from peers and for the field.

Impact Architects is a firm that specializes in strategy, measurement, and evaluation, specifically for journalism and media for social change. Eric Garcia McKinley is the Director of Research and Evaluation at Impact Architects. In May 2023 Impact Architects served as Gather’s “guest curator” to develop and analyze this community survey.