I recently attended the American Society of News Editors‘ conference on news organizations and their efforts to engage the community. But instead of sitting back at the swanky, downtown Hyatt ballroom and letting the presentation wash over me, I soon found that I myself was being engaged, wether I liked it or not.
After a brief intro to the theme of the discussion, “Growing Audience Through Engaging Communities,” the crowd of reporters, editors and journalism students were shown some videos highlighting the recent work of three news organizations. But rather than listen to panelists give us their take on the videos, the audience was then asked to split into groups and discuss our thoughts and share ideas.
So my Columbia College cohorts and I bashfully shifted our chairs around and co-mingled with a couple of journalists, one of which was at the center of the day’s discussion.
Kiran Sood, from the Gazette of Cedar Rpaids, Iowa, was eager to share with us her work based in community outreach. She’s the Community Engagement Manager for, “We Create Here,” an online off-schute of the Gazette that focuses on community news and is inspired and created in part by the community itself. Not only is she helping to facilitate a more engaged approach to local news and reporting in general, but she’s spreading the gospel of outreach.
Sood told us she recently spoke at a black-tie affair on the issue of growing audience through community engagement. Much like the crowd at the Hyatt that afternoon, her black-tie onlookers were not expecting to become part of the presentation according to Sood. But they were also told to break out of their comfort zone and discuss with each other their thoughts, concerns and ideas on the topic at hand. “They were basically expecting a standard presentation with one-way traffic. But everyone really got into it, and we could demonstrate the kind of engagement we’re seeking in the community,” explained Sood smiling from ear to ear.
She and her team are doing the work that the Gazette has professed to doing for over 130 years, which is to serve the needs of the community. There’s just a new way of doing it, even if her team is still figuring out what that is exactly. “[W]e’re not sure what comes next, but we’re figuring it out as we go. The import thing is that we’re listening to the community,” said the Cedar Rapids journalist.
Here’s a list of Sood’s take-home lessons from this year’s conference.