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June 1, 2015

Fueling The Growth of Community-Driven Journalism

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A preview of the Engage Local conference on the intersection between local news and community engagement, June 16 in Newark, New Jersey.

Access to ubiquitous metrics in newsrooms have framed a lot of conversations about community engagement and listening in terms of what we can learn from data. This treats engagement as a kind of science that we can test and measure, but also privileges certain modes of engagement — namely online and social.

But engagement is much more than that.

Later this month journalists from across the country will gather together in Newark, New Jersey, for the Engage Local conference, sponsored by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Conference organizers are calling, “An immersion into the art of community engagement.” The agenda features a diverse roster of journalists including: Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, Carrie Brown of the new CUNY social journalism program, Sarah Glover who works with NBC’s 11 local stations, Mandy Jenkins of Storyfull, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center, Ju Don Roberts of LifePosts, Elaine Chen of WNYC and Cole Goins of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Building trust, collaborating with the public and deepening relationships between journalists and community is both an art and a science, and the conference will feature terrific speakers who draw from both those sectors to design more community-driven media.

Journalism Gets Better When More People Do It

A number of sessions at the conference will explore how community engagement and participatory reporting can transform the journalism process and enrich the stories we tell. Journalists from ClearHealthCosts and ProPublica will discuss how crowdsourcing dataset can draw in audiences and keep them coming back for more. Participants will also explore the role of video as a platform for engagement with Mic, NJTV and NJ.com.

In a recent post on Medium, Liz Kelly Nelson, Director, Strategic Consumer Engagement at Gannett, wrote that in discussions about new journalism platforms we often forget the most important one: Real Life. “Think community forums, symposiums, curated dinners, one-of-a-kind behind-the-scenes tours, concerts, hikes with Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental reporters,” she wrote. At Engaged Local, Nelson will be talking about how entire newsrooms, not just individual journalists, can think about engagement.

Journalism Gets Stronger When More People Have a Stake In It

Community engagement doesn’t just improve our reporting, it also strengthens the stability and sustainability of our newsrooms. Jake Batsell, author of the recently published book Engaged Journalism, recently said in an interview that engagement is about much more that tweets and Facebook posts. “It’s about really and authentically integrating the audience into your work and mind when doing your job. It’s a way to not only deepen and engage loyalty, but it’s also a revenue opportunity.”

Last year Batsell hosted a day long summit on new forms of revenue and he’ll be facilitating a session at Engage Local on community-driven revenue strategies from Kickstarter to events and newsletters. There will also be an entire panel dedicated to creative event strategies as new revenue streams. Susan Mernit will also discuss how she raised money for her newsroom Oakland Local, by expanding the role of news to digital literacy and training.

Fueling the Growth of Engagement Nationwide

In community engagement, the first step is often just showing up. There is power in simply being available, of listening, of working side by side with our communities. That is also why it is so valuable to come together at an event like this.

Community engagement in news draws on a long history of practice from community organizing to civic journalism, but in its current form it is still an emerging practice. I’m encouraged by the growing number of events that are putting engagement center stage. Be sure to review all the great lessons from Dissecting Engagement at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the University of Oregon’s “What is Journalism?” conference.

Engage Local will add more fuel to the fire, building on those conversations and helping spark new ones. I hope I’ll see you in Newark.