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Engaged journalism at Journalism Schools

Tuesday 26 January 2016, by SIGNIS

Oregon, Brussels, January 26th, 2016 (MediaShift/SIGNIS). “Redefining Engagement” is a special 11-part series on the progress, promise and potential challenges of community engagement in journalism. The series, produced by the Agora Journalism Center, will be published in serial this month by MediaShift. Click here for the full series.

Here’s the scoop on three projects and publications that are thinking bigger than social media metrics and putting community at the heart of their engagement.

Science & memory, UO School of journalism and communication

In 2013, SOJC senior instructor Mark Blaine helped launch the Science & Memory project in Cordova — a multi-year storytelling initiative that addresses complex climate and environmental issues from Oregon to Alaska. Unlike the media coverage of climate change that focuses on “news events,” such as historic droughts or superstorms, the SOJC team took a long-term approach with community engagement at its core.

“Our strategy wasn’t to go in with guns blazing and ask people what they think about climate change,” Blaine said. “We showed up and went to a lot of community functions, including ones that at first blush might not seem ‘on topic.’ But it’s about building trust. As we walk around town, people nod at us now. They’ve really opened the door.”

Intersections South LA, USC Annenberg School for communication and journalism

Launched in 2009, the Intersections project embraces the “nothing about us without us” ethos of community engagement, covering life in south Los Angeles with a mix of student reporting and community voices.

In its “Watts Revisited” project, the Intersections team partnered with local high-school students to report on the legacy of the 1965 Watts Riots, which left 34 people dead and sparked a national debate about issues of racial bias and structural inequality plaguing Los Angeles. The collaboration gave students from Augustus Hawkins High School an opportunity to collect and share the stories of their teachers, grandparents and fellow community members who experienced the tumultuous Watts riots and the aftermath that continues to unfold.

“We provided the storytelling tools, but we let the students tell the story,” said Jordyn Holman, an Intersections reporter who attended Experience Engagement. “For a lot of the students, the interviews helped them realize that those same issues are still problems today.”

The Columbia Missourian, University Of Missouri

As racial tensions at the University of Missouri sparked a high-profile hunger strike and days of protests on campus, The Missourian staff kept hearing from community members, most of them white, who were skeptical that racial prejudice remained a problem. In response, reporters spoke with students of color and recorded their accounts of everyday racism on campus — a first-person storytelling project that received more than 42,000 views within a week.

“As student journalists, we could say, ‘Hey, we’re living here, we’re experiencing this, we can tell you what’s really going on,’” said Claire Banderas, a reporter for The Missourian. “It was a lot of pressure, but also a cool opportunity to step up.”

Even competing against national publications, it’s hardly surprising that The Missourian’s student reporters served up some of the most engaged, insightful journalism to emerge from the protests. With an entire team devoted to community outreach, The Missourian staff has spent years — not days — learning about the community, and they’ve woven engagement into the newsroom’s DNA, experimenting with everything from reader contributions to old-fashioned pamphleting. As a result, when one of the biggest news stories of 2015 arrived in The Missourian’s backyard, its reporters were ready.

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