build engagement

“It’s time to launch creative solutions to increase staff size and resources without sacrificing quality — and do it with an eye to the uncertain future,” reads a quote from an American Press Institute report on how local news outlets can rebound and prosper in 2021. Good examples of that work are not hard to find in the U.S.

One local newsroom meeting that challenge is The Seattle Times. When the outlet decided to form a new reporting team, editors turned to community leaders for advice on what topic they wanted to receive deeper coverage. The response, overwhelmingly, was homelessness. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also supported that feedback: Between 2019 and 2020, Seattle/King County had the third highest increase in urban homeless population in the country.

This feedback led to the creation of Project Homeless, a beat that combines watchdog journalism, powerful storytelling and solutions-oriented articles. Grants from Starbucks, the University of Washington and other local donors have helped support the reporting.

This was the Seattle Times’ third community-funded reporting team. The first two focused on education and traffic. “These also came about by finding out what topics people wanted to know more about.  We look to our readers for advice and support,” said Anna Patrick, the engagement editor for Project Homeless.

On jump-starting innovative beats, she offered these tips:

  • Be sure you have resources and reporters to make it work — that is number one.
  • Try to find support through community funding.
  • Talk to people.  Find out what they want and need to know. Ask them what they care most about.
  • Create a reporting plan to deliver the information.
  • “I highly recommend engaging the community right away.  You will be off to a much better start,” said Patrick.

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    by Sherry Ricchiardi, International Journalists’ Network

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