“There’s got to be a better way to do this.”
That’s usually a common thought I have in an attempt to figure out what role I am supposed to have in journalism. It’s more evident now, two months after the date of the 5th anniversary of the completion of my undergraduate degree.
Studying as journalism began what appears to be a constant change, the focus appeared simple — get as much experience as I can mixed with the knowledge of ethics, law and complete the degree on time. Then came a recession as the fickle nature of journalism’s future became more prevalent. My expression of wanting to do more became similar to the fictitious character Basil Fawlty — who hit his Mini with a tree branch in an infamous act of frustration.
It would be several years before I would be introduced to a new way of thinking in journalism that was taking hold — an initiative that has the potential to do the most good if it is done correctly — engagement journalism.
Engagement is a word that has many connotations in journalism. For the most part, when one refers to engagement, it is used as a means to boost appeal to a consumer — to attract more eyeballs to the screen.
The purveyors and innovators of engagement journalism don’t see it that way — and will happily call your bluff to that philosophy being construed as the be all and end all of it — when it is so much more than that.
In this age where so much information exists in abundance online, and the focus is still on trying to win, one-up one’s competition and be boastful, engagement journalism is not only a respite from this norm, it is a necessity in order for journalism itself to survive.
One of the most public advocates of engagement journalism in a legacy media newsroom is KPCC in Los Angeles — Southern California Public Radio. In fact, it has become a large core of their reporting and their outlook on how journalism can be done and the impact it can have on the audience as a whole.
One of their most recent features is simple yet has a lot of impact— a statement from each of their reporters describing their work, what drives their interest in reporting and what they hope to accomplish.
Indeed, KPCC recently created a list of all of its reporters with the big question they want to accomplish, and the contact details (email, Twitter and links to profile pages by the organization) to help boost its connection to audiences in Southern California. They have become, in no uncertain terms, advocates for engagement journalism and realize the potential that it has to do the most good — inspiration to anyone beginning a career in journalism or assessing their next steps.
The potential for engagement journalism is vast — however no two reporters or news organizations are alike. Indeed, the adaptation of engagement journalism in newsrooms is something that will not catch on overnight — and like the question of if there is a better way to do journalism, the task of convincing the ingrained culture of journalism of why it must be done like this will be just as daunting — as Bridget Thoreson of the engagement journalism organization Hearken explained in a recent Twitter thread, equating the development of engagement journalism to the plot of the 1982 film “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.”
There will be no uniform way that news organizations approach engagement journalism, or for that matter conduct it, yet one thing is clear — engagement journalism is the future, and its something that must be embraced for the industry’s sake. We can be better reporters because of this. We can enhance the morale of our profession because of this. We can do more than what we ever thought imaginable because of this.
We can do this — if only we listen and engage.
So, if you’re thinking about your next steps and wondering if there is a better way to do journalism, there is. Its ideas are profound, its people are inspiring, and its impact can be long lasting. It can help make journalism better, offer potential to restore trust with the audience and allow us to truly make a difference for the world — and with all of the concerns about what all of journalism’s changes will mean, this is something to be excited about.
Editor’s note: This piece was amended at 6:49pm CT on July 21 for clarity.