Local news consumers to journalists: Be a genuine part of the community

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center confirms a key tenet of engaged journalism: Community connection is highly prized by our audience

One of the core tenets of the social journalism program at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY I lead is the need to build better, less transactional relationships with our audience through listening. We aren’t alone; check out Gather to see an active group of journalists across the country that care about engagement.

Sometimes journalists I talk to are skeptical that greater participation and engagement is something audiences actually want. But the evidence is there that they do, most recently in the form of a study by the Pew Research Center that surveyed 34,897 U.S. adults late last year.

Community residents who see their local journalists as connected to the area give their local news media far higher ratings than those who do not. For example, those who say journalists are in touch with their community are 31 percentage points more likely to say their local media do a good job of dealing fairly with all sides — 73%, compared with 42% among those who say their media are out of touch.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said it was important for journalists to understand local history and be engaged with their community.

Are local journalists currently clearing this bar? The evidence there is mixed, and it seems clear that we can do better; about a third say we are out of touch.

Social journalism alum Max Resnik talks about listening projects underway in the South Bronx by Cortico and the Local Voices Network

Being close to your community does not mean being a booster or ignoring news that could make it look bad. A core principle of journalism outlined in Elements of Journalism is independence, and truth telling requires intellectual honesty and confronting uncomfortable issues.

It means doing a better job of listening, ensuring that we are writing for everyone and not our sources and bosses, being transparent about our processes, including people in the reporting of news in as many ways as we can, and being more creative about how we distribute information that meets people where they are.

How do we start? Come join us in the social journalism program at Newmark J-School at CUNY and find out, or here’s some resources to get started reading.