News Leadership 3.0

April 08, 2010

Engagement: A job for every journalist

Among emerging roles for journalists and news organizations, engaging online communities around news and information is vital. Here are some leads and encouragement for journalists and newsrooms who want to give it a try

There has been a lot of good writing and discussion lately about a new role for news providers: community engagement. I want to summarize key points and point to other posts about the topic and offer a few thoughts.

Voice of San Diego got the ball rolling last week when it posted an opening for an engagement editor:

“The pioneering news organization voiceofsandiego.org wants someone to revolutionize how it presents its content and engages the San Diego community. You will find creative ways—from e-mail to blogs to twitter and more—to deliver our service to San Diegans. You will also be a new age opinion editor, sparking dynamic debates and discussions on the site. And you will be a guide to our service, helping our users find the needed context to keep up with the complex local issues that determine San Diego’s quality of life.”

Steve Buttry then elaborated on his new role as Community Engagement Editor for Allbritton Communications’s soon-to-start local news site in Washington, D.C. Buttry said he hopes all of the journalists on the staff of this new organization will work on engagement. His team of six will help the newsroom up its game by coaching and performing jobs that don’t fit into more traditional news gathering and editing roles. “For instance, we will recruit and work with a network of bloggers in our metro area. On some community events that our staff won’t be covering, we will aggregate and curate content provided by the community or provide some platforms for the community to provide the coverage. Where our staff is covering an event, we will supplement that coverage by finding and soliciting community contributions,” Buttry said.

Finally, if you are interested in getting into the game, I recommend Angela Connor’s “18 Rules of Community Engagement.” Here is Angela’s presentation at KDMC’s recent Knight Community Information Challenge Boot Camp for Knight Foundation grantees who are developing news and engagement projects.

I have this additional advice for newsrooms that under take community engagement efforts:
- Be clear about your goals and how you will measure them. Be mindful that numbers may not tell the story. Often, engagement is not about drawing large numbers. It is about building a smaller community of loyal users, contributors and partners in your news endeavor.
- Don’t confused engagement editor with social media editor. Social media may be part of the engagement job but there’s a lot more to it, as Buttry notes.
- Assign or hire an engagement editor who will challenge staff and newsroom leaders alike. Let that person experiment even if it makes others uncomfortable. Help that person carry the message across the newsroom - help her articulate it and make it clear to everyone that you want the staff to listen and act.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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