A project of Democracy Fund

May 18, 2017

Borrow Ideas From These 28 Community Engagement Case Studies


Updated May 31, 2017

When it comes to newsroom practices, the term “engagement” contains multitudes. Over the years, it’s been used to refer to everything from readers lingering on an article to being moved to mobilize in the streets. But how can reporters and editors better understand the term and apply it in ways that increase trust in news and strengthen communities?

To help feed this ongoing discussion, Democracy Fund has supported two research projects. One, a report on “Pathways to Engagement” was released earlier this month. The newest project highlights the stories engagement through the eyes of local newsrooms.

28 projects to inspire your newsroom

screenshot of cover of case studies pdf

This week the Institute for Nonprofit News published a set of 28 quick case studies* that reveal how nonprofit newsrooms across the country are convening and engaging their audiences. Produced by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) and edited by Dot Connector Studio, this collection features a range of strategies employed by INN members, including crowdfunding, crowdsourcing of tips and stories, community storytelling, participatory urban planning, training of citizen journalists and more.

As an emerging practice in newsrooms, it is important to capture and share the stories of people who are trying to do journalism in new ways, with a diversity of partners and communities. This collection of case studies is inspiring, fascinating, and instructive for others who want to experiment with these ideas in their newsrooms.

Early themes from the case studies

Many of the newsrooms have found events to be an effective engagement tool, with a few such as The Lens in New Orleans moving beyond the traditional public fora. Lens staff hold regular morning chat coffee sessions and happy hours, which allow avid readers to offer feedback and story tips. In San Diego, inewssource invited members of their “Spotlight club”—a group of key donors interested in supporting investigative journalism—in for a tour their offices. Such experiments show the value of cultivating a small group of highly interested community members.

Another lesson from the case studies is that engagement is not a one-and-done endeavor.

Many of the newsrooms describe their projects as “ongoing”–even if that just means picking them up again each election cycle.

Share your examples

Do you have your own community engagement projects to share? Share them on Twitter to @TheLocalNewsLab. You can also find more examples and case studies on the platform Gather.

*This post was updated on May 31, 2017 to reflect the addition of two more case studies to the INN document, raising the number from 26 to 28. 


Jessica Clark Headshot

Jessica Clark is the founder and director of Dot Connector Studio, a Philadelphia-based media strategy and production firm, and a consultant to Democracy Fund’s Public Square program.