Prepping for a class discussion on the powers of collaboration, I’m re-reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus. I was struck again by a specific passage that I just might read aloud to my newsroom this week.
Shirky tells the story of the little girl who, while watching a DVD, went behind the TV to look for the mouse.
He then writes:
Here’s something four-year-olds know: a screen without a mouse is missing something. Here’s something else they know: media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those things make me believe that the kind of participation we’re seeing today, in a relative handful of examples, is going to spread everywhere and to become the backbone of assumptions about how our culture should work. Four-year-olds, old enough to start absorbing the culture they live in but with little awareness of its antecedents, will not have to waste their time later trying to unlearn the lessons of a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island. They will just assume that media includes the possibilities of consuming, producing, and sharing side by side, and that those possibilities are open to everyone. How else would you do it?
The girl’s explanation has become my motto for what we might imagine from our newly connected world: we’re looking for the mouse.
This was first published on the RJI blog.
I spent last year at RJI studying audience engagement — reading, talking, interviewing, writing, more reading — and ended that year motivated to put what I’d learned into practice.
Luckily, the job I came back to was in a newsroom built on experimentation, with colleagues willing to go along on the engagement ride.
In August, we kicked off the Missourian’s community outreach team, made up of students in a class I teach called Participatory Journalism. (The class has existed for years and was developed by Clyde Bentley, also an RJI fellow.) This year, the focus of the class broadened to include more ways the relationship between journalists and their communities are changing.
The underlying principle lies in a diagram created by Meg Pickard at The Guardian, which crystallized my goals.
The team’s tasks are diverse. We started out with some specific goals, succeeded at some, failed at a few and adapted others. We made up a lot as we went along, and a spirit of experimentation and assessment guided us.
I want to share some highlights from our first four months, and I’d welcome your ideas, feedback and questions.
First published at the Missourian’s Transition blog.
On a Monday a few weeks ago, the Missourian’s community outreach team delivered a product that contributed to civic empowerment and democratic conversation. On the next Wednesday, I spent my day on a task that made me wholly uncomfortable.
All in all, not a bad week.
First I’ll discuss the pride. Then the discomfort.
I’m thrilled to be speaking this weekend at the Society for News Design annual shindig in St. Louis. My topic is a really happy marriage of the two primary focuses of my career: design and community engagement.
Turns out, they’re not so different.
Designers have long been speaking up for the consumption of information. For making information clear, accessible and enjoyable. That focus on the user experience is what I’ve always loved most about design, actually.
I’ll put my slides at the bottom of this post (though I’ve never made the kind of presentations that make much sense without the accompanying words coming out of my mouth).
The main purpose here is to share links to some of the projects and posts I mentioned in my talk. Usually, I make a custom Delicious tag and url, and just share that. But Delicious isn’t working so well these days. So here you go, folks who were in the audience today. And for the rest of you who stumbled by? Good luck making sense of this collection of randomness!
Once again, I’m coming away from Block by Block, a gathering of primarily local news startups, with dozens of innovative ideas and thought-provoking philosophies to chew on. Kudos to Michele McLellan and Jay Rosen for enabling this community of passion to get together.
Here’s some of what I learned and want to take back to my community outreach team at the Columbia Missourian.
— Engagement efforts can’t be the frosting on the cake. They’re the meat and potatoes and should make up your basic approach to community interactions. Don’t report a story, then figure out how to share it. Have a specific audience in mind from the idea-generation stage, and go about your reporting in a way that figures out how you can make sure the people who most want and need the content will find it.
First published at the Missourian’s Transition blog.
In August, I wrote to Missourian readers about what I hoped my new community outreach team would do. Now I’d like to share some of what we’re doing day to day.
Here’s a running list of the tasks we’re assigned, beginning with some routine ones and leading up to some exciting experiments. Many of these come straight out of the community engagement discussion guide I published as part of my fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Many are also inspired by or directly borrowed from what I learned through a series of interviews.
In my community engagement work, I’ve felt too often that I’ve reached only people who have already drunk the engagement kool-aid. I mean, who’s going to seek out research on audience unless they already know it’s important? Who’s going to follow a fellow’s blog, if not to find out more about something they already find interesting?
But what about the people who don’t already know they should be paying attention?
If anything I’ve done all year has the potential to help change cultures of non-believers, or at least the uninitiated, the discussion guide that published last night is it.
“Community engagement: A practical conversation for newsrooms” is the final product of my RJI fellowship. And I’ve known all year that it, or something like it, would be more useful and more understandable than my other reports.
I rely a lot on the research coming out of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, and I was thrilled this morning to get to hear Tom Rosenstiel himself speak to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies about the state of the media industry. It’s in New Orleans. At the Ritz. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
I was even more thrilled that his session was right before mine (which was about keeping the focus on the audience), because so much of the message I tried to get across was made more salient by the research he shared. In fact, I kept joking during my session that I was citing him too much! So Tom, thanks for the awesome intro you didn’t know you were giving!
Tom is one of the authors of “The Elements of Journalism,” a book that’s required for Mizzou journalism students. (I referenced it in a Nieman Reports piece this spring, adding my own obligation that I think journalists have to identify and attempt to connect with the audience.)
Tom shared some general observations about the changing culture of information consumption — nuggets of wisdom like:
— The power is shifting from journalists to their communities.
As part of my RJI fellowship, I conducted dozens of interviews with journalists and non-journalists about how a more social culture is changing the relationships between institutions and the people they serve. I talked to academics and practitioners. To people from the corporate world and nonprofit leaders. And I sought out journalists whose job duties include a focus on audience.
That’s what engagement really is, the way I’ve studied it: A focus on, respect for and enthusiasm about the role of the audience.
Of the many challenges news organizations confront, there is one that inspires my research, informs my teaching, and ignites my imagination. It involves the disintegrating connection between journalists and their audiences — the separation of journalists from their communities that has taken place through the years. With the notion of objectivity having become such a dominant strategy, sometimes this distancing has been intentional.