Mixing journalism with engagement – why it’s worth it

Michael Caputo
Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media

Talking about how a paradigm has shifted is far different than doing things to accommodate that change.

That’s the idea behind a recent webinar that we did in partnership with the National Center for Media Engagement. The PIN team and NCME focused this first of a three-webinar series on making public forums work for journalism.

If newsrooms want to convene live conversations, then it makes a great deal of sense for those discussions to serve as news-gathering efforts. We laid out three steps to making live discussions serve reporters and stories:

  • Execute: A pre-event game plan in which you find on-the-ground sources for the topic and you learn about what they have to say before you get in the room. That makes the conversation more useable for journalism.
  • Experiment: Take chances with the format, the layout, the flow. Make sure you’re doing it make the conversation deeper.
  • Extend: Don’t let the conversation end at the close of the event. Keep it going online. Inform stories with the information. Let the work take you down new story paths and angles.

You can listen and watch the full webinar unfold by going the NCME website and clicking on the ” view webinar” link.

Or you can get a quicker snapshot here. Click the play button to move through the presentation:

In the webinar we also released a new guide to community conversations, called“Connecting community events to journalism – Strategies for creating a community conversation for public media station.”  The guide lays out the same engagement process as the webinar, and offers tips and links to easily available resources for putting together community conversations — even on a shoestring. You can download a PDF of the guide here.

Putting the guide and the webinar together led me to a couple of thoughts that reach beyond the best practices for editorial convening. Newsrooms need to understand that technology requires - demands - that we interact differently with the people our information serves. It’s not enough to talk about embracing the new. Now it must be put into daily action.

1) Networked journalists write as they learn, as they put things together, as they challenge assumptions. In other words, the networked journalist avoids hoarding information until a story is published. The networked reporter will go online and query stakeholders with the web. She will write posts as reporting develops. He will produce the fuller story and point back to material produced in support of it. The networked journalist will also keep the conversation alive. If done well, it makes reporting and storytelling a collaboration. And, let’s face it, the web demands that of us.

2) Lack of time can no longer be an excuse. Newsrooms must embrace this collaborative approach – and that likely means reprioritizing staff time. Can one reporter on a beat work in this collaborative style? Can the editor work as the collaborative arm of the newsroom? Can one staffer be the collaborator? That’s up to you. But newsrooms must invest in that time by shifting what gets done. If that happens, this networked journalism will pay content dividends down the road. (h/t toSteve Buttry, director of community engagement for the Journal Register Co.)

Michael Caputo Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media
A belief that journalism could better connect with those who need the information led Mike to the Public Insight Network in 2006. He served as a PIN journalist for the Minnesota Public Radio newsroom, then he coached and counseled newsrooms around the country on the PIN tools and the PIN approach.

Now as engagement manager, he focuses on the sources in PIN by designing strategies to grow the network, directing engagement with sources and assessing the source experience. He specializes in planning and convening forums that serve journalism, from roundtable discussions to events that can fill a hall.