Are You an Engaged Journalist?

“Engaged journalism” is a big umbrella. Here’s a closer look at the community of practice that we’re building Gather with and for.

In our first two posts, we wrote about why we’re building Gather (to support and connect engagement practitioners — from varying perspectives and experience levels — so that together they can spread innovation and best practices) and how we’re applying research about communities of practice to the platform’s design and development.

This week, we’ll address who we hope will join us on Gather — and what they (or you!) stand to gain. But before we do, we need your help! We’re collecting ideas for projects to feature on the site. Can you tell us about some engaged journalism that has inspired you, or that you want to know more about? It can be your own work or someone else’s.

Yes, you! Gather is based on what we’ve heard from you, it’s designed to support you, and it needs your help to thrive.

We’re collecting projects because we’ve heard from you, the practitioners, that you have a deep desire to learn from each other. You might be new to journalism or in a new role, and you’re trying to figure out how your mission to serve a community can play out day to day. You might be a hiring editor or producer who has the chance to bring a greater focus on engagement to the newsroom through a new position. You might be an engagement veteran, eager to see how your experiences compare and willing to share what you’ve learned in the trenches.

Do any of these apply to you? Here are 9 specific ways we think Gather can support your work, along with some sterling examples of the type of engaged journalism we plan to feature on the platform. (Reminder: We also want suggestions from you!)

Maybe you’re realizing there are segments of your community that you’re not reaching or hearing from the way you’d like. Check out these steps for collaborating with ethnic media, from Daniela Gerson on MediaShift. She writes: “In my career, ethnic media outlet connections have enabled me to connect with Polish, Turkish, Ecuadorian, and Chinese communities, as well as find great stories that I could not access on my own. I also found that if approached in the right way, outlets welcomed the collaborations, rather than me just taking advantage of their knowledge and connections.”

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s possible to build bridges across the political divide. Check out this project from Spaceship Media and the Alabama Media Group. It created real, personal dialogue between Trump voters in Alabama and Clinton voters in California. Similarly, The Evergrey took their community members on a field trip this weekend — from Seattle to the nearest county that voted exactly opposite theirs in the November election. Participants spent the day in conversation, not just about Trump and Clinton but about worldviews and priorities. And look at Bring It To The Table, a community engagement project that includes a website, documentary and webisode series aimed at challenging assumptions and moving from bickering to discourse. All three projects are about building understanding, not changing minds.

Maybe you’re looking for new ways to invite and tell the stories of your community. Check out Caregivers Speak, a project led by jesikah maria ross, who works at Capital Public Radio and writes a blog (also named Gather) about coming together through stories. The Caregivers Speak project collected first-person, multimedia stories exploring what it means to take care of a loved one. It included a discussion guide and a series of community conversations, as part of the station’s documentary series “The View From Here.” Another project under that umbrella put a face on food insecurity.

Have you considered telling community stories as part of an event? The USA TODAY Network’s Storytellers Project brings together journalism and oral storytelling to build empathy, as Megan Finnerty writes. The newsrooms “curate and host nights of true, first-person stories from neighbors and notables. Journalists coach and prepare community members to share entertaining, illuminating stories for diverse audiences.” (And some newsrooms are seeing revenue from the event.)

Maybe you’re a reporter hoping to base your work on what your community most needs to know. Read how Julia Haslanger of Hearken described one project: “Ahead of an event called ‘Undocumented Under Trump,’ KCRW asked its Santa Barbara audience, ‘What question do you have about the future of undocumented immigrants under Trump?’ On Jan. 25, the station convened a panel with an immigration attorney, an undocumented immigrant, the local sheriff, and an agricultural law attorney.” As with other newsrooms that use Hearken, KCRW organized its work around real curiosities, not newsroom assumptions.

Taproot Edmonton is completely organized around community curiosities. Its sole source of story ideas are their paying members, as Sean Stroh wrote in Editor and Publisher last month. “This is our attempt to figure out what the future of local journalism looks like from the ground up,” co-creator Mack Male said in that piece.

Want more examples of reporting based on the ideas and wisdom of your community? The Crowd-Powered News Network is a Google discussion group that’s full of links, including many from ProPublica, the organization that started it. (Click here to join that group.)

Maybe you run a community newspaper that has been doing good old-fashioned engagement work for decades, but now you want to update your approaches. Don Nelson bought the Methow Valley News in Washington state in 2011 after working in much larger markets. When his community faced devastating wildfires in 2014 and 2015, he learned the power of Facebook not only to grow his reach but to continue publishing when his area lost power for 10 days and his staff was relying on cell phones and a generator. He and his staff published posts like this one, reminding people to evacuate if they didn’t feel safe. They had to adjust their thinking and adapt to new ways of communicating with the people they serve, and they’ve now worked for and earned a deeper relationship with their community. As Nelson wrote to me, “Be of service. Be responsive, and your community will respond.”

Maybe you’re in a large organization that can be slow to evolve, but you believe in being more transparent about your work. Check out how Newsy uses online interactions to walk people through their decisions, building trust one comment at a time. Here they are explaining why they used “American Indian” instead of “Native American” in a story (and notice how many likes that comment got). And here they are fact-checking comments and correcting misconceptions about a story. Rather than standing apart from their audience, they’re not afraid to dive into comments. And their users are eating it up.

Maybe you work in social media and are wondering how to more consistently move beyond counting likes and shares to instead focus on longer-term relationships. If so, meet the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah. News Editor Ann Elise Taylor and her team are truly present in the conversations on their Facebook page. They thank readers, answer questions, ask follow-up questions and create stories out of what they hear in comments. (Here’s a great example.) And because of that, they get nuanced, respectful conversation around things like taxes and race. Not many newsrooms would be brave enough to ask “What does #BlackLivesMatter mean to you?” on Facebook, but the Standard-Examiner has earned the right to ask more difficult questions, and their community seems to trust them to host and moderate.

Maybe your organization is looking for ways to build connections in your community, not just share information. Take a look at the Fixing York Facebook group. It was created by the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania so that “people from the city and around York County can talk about what works and what doesn’t, and offer possible solutions,” as the description says. Some content is produced by the staff, but much of it comes from community members.

And another: After the Dallas police shootings, KLRU, a public TV station in Austin, hosted a standing-room-only town hall event to identify common ground and work toward a kinder, more open minded community. To keep the discussion going, the station created a Facebook group that has remained lively. There’s even a spinoff book club that bubbled up from conversations in the group.

Maybe you’re a teacher who wants to be including community engagement in your journalism classes, but you’re not sure what that would look like. In addition to case studies from the industry, Gather will organize resources for educators who want to infuse audience-focused work into your classrooms. Did you know students in CUNY’s Social Journalism program explore what it means to use journalistic tools to serve communities and build empathy, as this post from Carrie Brown explains? Or that at Arizona State University, journalism students can discover “how to learn about the history of their communities, how to listen without judgment to what members of a community are saying, how to identify key influencers in a community, and how to find people who have very little influence at all.” Rebecca Blatt explains how that works on MediaShift.

This is just a sampling to get the conversation going. We know there’s lots more to say. What elements of engaged journalism do you want to see included on Gather? Leave a comment below, or let me know at joy@joymayer.com.

And one more time with feeling, here’s the link to suggest projects you’d like to learn more about or like to see explored on Gather.

The Community of Practice Platform for Engaged Journalism (aka Gather) is a project of the Agora Journalism Center, the gathering place for innovation in communication and civic engagement. Project funders include the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund.

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