What “engagement” means to The Terminal and Andre Natta

Kathleen Majorsky is a Mizzou masters student. She is fascinated by new media, and this is her second involvement with an RJI project. She is working with Joy Mayer this semester on how information providers define engagement. She interviewed Andre Natta and wrote this post.

The Terminal, a hyperlocal news site in Birmingham, Ala., is relaunching later this month to try new ways to tell the city’s stories, and Publisher and Managing Editor Andre Natta says one of his motivations is to increase his engagement with the community.

“I think engagement means building a relationship with the community that likes your site. It is thinking of ways to make it easier to have those conversations, whether they are online or offline,” Natta says.

Those conversations are what drive the mission of The Terminal’s, which launched in 2007. Natta wants the current story of Birmingham told, and one way he does that is through Twitter chats. Most Tuesday nights, The Terminal has a Twitter chat to talk to the community about what is going on in Birmingham, with the hashtag #bhamchat.

At least some of Natta’s engagement efforts happen in person. “I would say, about two or three days a week, I will have office hours at a coffee shop — to have a couple of hours to tell people that if they are free and you want to throw ideas out there, come on over,” Natta says.

He seems to think outside the legacy newsroom box, especially when it comes to engaging Birmingham. This is encouraging for me to see. Journalists are taught to challenge the status quo of institutions like government and big business. And as the journalism industry gets shaken up, journalists are called to challenge the status of quo of its own institutions.

A lot of the people who are starting up sites like The Terminal do not come from traditional journalism backgrounds. Natta spent the majority of his career in urban revitalization and hospitality before The Terminal. One result is that the journalistic principle of independence is starting to look blurry. But that’s okay, at least for Natta.

“I know a lot of legacy media is still very much in the habit of saying you can’t be active in organizations or stuff like that, but you should find some way to be active in something in your community, anything at all. I think it would help in terms of engaging with people. You have some people who detach themselves at certain points. It is all about how you engage with people in public. They impact the tips you get, the stories you get,” Natta says.

This kind of attitude toward doing journalism has definitely affected the relationship the Birmingham community has with The Terminal and Natta. “I think community members would describe our relationship as a fairly transparent one. They know what’s on my mind. They know they can go ahead and share information.”

To me, this makes sense. It’s hard to develop trust with your community when they don’t know who you are. Journalism of new seems to be taking a page from kindergarten: tell the truth, treat others as you want to be treated and listen.

— Kathleen Majorsky

This was originally posted on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I am a 2010-2011 fellow.


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