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7

The year of the local engagement reporter

“I’ve lost count of all the new ways of asking people to share stories that I’ve seen this year.”

2019 marked a great year for the state of local engagement reporting, which is a term my ProPublica colleagues and I use to mean giving affected communities avenues to participate in the reporting we do. Lots of times, this looks like crowdsourcing and asking people to help us with our reporting through questionnaires, letters, emails, records requests, flyers, postcards, community meetups — the list goes on.

I’m predicting more of this is coming to local journalism in 2020. I think I have reason to be optimistic.

This year, The Fresno Bee hired an engagement reporter, Isabel Sophia Dieppa, as part of its Education Lab team. It added in a November post that its plans include community meetings and listening sessions.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia announced it’s hiring a Report For America corps member who will find stories through social media and community engagement. The job posting says that the reporter will pinpoint “communities interested in and affected by our journalism, enlisting their participation in our storytelling process and reporting stories in service of these communities.”

As an engagement reporter for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, our initiative to support local investigative reporting, I’m thrilled that more journalists are joining these ranks. These are just two newsroom positions and by no means the extent of the work happening. (To that end, if your newsroom has hired a position focused on reaching affected communities for journalism, I’d love to hear about it!) I’ve lost count of all the new ways of asking people to share stories that I’ve seen this year. I believed that engagement reporting could be a game-changer for local newsrooms and their communities when I applied for this job, and nearly two years into the role, I believe that even harder.

I can’t know all that went into the genesis of these newsroom positions. I’m thankful for my colleagues, editors and mentors, who’ve for years been blazing a path forward for engagement, shouting these mantras from rooftops and showing that the community makes our work stronger. They’ve no doubt made the road to getting the green light for crowdsourcing or a community meetup much easier for journalists in 2019 than it was in 2017. And I hope that newsrooms around the country are starting to see what I’ve seen in my time at ProPublica:

  • It means something to people when you, a journalist, can hold a listening session and tell people who’ve perhaps never talked to a journalist that you care about what they have to say.
  • It means something when you can show people data or a piece of reporting and explain why you think it matters to them, and then watch them take in the journalism.
  • It means something when you stop labeling communities as “hard to reach” and instead try harder to reach them — and actually succeed in doing that.

In a year when local newsrooms will think hard about venturing out of their daily coverage areas to report on the presidential election and aim to build trust while doing it, I hope more of them choose engagement strategies. I’m hopeful that they will.

Beena Raghavendran is an engagement reporter for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

2019 marked a great year for the state of local engagement reporting, which is a term my ProPublica colleagues and I use to mean giving affected communities avenues to participate in the reporting we do. Lots of times, this looks like crowdsourcing and asking people to help us with our reporting through questionnaires, letters, emails, records requests, flyers, postcards, community meetups — the list goes on.

I’m predicting more of this is coming to local journalism in 2020. I think I have reason to be optimistic.

This year, The Fresno Bee hired an engagement reporter, Isabel Sophia Dieppa, as part of its Education Lab team. It added in a November post that its plans include community meetings and listening sessions.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia announced it’s hiring a Report For America corps member who will find stories through social media and community engagement. The job posting says that the reporter will pinpoint “communities interested in and affected by our journalism, enlisting their participation in our storytelling process and reporting stories in service of these communities.”

As an engagement reporter for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, our initiative to support local investigative reporting, I’m thrilled that more journalists are joining these ranks. These are just two newsroom positions and by no means the extent of the work happening. (To that end, if your newsroom has hired a position focused on reaching affected communities for journalism, I’d love to hear about it!) I’ve lost count of all the new ways of asking people to share stories that I’ve seen this year. I believed that engagement reporting could be a game-changer for local newsrooms and their communities when I applied for this job, and nearly two years into the role, I believe that even harder.

I can’t know all that went into the genesis of these newsroom positions. I’m thankful for my colleagues, editors and mentors, who’ve for years been blazing a path forward for engagement, shouting these mantras from rooftops and showing that the community makes our work stronger. They’ve no doubt made the road to getting the green light for crowdsourcing or a community meetup much easier for journalists in 2019 than it was in 2017. And I hope that newsrooms around the country are starting to see what I’ve seen in my time at ProPublica:

  • It means something to people when you, a journalist, can hold a listening session and tell people who’ve perhaps never talked to a journalist that you care about what they have to say.
  • It means something when you can show people data or a piece of reporting and explain why you think it matters to them, and then watch them take in the journalism.
  • It means something when you stop labeling communities as “hard to reach” and instead try harder to reach them — and actually succeed in doing that.

In a year when local newsrooms will think hard about venturing out of their daily coverage areas to report on the presidential election and aim to build trust while doing it, I hope more of them choose engagement strategies. I’m hopeful that they will.

Beena Raghavendran is an engagement reporter for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

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