Connecting the dots: Engaged journalism, trust, revenue, and civic engagement

Across the news industry, organizations large and small, commercial and nonprofit, single issue and daily news are experimenting with “engagement.” Audience engagement. Engaged journalism. Engagement editors and specialists. Engaging for trust. And the list goes on. But what is engagement? Why are organizations experimenting with it, and to what effect?

We set out to answer these questions through a four month research project. First, we surveyed the field to identify the practices organizations consider to be “engaged journalism,” and came to define it as an inclusive practice that prioritizes the information needs and wants of the community members it serves, creates collaborative space for the audience in all aspects of the journalistic process, and is dedicated to building and preserving trusting relationships between journalists and the public. Then, we dove deep into four very different organizations to learn not only what they do, but why they engage with communities and how they know if their strategies are working. Our research builds on that of Lisa Heyamoto and Todd Milbourn’s Agora Journalism Center Report.

Through this research, we found evidence to support the following:

  • Engaged journalism increases audience trust in journalists and journalism organizations.
  • Engaged journalism builds trust among journalism organizations and audiences, which results in audiences being willing to financially support the journalism.
  • Engaged journalism results in audiences being more civically engaged in their communities.

The major learning that was applicable to all organizations we looked is that effective engagement requires a way for communities to be in contact with journalists in a relational rather than purely transactional manner. Furthermore, organizations that are able to clearly articulate a shared mission with their communities have the strongest foundation upon which to build relationships.

But relationships take time. Funders of engaged journalism must take into account the fact that journalism organizations that are working in, with, and for communities require time and resources to build authentic relationships that put the principles of transparency, positivity, and diversity into action consistently.

As organizations continue to experiment with new forms of engagement and institutionalize those that work with their communities, they must also identify the practices that will lead to their ultimate goals, appropriate indicators of success, and research methods to understand if their engagement practices are having the desired effects, and if not, why.

In the end, engaged journalism is just good journalism. it’s cultivating and listening to sources throughout the community, rather than in niche sectors or in the upper echelons of power. It’s producing hard-hitting, moving, and accurate stories that are relevant to community members and reflect their lived realities and meet their needs. And it’s understanding that journalism — whether it’s for profit or not — is a public service, and as such, must respect and include the public in its processes and practices.

Read the full report here and let us know what you think:

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