Wan-Ifra finds out positive side of engaged journalism

Media expert says community-centered journalism can rebuild trust on newsroom

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With the advent of social media, the global news industry is facing a challenging time as the credibility of news and views have been marred in controversies. In an interview with Wan-Ifra, Kim Bode, community and product operations manager at News Deeply and adjunct professor at the New York University said that the need of the hour is to focus on community-centred or engaged journalism.

Bode was of the view that community-centred or engaged journalism puts the people first who are most affected by or interested in the issues that are being covered. It reflects the principles of human-centred design, which aims to build products that are actually serving the needs of the people they’re for. It can be easily differentiated from the ‘audience’ who can be categorized as anonymous crowds of mostly passive journalism consumers.

She was of the view that, if implemented, engaged journalism can enhance the trust of the communities that are covered in news stories in a significant way. Engaged or community-centred journalism often works well in newsrooms that have dedicated engagement reporters, editors or entire teams. Usually, newsrooms have a large array of tools and techniques that make it much easier for journalists to engage with communities in a meaningful way.

Bode believes that listening to the community increases trust. To prove her claim she cites that a growing community of journalists, researchers and other practitioners are working on this and are continuously sharing their findings. Joy Mayer, who is the director of TrustingNews.org and community manager of Gather, has done some incredible work on this.

There are a number of organizations that have been studying this phenomenon, collecting case studies and distributing best practices like Democracy Fund, Free Press, American Press Institute, The Membership Puzzle, Hearken, GroundSource, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Engaged Journalism Accelerator by the European Journalism Center.

Some universities have also done some interesting research, and the Newmark Journalism School at CUNY even has an entire program dedicated to it directed by Carrie Brown. And then there are many newsrooms, that are already practising community-centred journalism. They measure the success of these initiatives against their own benchmarks, for which they usually look at a combination of quantitative and qualitative data. What’s really great about this community is that engagement folks are very collaborative and not shy to share what’s been working for their organization, in the spirit of bringing the industry forward as a whole.

According to Bode, a change of attitude is the most important requisite to implement the process of engaged journalism in any newsroom. A change in newsroom processes is also needed. Because many newsrooms struggle with it, in many different contexts. While a culture shift is essential for implementing community-centred journalism, workflows and processes are crucial to make it happen. The process should start and end with the people – before there’s even an idea for a story or a product. So first it’s important to find out more about the communities affected, how they interact, what they’re interested in, who they trust. This can be researched and mapped out.

Once a story or an issue is identified, a newsroom can think about the best ways to interact with the community. According to Bode, it might make sense to join a Facebook or a WhatsApp group, to distribute a form, to text, message or email, maybe none of these are useful or maybe all of them.

Community-centred journalism is not confined within just content, rather it depends on the processes and workflows. The content should speak to the community’s information needs and elevate some of their voices. In any case, it’s important to figure out the best ways to communicate with the community and precisely explain how newsroom would like to gather feedback or any other kind of input.

In many instances, “community journalism” is seen as local journalism. But many communities share common interests while their members aren’t anywhere close to each other geographically, even more so today when the internet makes it so easy to interact remotely.

Bode agreed that more has been done and tried on the hyper-local and local level. At the same time, some national newsrooms like Vox, ProPublica or Zeit Online publications have had great successes involving communities as well as single subject publications.