Community engagement is a significant buzzword in the journalism/news media world today. Some people say it and mean digital community curation. Some people say it and mean social media management. Some people say it and mean in-person interactions with the community. My work in community engagement involves elements of all three things but it, and all the journalism I do, falls under what I call an "engagement ethos."
To me, at it's heart, community engagement means:
- being where the community is at
- communicating the way the community wants/needs
- providing transparent public service to the community
- reflecting the diversity of voices in the community
I've been studying community engagement since 2011, when I began independent study work with noted awesome journalist/engagement guru Joy Mayer at the University of Missouri, going on to be a part of the inaugural Community Outreach Team at the Columbia Missourian and the team's Assistant Director of Community Outreach for nearly two years. In 2013, I wrote my Master's thesis on how engagement editors assess the success of their work, uncovering the different motivations for doing community engagement work in newsrooms.
Today, I imbue community engagement into my journalistic work in different ways:
- Daily, targeted outreach + responding to voice calls, voice mails, emails, text messages, and social media communications on specific topics during the hour-long public affairs and cultural talk show I produce
- Tabling and creating community listening/recording sessions to hear what is important in the communities we cover.
- Traveling to coffee shops around the area with a sign reading "I'm a journalist, ask me anything or tell me anything I should know."
- Incorporating the Public Insight Network and Hearken model (so smart!) into talk show production, directly answering listener/audience questions and bringing them into the journalism process.
- ‘Why are St. Louisans so fixated on where other people went to high school?’
- 'What gives Natural Bridge Road its name?'
- 'What’s happening with ‘The Trestle’ in north St. Louis?'
- 'What's the current situation with Sugar Loaf Mound?'
- 'What is the history and current status of the velodrome off of Hwy. 70?'
- A million questions about traffic in St. Louis
- Organizing in-person educational panels such as:
- So you want to start a podcast, St. Louis? - which included a panel to teach you how to start your own podcast and resources in the event space to talk one-on-one
- Town Hall: What you need to know about Missouri's ballot measures
- Starting conversations around trust in the news media
- Acting as a newsroom advocate and interviewing local news consumers about trust for a nationwide study on the subject