Session looks to inspire, connect editors around community engagement

By Jennifer Neutel

ASNE, Journalism That Matters project will share insights, invite others to get involved


As news editors from across the country convene next week, those involved in hosting a session on Growing Audience through Engaging Communities hope to see attendees inspired by experiments from their colleagues and motivated to try new ways of getting involved in their communities.

“News consumers are slipping away from legacy media that tend to be one-way pipelines for spreading the news. In today’s news ecology it’s all about interaction and personal engagement with news and events,” says Chris Peck, incoming American Society of News Editors (ASNE) president.

A partnership project between ASNE and Journalism That Matters is hosting the session at the ASNE and Associated Press Media Editors (APME) conference, which takes place Sept. 15-17 in Chicago.

The Engagement Hub has been created as part of the project, serving as a peer-to-peer learning network and online meeting space.

“The Engagement Hub project will help media old and new better connect with the rich and varied communities that are looking for ways to become more involved with news,” Peck says.

Why does community engagement matter in newsrooms now?

With the current difficult times for newspaper newsrooms, a lot is expected of people and it’s understandable that there is some fatigue around diversity and inclusion, says Mike Fancher, interim director at the Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement at the University of Oregon and co-chair of ASNE’s diversity committee.

“What we hope to do is excite people about the benefits that can be gained from going at diversity and inclusion from a more community-based approach,” he says.

The ASNE and Journalism That Matters project has engaged three pilot sites who are experimenting with innovative ways to engage their communities: We Create Here (The Gazette Company, Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Unite Rochester (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y.); and Oakland Voices (The Oakland Tribune, Oakland, Calif.).

Part of the project’s intent is to learn and experiment with new things in communities and newsrooms and bring that back to ASNE and APME members. The session provides the opportunity to do that.

“Being richly engaged with the community can have an uplifting, motivating effect,” Fancher says. “We’d like to inspire editors to look at these examples, think about what they might do, try some new approaches and use the interactivity of digital communication and community-building, both face-to-face and virtual.”

Fancher will moderate the conference session with Peggy Holman, Journalism That Matters executive director and co-founder.

Holman notes the events around Ferguson, MO, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in August sparked unrest in the St. Louis suburb, make the need to connect with community clearer, especially for those who feel marginalized or unheard.

“The events in Ferguson make the importance of understanding diverse points of view even more critical,” she says. “At a practical level, it brings both the challenge and opportunity for newspapers to reach an audience beyond the usual suspects in new ways.”

When issues like Ferguson arise there should be an impulse for journalists to want to connect with their community and identify questions and concerns people have, Fancher says, but this outreach can feel risky. The Engagement Hub is a resource where people can share what and how they are engaging their communities and benefit from one another’s insights, he adds.

Knowing how to engage with communities face-to-face around complex and important issues is an important skill to develop, Holman says.

“Some of what we’ve seen from the people with whom we’ve been working is the act of the news organization bringing people together around an issue can lead to unexpected insights and answers,” she says.

Why is audience engagement important?

News organizations need to engage more effectively with their communities for a variety of reasons including to build audience loyalty and relationships for business reasons, Fancher says. Readers need to feel the news content produced is relevant to their lives, he notes.

The current networked reality allows people to gather and share information that they once needed professionals to do on their behalf.

“That’s the fundamental change in the equation between news producers and news consumers. The reality of that means that news producers need to have a stronger connection with the people they are trying to serve,” Fancher says.

Another factor is newsrooms are trying to diversity their staff to more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

“There’s a commercial imperative and I think there’s a journalistic imperative – you can’t accurately reflect your community, you can’t be relevant to your community if you are not deeply in touch with that community,” Fancher says.

What does the session include?

Participants at the session will see three short videos highlighting the work of the three pilot sites. This will be followed by conversation about the three sites, what insight they offer to situations like Ferguson, and implications for attendees’ own newsrooms.

The hope is people will take away key lessons and use the Engagement Hub platform to continue the connections and conversation.

“ASNE members will see real-life examples of how news organizations are trying to listen better and involve their communities more directly in framing of the news,” Peck says of the session. “These two skills — listening and engagement — will be crucial to the long-term viability of local news organizations.”

Holman says she is viewing the ASNE-APME session as a pivot point for the project, as the interest it generates will determine what direction the initiative takes from here.

Representatives from the three pilot sites will be at the session, including: Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president of news, Democrat and Chronicle; Martin Reynolds, senior editor of engagement at the Bay Area News Group; and members of The Gazette Company’s We Create Here team, Quinn Pettifer, Kiran Sood, Sarah Binder, and Ben Kaplan.

To learn more about the ASNE-APME conference, visit

To read more about this session, view the agenda.

To learn more about the Engagement Hub and how to get involved e-mail

This story is written by Axiom News.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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