Let’s have practical conversations, in real newsrooms, about focusing on the community

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.

Not that all journalists everywhere haven’t been on the edge of their seats reading the report from the seminar I hosted on measuring engagement, my PhD student’s report about the concept of engagement in other disciplines and the survey of the audience habits of 500 daily newspaper editors.

I mean, what’s not to love?

My goals for this engagement guide are:
— To reinforce that, when it comes to audience relationships, different strategies are right for different newsrooms.
— To empower any journalist to get conversations started in her own newsroom, regardless of her level of authority.
— To keep the focus on concrete solutions and ideas.

A lot of the strategies in the guide came directly from newsrooms I interviewed over the course of my fellowship. Others I read about, adapted from other industries or dreamed up on my own. Some are much more radical than others.

Some could be right for one newsroom and absolutely wrong for another — which is why the guide is not prescriptive. It is meant as an aide, a conversation starter and a reinforcer. It gets more fun for me the more I get to help specific newsrooms drill down about what will work for them.

I’ve been working on this off and on for months, and I’m excited to get to share it. But I won’t really feel good about it until I hear that people are using it, and that it’s helping. So please take a few minutes and send me your feedback and anecdotes if you can. I’ll be using the guide, too, with my new Community Outreach team at the Columbia Missourian. I’m lucky enough to have a real newsroom to experiment in after my fellowship year.


p.s. A huge thanks to Melanie Sill, a USC Annenberg executive in residence, for the far-too-complimentary write-up about my work on the Knight Digital Media Center blog this morning. The “minister of engagement” title makes me want to read the whole thing in a British accent and come to work in robes!

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