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Community Engagement in the Press

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community engagement in the press


It looks pretty clear that small and large see community engagement as a key part of the future of news.

Joy Mayer has been doing research and producing real-world guidance for newsrooms on audience engagement for several years and she looks one of the most prominent specialists in the ares.

As Melaine Sill wrote, while others have taken on parts of the puzzle, Mayer has become an unofficial minister of engagement for journalism professionals—speaking, blogging and evangelizing about findings from the fellowship project she dubbed “Ditch the Lecture. Join the Conversation.”


On Monday, the RJI web site published the last and most significant result of Mayer’s work, a guide called “Community engagement: A practical conversation for newsrooms.

A few lessons she heard time and again and she described in her blog:

As a newsroom, know what your mission is. What do you value? What do you stand for? What does your community value in you? Do you re-evaluate those answers periodically? Are you adapting as community needs change, and as other information sources in your community change? Are you making long-term decisions, and daily decisions, based on the answers to these questions?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to community engagement. Some of the strategies were suggested by national news outlets. Others came from community startups. Some are digital and some are analog (and many work either way). Find those that work for you and focus on those. Make sure, though, that you allow room for roles and strategies that you might not have considered in more straight-forward times. Consider a range of possibilities.

Approach each strategy or project with goals. Know what you hope to achieve. Have an agreed-upon, stated objective, followed by a plan to measure success. It’s hard to value what you can’t measure. Think broadly about measurement — it’s not just about page views. Measurement can mean the number of in-person participants in an event, the time spent on site with collaborative projects, the number of inbound or outbound links from your site, the civility of comments (yes, that can be measured), or the origin of story ideas. There are suggestions throughout this document, and click here for a link to a report that came out of a workshop on measuring engagement.

It followed the July publication of another resource offering both inspiration and instruction for newsrooms, “The Engagement Metric,” which Mayer and Reuben Stern edited to capture ideas from a May brainstorming and strategy gathering at RJI.

Recently, Mayer has done presentations for conferences of alternative news media, copy editors and journalism educators. She’ll travel in September to the News Design convention and to Block by Block: Community News Summit 2011, which RJI co-sponsors.

Mayer’s strong opinions about engagement are built on her journalism experience and her research. She helped produce an engagement survey of community daily newspapers (100,000 circulation or less) based on telephone interviews with 529 editors by RJI’s Center for Advanced Social Research.

The findings showed that editors and newsrooms are using social media, Web analytics and other tools, but indicated that there’s still a lot of sorting out going on about what these methods mean for both business and journalism goals.

Mayer also interviewed many of the top thinkers and practitioners experimenting with new engagement approaches for her project, sharing along the way via her RJI blog.

Now that her fellowship has ended, Mayer is back in the Missourian newsroom and eager to practice what she’s been preaching through a new student team at the paper and a participatory journalism class she’ll be teaching.

Her “Dear Reader” column published Aug. 9 set out Mayer’s hopes for the engagement effort at the Missourian, which has been inviting community and reader participation for years via

Value statements of the guide

More tips about community-engagement from her include:

Our core audience feels a connection with us.
We actively reach beyond our core audience.
We appear to be and actually are accessible, as a newsroom and as individual journalists.
Individual community members feel invited into our processes and products and encouraged to help shape our agenda.
We find ways to listen to and be in continual conversation with our community.
We continually alter what we cover, and how, based on what the audience responds to.
It is easy for community members to share their expertise and experiences, and we value their contributions.
We amplify community voices besides our own.
We invest in our community and are seen as a community resource.
Our content reaches the audience where, when and how it’s most useful or meaningful.
There are a variety of ways users can act on, share and react to our news and information.

If your goal is to get a conversation going in your newsroom, let me tell you how I envision this guide helping. (The method has been road tested by my colleagues at the Columbia Missourian, and I’m grateful for their patience, support and feedback.)

Print out the large value statements and tape them up on the walls of a meeting room. Let folks take a few minutes to read over them.
Give each person cut up pieces of post-it notes and ask them to put one on the three statements they think your newsroom needs to focus on most.
Regroup the pieces of paper by priority, so you can visualize where the consensus is. Regroup according to the number of post-it notes, so the tally is clear.
Invite participants to talk more about statements they voted for that didn’t get a lot of other votes. Ask each person if their top idea made the cut. Give folks a chance to explain what they value most and to talk the rest of the room into discussing what’s important to them.
Then, as a facilitator, pull out the discussion guide pages for the three to five ideas you want to start with. (Save the other vote-getters for future conversations.) Project each on a screen so the room can see them, or hand out physical copies.
For each idea, spend a few minutes talking through the discussion questions. See if you’re working from common definitions, and where there is tension that will need to be addressed.
Then look over the list of strategies. Cross off the ones that don’t fit the mission of your newsroom or that you’re already doing. Ignore for now the ones you’re not quite ready for. My hope is that there are some left that will help you get started.


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