Journalism That Matters (JTM) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that for 16 years has convened local, regional, and national gatherings that bring together diverse stakeholders including journalists, technologists, city planners, artists, community activists, and others to explore the emerging news and information ecosystem. During 2008, a period of massive disruptions in traditional advertiser-driven media models, devastating cuts to news staff exacerbated by an economic recession and the emergence of social media and digital engagement platforms, Journalism That Matters brought together journalists and technologists. For the conference, JTM described the emerging news ecosystem with new actors at the table, as noted in this graphic from the __NewsTools__ gathering of journalists and technologists in Silicon Valley.

From this work, as well as through media innovation gatherings in __Detroit__ and __Greensboro__, North Carolina, called Create or Die, JTM began to focus on local invention as a way to enhance democracy at the local level. Our work with the __Engagement Hub__, a website of case studies and resources for community engagement, illuminated media innovation experiments happening across the United States.

In October 2015, with “engagement” entering journalism’s lexicon, Journalism That Matters and the Agora Journalism Center cohosted “__Experience Engagement__” (EE2015), a participatory event in Portland, Oregon, during which 105 journalists, educators, researchers, policy makers, students, and other engaged citizens worked together to imagine and design a model of community-focused civic journalism for the digital age.
We started from the assumption that journalism and community are inseparable:
  • Information health is vital to community well-being.
  • Journalism is vital to community information health.
  • Community support is vital to journalism.
Our operating assumption was that engagement is a promising intersection that may generate trust and actions that support journalism and communities to thrive. The assumption was explored in dozens of discussions that were captured in __session notes__.
In the first phase of the Developmental Evaluation, a small team from JTM examined materials from the conference to synthesize what had transpired at the convening. The work resulted in the __report__ “A civic communications ecosystem that supports communities to thrive: Journalism of, by and for all.”

external image PfX4KgJuIqU5eq25keNuloQ-frw5k1-sxVDARkEHX6f0SwuEzCBeTfV1Ikc7gGOMo66-3o89KLSbJ8qupVUhDGOlb6kZu8n1dp9zOYr_MZSreBOZpRknA51XamxPDDACkw

Framework 1.0
The report articulated the notion that journalism of, by, and for all means:
  • Strengthening the communications capacity within communities, including creating a culture in which people tell their own stories in their own voices (the left-hand circle);
  • Strengthening the engagement capacity within journalism, expanding the traditional role of journalism to be more participatory (the right-hand circle);
  • Fostering a new symbiotic relationship between communities and journalism; developing a community of practice (the overlapping center).
The report called out three Guiding Principles (listed in the arc above the circles) for fostering an emerging symbiotic relationship between communities and journalism, noted here and described in more depth further in the report:
  • Nothing about us without us
  • Speak truth to empower
  • Listening is our superpower
The Developmental Evaluation report further observed that discussions among EE2015 participants pointed to the possibility of a “Third Way,” a communications ecosystem that cultivates a thriving, civic sphere of engagement. The report said:

Today’s communication ecosystems need to inform, but also to inspire, engage and activate the public. We need structures for engagement and storytelling that help us learn about ourselves, each other, our world, and to name and act on shared aspirations. To be a sustainable, thriving ecosystem, communication needs to go beyond “reporting” what is happening in the ecosystem to providing robust information, inclusive dialogue, and collaborative action that achieves community goals.
The “third way” for engagement that participants articulated moves beyond journalism as the principal agent of information to ask the broader question:
What would journalism look like if it were generated from within community rather than FOR community?
This question was the foundation of the second phase of the Developmental Evaluation project, where the team spent about nine months collaborating with two journalism-related community engagement projects and followed the work of a few others to learn how the EE2015 principles articulated in the __report__ operate at the local level and how they can inform and support new, emerging engagement efforts. Specifically, we worked with:
  • The Macon Listening Post, implemented in Macon, Georgia, used the __GroundSource__ platform developed by Andrew Haeg. The project sought “to use text messaging and community outreach tactics to inform and engage a substantial number of Maconites in a weekly conversation about emerging stories and issues, creating a civil, experience-based conversation about issues facing the city.”
  • One Issue, Many Perspectives/__Open:Housing__, led by the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon, is a community-wide collaboration aimed at creating inclusive, informed, cross-sector public conversations and journalism leading to real housing solutions in the Portland, Oregon, area. It aspires to connect people and organizations involved in housing issues with journalists who are covering it.
  • As a team and as individual team members, we followed and learned from a number of other engagement projects, including: A Vision for Education in Washington State, where people involved in a divisive battle to amply fund education held generative conversations to imagine a shared vision; __What’s Next West Virginia__, a statewide effort supporting conversations to imagine a vibrant future; and __Flip It! Disruptive Ways to Engage Untapped Audiences__, a project with the American Society of News Editors and newspapers in Dallas, St. Louis, and Minneapolis.