The arrival of the impact producer

“As media consumers, we have access to more and better content that we can ever digest in many lifetimes; the problem journalism faces is how most effectively to inform, engage, target, and influence the right audiences with the right content.”

I predict that this will be the year when, for the first time, a journalism organization will fill the position of an impact producer.

The debate is still open about where journalism ends and advocacy begins, and it is important for journalists to keep an attentive eye on those lines. However, very few will now debate that journalism has a mission — it always has. Media is, at its best, at the forefront of halting the biggest abuses. At a minimum, it is capable of defining conversations and setting the agenda. Columbia University’s Anya Schiffrin in Global Muckraking articulates better than anyone that “journalists have been calling attention to some of the same problems for more than a hundred years.” Their writing has had significant impact and a wave of “committed and campaigning journalism” always existed in moments where a “general climate of intellectual ferment and political activism” called for it. This sounds like today!

Questions of impact are at the core of the role that journalism ought to be playing. Journalism matters, but the question we are posed with is: What journalism matters most? As media consumers, we have access to more and better content that we can ever digest in many lifetimes; the problem journalism faces is how most effectively to inform, engage, target, and influence the right audiences with the right content. Whether it is to inform citizens, or to affect perceptions about their reality, the media needs a transformational purpose. Parallel to the crises of media, but completely related, the media still needs to repurpose itself, a service, to produce news that can be used.

I would say all media organizations believe that they tell stories and provide information because they want to help their audience to make better choices, be aware of something, or change their social and political environments for the better. The question of impact becomes vital.

Impact, however each organization defines it, is achieved through journalism, but with the help of the audience, a community of interest, or civil society in general, this impact can be multiply exponentially: to achieve systematic change, media needs deep structural relationships with the community they serve, and take the media-driven effects to meaningful collective impact.

This will be the role of the impact producer, common already in the documentary space. Just as films have producers to manage the creative and financial process from script to screen, they also need impact producers to take the film campaign from production to impact.

An impact producer will be someone who will help the newsroom by helping define the ambition of the content produced, overseeing the education, outreach, and online community management, and playing the roles of evaluator and fundraiser.

Miguel Castro is senior officer for global media partnerships at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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