News in your backyard: How the South LA desk used community engagement as a vehicle for storytelling

Simply reporting on a community is not enough. Let’s engage to make our audience care.

South LA resident Monique Cooper shares her message at an Intersections South LA pop-up newsroom.

Today’s journalists have an important task at hand: repairing the broken trust that exists between the news media and the public. When it comes to covering underserved communities, which are often neglected or under-reported by major news organizations, the work may be twice as hard.

At the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Media Center, where I am a fellow leading a group of students in the South LA Community Desk, teaching the value of trust-building through community engagement was a main mission.

While students learned the fundamentals of reporting and writing in their classrooms, their role as multimedia journalists reporting for Intersections South LA, one of Annenberg’s publications, extended far beyond a lecture hall or newsroom.

The newly formed desk that launched in August 2016 aimed for two things: reach and engage with our audience (South Los Angeles residents) through innovative storytelling, and provide a valuable learning experience for student reporters.

On this desk, it was about providing a public service — making journalism more representative of the public’s diversity, and more responsive to our audience’s needs by making their voices present in our reporting. It was about making connections and bringing to light genuine perspectives of the urban area that is our backyard.

And we did this both via social media and other web content, and on-the-ground outreach. Through pop-up newsrooms on the streets of South LA, our participation in community events, our inclusive approach to covering local politics and the unique storytelling partnerships we created, students learned what it meant to meet their audience face to face, hear from them directly about the issues that impact them, what they care about, and what the stories are that need to be told.

In today’s digital age, it’s become increasingly difficult to bridge the gaps of trust between news providers and their audiences. Simply reporting on these areas is not enough. Newsrooms today must develop new approaches to engage their audience and make them care. I have high hopes our new generation of reporters take with them the value of making connections that go beyond the hard copy or mobile app to maximize the reach and impact of their journalism.

In a series of posts, student editors with Intersections South LA wrote about the various community engagement projects launched this year as part of USC Annenberg Media’s South LA Community Desk:

With community partnerships, powerful stories are possible

An inclusive approach to covering local politics

Sprouting connection via pop-up newsrooms