As a newsroom manager, those who consume your content are critical to all aspects of the storytelling operation. Civic participation should add value to the type of stories that are told, better inform communities and foster relationships beyond a singular piece of news coverage.
But, getting buy-in from both communities and your news consuming audience is another matter. Is there a legacy of distrust in a specific community? Do community members feel like their voices are heard and represented by your outlet? And, have you tried outreach efforts in the past? What worked? What didn’t?
Encouraging civic participation doesn’t just stop at helping people be informed, but also equipping them with ways to learn more, engage and even take action.
Guides & Best Practices
Reynolds Journalism Institute
“Creating Community-Driven Journalism that Encourages Civic Engagement”
This eight-step guide from Reynolds Journalism Institute based on the work of Canadian news outlet The Green Line suggests an entire action journey to help draw people into a topic and equip them to take action. From their experience, they’ve found that creating initial content with a lighter tone, and even working with comedians, can draw more engagement. From there, they map out additional forms of content and delivery that can help the public work to do collective sense-making, learn about solutions and become part of solving the issues no one person can tackle alone.
Journalism That Matters
“The Art of Engagement: The Role of Journalism in a Civic Infrastructure”
This guide, borne out of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation Conference, stresses the importance of journalists convening with their audience. For example, instead of a newsroom, journalism could be conducted in a university or a library. Moreover, reporters and newsrooms can consider partnering with civic catalysts in the community. The guide also mentions increasing the diversity of sources in stories as well as the experimenting with different types of storytelling. An interactive game can explain your local government’s fiscal budget, as an example.
“Trusted messengers: How community engagement journalism is uniquely positioned to slow the spread of mis/disinformation”
This comprehensive PEN America tip sheet first notes that community engagement helps combat social media disinformation, as well as the decline of local journalism overall. Newsrooms hoping for community engagement need to define what that means internally, come up with success metrics and differentiate between community engagement and audience engagement. Moreover, when responding to the community, they recommend creating a feedback loop and responding with a personal touch. As far as what not to do, don’t parachute into a community or ignore harmful historical context between the media and the community.
American Press Institute
“How to Engage Your Audiences in 5 Key Steps”
This five-step, American Press Institute guide notes that community engagement is more than just delivering a product and it’s not one-size-fits-all, either. First, decide what audience you want to reach and what you hope to learn from said audience. Then, connect with the community either online (a hashtag, a Facebook group, and so on) or offline. On the latter, one newspaper even printed out story teasers as flyers at a local football game. Also, consider making it easier for the community to contribute content by being transparent about what you’re looking for.
Resolve Philly is a journalism organization that seeks to improve the misrepresentation of communities in media coverage and has a resource library that’s a good starting point for generic civic participation needs that goes well beyond Philadelphia proper. From mini-content audits to project evaluations, your newsroom can get as granular as possible in this area.
Hearken is a social impact consultancy that provides newsrooms with strategies and technology to better incorporate the public into the reporting process. They offer workshops, technologies and best practices (including the Democracy Toolkit site).
“When emotion trumps information: The importance of storytelling in promoting civic participation” by Martin Kaplan
The Lenfest Institute
“A new Gallup/Knight Foundation study shows the connection between local news and civic engagement. Here’s how we’re working to address its key findings” by Elise Goldstein
Pew Research Center
“Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits” by Michael Barthel, Jesse Holcomb, Jessica Mahone and Amy Mitchell