The Future of Journalism is Already Here

It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet. Here’s How Gather Can Help Fix That

“I’d love to have a space that follows a project from start to finish to show if something was actually successful. How did you start it, do it, end it? Did it work?”

“I’m amazed sometimes when I find the right person to ask a question of — how willing they are to share what they know. I wish there were an easier way for that to happen.”

“I would love a space to pitch an idea, get feedback, and brainstorm.”

Last summer, when we asked engagement pros how our Community of Practice Platform for Engaged Journalism could best support their work, we received a lot of responses like these ones. In short, people told us they’re looking for a place to learn from case studies, to collaborate on ideas and projects, to access shared resources, and — most importantly — to connect with a wider community of like-minded journalists, storytellers, and educators.

An awful lot has happened since we published the findings of that survey six months ago. Last fall, the Agora Journalism Center received generous grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund to get this project off the ground. In December, we chose FMYI as our tech partner. In January, we formed steering and advisory committees to collaborate with us on the platform’s development and design. And this month, we settled on a code name (Gather!) and jumped headfirst into the sausage-making that must happen before our beta launch this spring. (Update: Gather is currently in ‘closed beta,’ but we’ll be opening it up to the public soon. Sign up here to get an invitation once we do.)

So what’s the endgame here? As hinted by our headline, we think William Gibson’s famous quote (“The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet”) applies especially well to journalism. In newsrooms and communities across the country, forward-thinking journalists are already using social media to enrich their reporting; leveraging tools like Hearken, Ask, GroundSource, and the Public Insight Network to engage their communities; hosting live events to maximize the reach and impact of their journalism; and developing new approaches for building trust with an increasingly skeptical public. Our goal for Gather is to support and connect these practitioners — from varying perspectives and experience levels — so that together they can spread innovation and best practices across the profession.

We suspect you might have some questions at this point — so we’re going to take a crack at answering a few of them, starting with the obvious one:

What exactly is Gather?

Gather is a collection of searchable resources. It’s a place to learn (and borrow) from existing projects. It’s a hub for collaboration. It’s an advanced how-to guide for engagement vets and an on-ramp for newbies. It’s a digital meeting space where engaged journalism’s budding community of practice can continue to grow and evolve.

The nitty-gritty details are TBD, of course, because we’re still building Gather with FMYI and our steering and advisory committees. But if you check back next week, we’ll tell you more about our overall approach to community development — and share some specifics about how that approach is shaping the platform’s design.

Am I part of engaged journalism’s ‘community of practice’?

Engagement isn’t confined to any single job title, and neither is our community of practice. That’s why we’re building Gather for anyone who believes in making journalism more responsive to the public’s needs, more representative of the public’s diversity, and more inclusive of the public’s voices.

You might be doing that work for a community news site with two employees, a daily newspaper with hundreds of employees, a university journalism program with thousands of students, or some organization we’ve never heard of. That part doesn’t matter to us. What matters is that you want to do engagement that’s relational and collaborative, not transactional and extractive. If that’s the case, consider yourself invited to Gather!

Who’s on Gather’s steering and advisory committees?

Our fantastic steering committee members are: Andrew Haeg, founder and CEO of GroundSource; Ashley Alvarado, manager of public engagement at Southern California Public Radio; Carrie Watters, contributions editor at the Arizona Republic; Chris Faraone, co-founder of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) and editor of DigBoston; Jake Batsell, associate professor at SMU and author of Engaged Journalism: Connecting with Digital Empowered News Audiences; Jeanne Brooks, senior advisor to the Local News Lab and co-founder of Shine Squad; Michelle Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication and president of Journalism That Matters; Niala Boodhoo, startup host and executive producer of The 21st; Pamela Behrsin, senior editor of audience and engagement at CALmatters; Peggy Holman, co-founder of Journalism That Matters and author of Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity; Rodney Gibbs, chief product officer at The Texas Tribune; Simon Nyi, program manager for media and journalism at Illinois Humanities; Subramaniam (Subbu) Vincent, John S. Knight fellow and visiting scholar at the Human Sciences and Technology Advanced Research Institute.

The steering committee also includes the six members of our core working group: Andrew DeVigal, project executive director and chair in journalism innovation and civic engagement at the Agora Journalism Center; Ben DeJarnette, curator / project and product manager; Joy Mayer, community manager and engagement consultant; Justin Yuen, tech advisor and founder/president of FMYI; Regina Lawrence, executive director of the Agora Journalism Center; and Yve Susskind, evaluator and co-owner/principal of Praxis Associates, LLC.

The list of advisory committee members is simply too long to write out — and it’s still getting longer! If you’re interested in jumping aboard, please fill out our committee onboarding survey, and we’ll be in touch soon.

What’s the purpose of this Medium publication?

We’ll use Medium to share updates on our progress, as well as to document our process, so that other communities of practice can learn from our triumphs and tragedies, and ask us questions in the comments section.

What’s the timeline for launching Gather?

We’re aiming to complete the custom build and begin the beta phase in April, and then publicly launch the platform in May. However, there are lots of moving parts, so we’ll refrain from making any promises — except that we’ll continue to post updates here as the project unfolds.

Alright, I’m interested. But I still have questions about Gather. Who should I talk to?

Joy Mayer! She’s our community manager and resident engagement whiz. If she doesn’t have the answer, she’ll point you in the right direction. Get in touch at joy@joymayer.com.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in jumping into this community of practice with both feet, consider joining us in Portland on May 18–21 for a conference hosted by the Agora Journalism Center in collaboration with Journalism That Matters. We hope to see you there!

The Community of Practice Platform for Engaged Journalism (aka Gather) is a collaborative project led by 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.