Community Engagement Syllabus 2016

Finding new ways to listen to communities

Jeff Jarvis and I are teaching a class in community engagement again as part of the social journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism this spring.

Drawing our news ecosystems in week two

This is a foundational course in our program. We explore the core ideas and definitions of social journalism and try to get new ideas from non-journalists about how we can better understand and interact with communities.

I wanted to share the syllabus, which is still subject to change…and also to solicit any ideas or feedback. So here goes:

JOUR 75102 Community Engagement

Spring 2016

Room/Time: Mondays 2 to 4:50pm Room 430

Professors: Jeff Jarvis and Carrie Brown

Office Hours:

Brown: Wednesdays 4–6pm, first-come, first-served, and by appointment, Office 421B

Professor Contact Information


Twitter: @brizzyc

Please note: I receive a high volume of email. If you need something immediately, I recommend texting, direct message on Twitter, WhatsApp, or Gchat. In the event I’m not in the office, I can almost always be reached via those channels.


Twitter: @jeffjarvis

Course description:

This is a course in listening to a community: understanding and empathizing with its needs and learning how to help a community share its own knowledge. We will talk to ambassadors from communities of various definitions — geographic (neighborhoods, towns), demographic (ethnic groups, age groups), interest (topics such as cancer, parenting, or sports), and business (organized around an industry or a job description.) These ambassadors will be journalists, community organizers, topic experts, and business proprietors who serve communities and who will, in turn, introduce the students to members of these communities so the students will develop skills in listening and discerning communities’ needs. We will also draw upon disciplines from outside of journalism such as cultural anthropology, public health, and community and political organizing to help us hone our listening skills. Through this course, students will begin to identify the communities they plan to serve in the practicum and start to interact with those communities where they gather online and in person.


Students will:

  1. Understand the core ideas of social journalism — the philosophy of journalism as service, and why it matters.
  2. Know how to identify, understand and listen to communities, both virtual and physical, in terms of how they come together, what they seek to do, how they manage themselves, and what tools they use.
  3. Understand how the web and social media have made it easier and more efficient for communities and networks to form and generate real world political and social change.
  4. Know how to evaluate what a community needs with an eye toward how social journalists can meet those needs
  5. Understand the basic principles of design thinking as one technique to understand and empathize with communities
  6. Be able to move past comfortable associations to learn how to understand people of diverse backgrounds and different perspectives and needs.
  7. Know how to cope with difficulty in communities, particularly online, such as trolls and troublemakers, fights and feuds.

Participating in our community:

As in other courses in this program, we will strive to “drink our own medicine,” so to speak, and build our own engaged community of social journalists. We will use the hashtag #SocialJ, a Facebook group, Medium, and other social networks to do this. Your active participation is required not only verbally in class but in the digital realm as well.

Weekly Medium reflections

Each week, one person (or a team) from the class will summarize the key ideas and themes from the lecture, discussion, guest speakers, and readings in a post on Medium. Your post should have a clear title, tags, and at least one photo that you took yourself. These posts will be public, so they should be well-written and contain enough context for people not in class to understand. Use subheads, bullet points, etc. as needed for clarity and to make the posts easy to read. At the end of the post, include one or two interesting questions for discussion. This posts must be completed and shared with the group no later than the Thursday following each class. Note: I am happy to edit these for you before you post them. Please try to get them to me by Wednesday if you can for editing, and ideally send the text via Google Docs so I can easily edit them (you can paste the text into Medium).

Everyone else will be required to post meaningful, substantive comments reacting to the post and contributing additional perspectives and thoughts. You can respond to the questions posed by your colleagues, but should also add anything that struck you as particularly interesting or relevant. When applicable, you should explore how you could apply the lessons of the week to your work with your community. These responses are due Mondays before class begins.


  • 40 percent: Final report and presentation on the community you have chosen to work on, representing cumulative work done throughout the semester. This will include a community profile, summary of community needs, analysis of how the community interacts and the tools they use, and your plans going forward on how to continue to listen to and serve the community. We will discuss the details of this project as the class progresses.
  • 50 percent: Contributions to class projects, lab sessions and any other assignments given, including the weekly Medium posts/responses. Some assignments will be planned in advance; others may crop up along the way. Assignments that are turned in late without an extension granted by the instructor *prior* to the deadline will be penalized by one letter grade per day.
  • 10 percent: Substantive and thoughtful contributions, in-person and virtual, to class discussions and interviews with visitors.

Rubrics: Grading Standards

A = outstanding or exceptional work that is good enough to be shown to other students as an example.

B = competent, satisfactory work.

C = work that merely fulfills the conditions of the assignment

D = work that does not fulfill the conditions of the assignment or is lacking in some important way.

F = given for assignments that are extremely poorly executed, or in the case of plagiarism or other failure to adhere to norms of academic honesty.

Qualities of work considered in grading:

Process: Have you iterated and improved based on feedback?

Quality and Shine: Is your work executed with skill, carefully edited and polished?

Application of key concepts: Have you thoughtfully considered how you can bring some of the topics addressed in class into your work with communities?

Organization and Presentation: Is your work presented clearly and in a professional manner suitable for an audience?

Effort and Application: Have you gone beyond the minimum required? Has the work been prepared with attention to detail, and does it take appropriate advantage of the relevant tools?

Punctuality and Completeness: Is it on time and complete, and does it fulfill the assignment?

Required readings

Geeks Bearing Gifts, by Jeff Jarvis. Free online.

Other class readings will be in the form of online articles or selected book chapters that will be distributed to you.

You are strongly encouraged to read industry sites such as Nieman Lab (you can subscribe to their content), Poynter, MediaShift, etc. You should also cultivate an intelligent Twitter feed or list of people who care about the future of news. When you find a good link, share it in the Facebook group and/or using the #socialj hashtag.

All readings should be completed BEFORE CLASS begins and you should be prepared to discuss them.


This course is fundamentally about diversity. It requires you to seek out, interact with, understand, and serve people different from yourselves. You are expected to leave your zones of familiarity and to learn from diverse communities in real life in New York and virtually around the world. You are expected to treat people in these communities with respect and deference; it is our job to listen and learn and then serve not the needs we presume but the needs we hear from people in communities. We may also discover information people do not know they need — but we must never approach people with the condescending air of knowing more than they do. In the words of journalist Dan Gillmor, the public knows more than we do.

Attendance and Punctuality

We have a short amount of time together, so each session is important. Attendance is mandatory. If you have a personal emergency of some kind, notify the instructor. All unexcused absences will result in a grade deduction; more than one excused absence will also reduce your grade. You are responsible for catching up on anything you missed, including important announcements about assignments.

Students are expected to arrive a few minutes early for each class session so we can start — and end — on time. Note: Being late returning to class after a break is akin to being late to the start of class. Lateness in either case is disrespectful to your classmates and instructors, and being late repeatedly may impair your reputation, which is even more important than your grade.


Plagiarism and fabrication are journalistic capital crimes. Our profession depends on our collective credibility to survive. All journalists suffer when one journalist steals copy, misrepresents the work of others as their own, makes up a quote or invents facts or characters. Plagiarism may involve copying and pasting text from a book or magazine without attributing the source, or lifting words, photographs, video or other materials from a social network and using them as your own. Student work may be analyzed electronically for plagiarized content. Please ask if you have any questions about how to distinguish between acceptable research and plagiarism. Egregious cases are referred to a disciplinary committee. Students have left our program — voluntarily and involuntarily — when confronted with evidence of such transgressions.

In social media as in journalism, we expect students to cite and link to source material and give credit wherever it is due.

Class Schedule (subject to change)

**Please note: Because we try to bring in as many guests as possible to get a variety of different perspectives on listening to communities, it is quite probable that the schedule will change with guests’ schedules. The news business can be unpredictable as you know.

Week 1, February 1

Intro to the course/syllabus/social journalism

We will examine the cultural, philosophical, historical, and economic underpinnings of the social journalism program — in short: Why are we here? We will discuss Prof. Jarvis’s writings on new relationships journalists can build with communities with him as well as the history of media and the presumptions based on its means of production and distribution to date: that news needed to be one-way, that it is one-size-fits-all, that it is built for a mass market. Next we will ask how the internet and technology are challenging these assumptions and how they create opportunities to serve individuals and communities differently.

We will also discuss assignments given during orientation (use of Foursquare/Swarm and photo-of-the-day) and begin discussion of your community of interest.

Assignment: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete week two readings before next class

Week 2, February 8

Design thinking

Defining “community and “engagement”

We will begin to dig deeper into the key terms in the title of this course. What *is* community? What *is* engagement? Why do these terms matter? What needs and interests bring people together and bind them? What might their mutual goals be? How did they connect in the past and how do the tools of the internet and social media affect that? How do they behave together — for good and ill?

Then we will learn more about design thinking, building on what we did during orientation. We will conduct some exercises using these methods to help solve some real-world problems.

Read (before class):

Selections from “Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods” by LUMA Institute (will be distributed)

Geeks Bearing Gifts Part I: Relationships

“Engaging Communities: Content and Conversation” by Joy Mayer, Nieman Reports

From journalism to UX (and maybe back again) by Alex Schmidt (2014)

Storytelling and design thinking by Adam Westbrook (2014)

Building a j-school from scratch: How The New School aims to bring journalism and design together by Justin Ellis

Adaptive skills and design thinking work in tandem to address news desert by Sally Duros

Do(before next class): Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Assignment related to design thinking project details TBA

Week Three — February 15 — No Class — School Closed for Presidents Day

Week Four, February 22


Design thinking II

Guest: Hearken founder Jennifer Brandel

Jennifer will introduce you to Hearken, which we will be experimenting with this semester.

We will discuss/do follow up on design thinking exercise and begin planning our workshop with College Media Assocation

Read (before this class):

Questions are the new comments and Public-powered journalism by Jennifer Brandel

How participatory journalism turns consumers into collaborators by Olivia Koski

The Problem With Inclusion: Our focus on inclusion is misplaced as long as it fails to change the structures and practices that promote exclusion in the first place. by Laurenellen McCann

Do (before next class):

Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Develop plan for how you will use Hearken — details TBA

Week 5, February 29


Community organizing

We will begin to dig deeper into how journalists can be better listeners and understand community needs.

Finally, we will try to understand what journalists can learn from community organizers.

Read (before this class):

Part II of Geeks Bearing Gifts, Forms

Joy Mayer: So Long, “Wizard of Oz” Journalism. Let’s Make Margaritas!

Big Idea: Conversational Journalism by Doreen Marchionni, Poynter (2009).

Listening is a revolutionary act, part I and part II by Jesse Hardman

Marchionni, D. M. (2013), Journalism-as-a-Conversation: A Concept Explication. Communication Theory, 23: 131–147. doi: 10.1111/comt.12007 [I will send this to you via email]

Selection from: Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody [will be distributed] and watch one of his Ted talks

The People Formerly Known as The Audience, by Jay Rosen (a classic). Be sure to check out the “After Matter” (notes, reactions and links) as well.


Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Beginning implementation of your Hearken plan, details TBA

Week 6, March 7


Ladder of participation

Preparing to lead workshop for College Media Advisors

Students will discuss Bowling Alone with Scott Heiferman, who was inspired by the book to found Meetup, a platform for in-person gatherings for communities around the world. The class will learn how communities and users take over platforms to put them to their own uses. They will explore the many communities on Meetup.

We will also discuss the “ladder of participation” and different individuals may vary in their level and style of contribution to collaborative efforts.


The nonprofit world’s take on the “ladder of engagement” by Joy Mayer

The news is served: How newsrooms can connect with communities by Kelsey Proud. More detailed report she did on this. Note: This is one of the clearest “recipes” I’ve seen on how to do engagement in a newsroom. So take a look at it.

Putnam, Robert (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Selection from will be distributed

Do: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Meetup assignment details TBA

Assignment related to Kelsey Proud’s piece/research TBA

Week 7, March 14

We will be teaching design thinking and leading students at the College Media Association conference through an exercise. Here’s the promo page for the event.


Tracing the links between civic engagement and the revival of local journalism by Dan Kennedy, Nieman Lab (2013)

News as Conversation: Not Just Informing But Involving the Audience by Jake Batsell. Chapter 2 of his book Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences Will be distributed to you

Why Do Community Engagement? A Reporter’s Perspective by Jesikah Maria Ross


Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Reflection/post-mortem on CMA workshop details TBA

Week 8, March 21

Community and Ethnic Media panel

In partnership with CUNY’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media, we’ll hear from a panel of editors/reporters serving New York City’s many diverse communities. We’ll hear about the techniques they use, and the challenges they face, especially when they sometimes have to tell their audience something it would rather not hear.


#Kony2012, Understanding Networked Symbolic Action & Why Slacktivism is Conceptually Misleading by Zeynep Tufecki

Tracie Powell: “We’re supposed to challenge power…it seems like we’ve abdicated that to social media” by Laura Hazard Owen

Closing the Gaps in Local News by Josh Stearns

#Hashtagging the streets by an xiao mina

Do: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Week 9, March 28

Civic tech

We will hear from experts in civic tech and learn what journalists can learn from them about engaging and empowering communities.


So You Think You Want to Run a Hackathon? Think Again. by Laurenellen McCann

No More Trickle Down Civic Tech by Laurenellen McCann

Three kinds of engagement: outreach, conversation, collaboration and What “engagement” means to The Guardian’s Meg Pickard by Joy Mayer

Scarcity and abundance in the digital age by Seth Godin

Do: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Week 10, April 4:

Qualitative methods, ethnography, and journalism

Virtual communities

Guest speaker: Dr. Lisbeth Berbary an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in the department of Recreation and Leisure Studies and an expert in qualitative methods, including ethnography. Prior to moving to Canada, she taught at the University of Memphis where she established the Graduate Certificate in Qualitative Studies in Education and the Qualitative Inquiry Circle for the School of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in Leisure Studies with graduate certificates in both women’s studies and interdisciplinary qualitative research.

Then, the class will turn its attention to virtual communities — e.g., cancer patients, veterans, photographers on Google Plus, Star Trek fans — and talk about how these communities establish norms of behavior, shared interests and goals, and will discuss how journalists can add value.

Read: The #freemona Perfect Storm: Dissent and the Networked Public Sphere by Zeynep Tufeki (2011)

#ISOJ Keynote: Can Social Media Help Us Create A More Informed Public? by Andy Carvin

Readings from Dr. Berbary will be distributed

Why gonzo journalism is crucial to our understanding of cities and their tribes by Bradley L. Garrett

Selection from Culture of Connectivity by Henry Jenkins will be distributed


Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Observation/ethnography assignment details TBA

Remember: as the semester progresses, you should be prepare for your final presentation and report on your community, due the last week of class.

Week 11, April 11


Public Insight Network

Andrew Haeg will introduce us to a tool we can all use called Groundsource.

We’ll also learn about what the Public Insight Network is and hear about some examples of their work in newsrooms and the lessons they have learned.

Read (before class):

How to use GroundSource in 6 easy steps (and 1 kind of hard one) by Andrew Haeg

“How ProPublica Uses a “Reporting Recipe” to Cook Up Collaboration” by Joseph Lichterman, Nieman Lab (2014)

Do: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Groundsource plan details TBA

Week 12, April 18

Comments — what’s wrong with them, and how can we fix them?

Dealing with trolls

Guest speaker: Pedro Burgos, Marshall Project

We’ll discuss efforts to improve comments and civic dialogue around important issues.

Then we will discuss trolls and troublemakers and how to deal with difficult behavior in a community. They will learn that when someone seeks only to make trouble — to troll, in social-media parlance — it is best not to feed them. But it is also important to understand the cause of disagreement and to find ways to bring people together toward a common end.


Goodbye Comments, Hello Conversations by Pedro Burgos

What to do with a problem like the comments by Andrew Losowsky

Towards Quality Discourse in Online News Comments by Nicholas Diakopoulos and Mor Naaman

Excellent set of resources Do Read the Comments by Lisa Williams

If your website is full of assholes, it is your fault by Anil Dash

Selections from James, Aaron (2012) Assholes: A Theory. New York, NY: Doubleday. Will be distributed

Do: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Groundsource — execute assignment. Details TBA

Week 13 NO CLASS — SPRING BREAK April 25 Hurrah!

Week 14, May 2

What journalism can learn about community from marketing and PR


Selected chapters from: Napoli, P. (2011) Audience evolution: New technologies and the transformation of media audiences. New York: Columbia University Press

Other readings TBA

Do: Medium post due Thursday/response due Monday (see above for details)

Complete next week’s readings before next class

Week 15, May 9

Political organizing — what can journalists learn?

Black Lives Matter and other social movements discussion

Prep for final presentations

Read: The Evolution of #Black Twitter by S.Craig Watkins (2014)

Black Twitter: A virtual community ready to hashtag out a response to cultural issues by Soraya Nadia McDonald

View of #Ferguson Thrust Michael Brown Shooting to National Attention by David Carr, New York Times (2014)

What could social journalism do for Ferguson? by Jeff Jarvis

Diversity, Credit and Hashtag Activism: How a Nigerian Movement Got Hijacked by Zeynep Tufecki TechPresident (2014)

Week 16, May 16

Last class wrap up and final presentations

Students will each present a community plan in writing and orally before faculty and mentors from the program and fellow students. They will be expected to draw a compelling and vibrant picture of a community and its members of the community and explain what brings them together. They will give a summary of a written community profile as described above. Most importantly, they will present a gameplan for further work in the community during the next term and during the intensive practicum in the last term. They will be expected to adapt and revise this plan as they learn more about the community and work with their mentors.

Photo-a-day reflection due