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Starting With Community: From Civic Journalism to Community Engagement

By Paul Waters / 2016 November 7th

This week in Chicago journalists from around the country will gather for the People-Powered Publishing Conference. The conference brings together innovators and pioneers who are connecting newsrooms and communities in new ways.

The Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program will be on hand at the event and is releasing a new paper, “How to Best Serve Communities: Reflections on Civic Journalism,” on the history of how newsrooms have partnered with their communities — from civic journalism to today’s engaged journalism.

This past August, our senior fellow Geneva Overholser wrote a blog post on the connections between civic journalism and engaged journalism. Geneva has expanded on this topic with a fuller reflection on the civic journalism movement in the ‘90s. In the paper she describes what civic journalism hoped to do and the lasting impact of ideas around engagement. We found this work to be very useful as we are in the beginning stages of developing a strategy to support engaged journalism.

In Geneva’s concluding thoughts she reflects that:

“Today’s engaged journalism, civic journalism’s replacement in this digital age, enjoys an utterly different environment from the one that confronted civic journalists — one in which disruption prevails, change is the new constant, and innovation is seen, almost universally, as essential. The contemporary movement is landing on far more fertile terrain.”

Engaged journalism repositions news and information as a service rooted in deep dialogue with the public rather than a product for them to consume. This kind of journalism understands that outlets can create better stories, stronger newsrooms, and more healthy communities by bringing people into the journalism process. Engagement generates feedback loops between audiences and outlets to improve relationships, representation, responsiveness, trust, and impact.

The Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program supports the practice of engaged journalism through research, relationships, convenings, and grants. Throughout this process, we will collect, share, and update learnings with the broader field to support a network of practitioners across the country. While this is a national trend, we’re especially interested to understand how it works on the local level.

Our belief is that this reorientation of local journalism towards engaged journalism is critical to fostering a thriving journalism landscape and a more engaged democracy. The people attending this week’s People-Powered Publishing Conference are on the front lines of this work and we look forward to learning from and with them. We hope that Geneva’s paper on civic journalism can provide the historical insight and direction to move forward in the context of financial collapse and technological disruption of traditional print and broadcast news.

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