Conference via computer

Gather platform helps journalists who give the public a voice

In a media landscape increasingly influenced by social media and dogged by issues of public trust, a newer form of journalism that connects with communities is gaining traction with the help of the UO School of Journalism and Communication.

In this re-imagined approach, journalists are asking the public to tell them what is missing from stories about their communities and inviting their perspectives into the narrative. It’s an approach known as “engaged journalism.”

Andrew DeVigalTo help connect people working in engaged journalism, the School of Journalism and Communication’s Agora Journalism Center recently launched Gather, a project and platform to support community-minded journalists and other communications professionals. The platform consists of several parts, including a website with resources, best practices and case studies, and an opportunity to bring people together for 30-minute video “lightning chat” sessions focused on a different topic each month.

“Gather aims to bring journalists working in community engagement together so they can learn from each other’s experiences and further develop the practice of engaged journalism,” said Andrew DeVigal, the project’s executive director and the School of Journalism and Communication’s Chair in Journalism and Civic Engagement. “The purpose of the platform is to be able to showcase resources and projects from across the country, if not the globe, to strengthen the community of practice.”

The concept of an engaged journalism community-of-practice platform grew out of discussions at the Agora Journalism Center’s 2015 Experience Engagement conference, co-hosted with Journalism That Matters, which focused on how journalists can better interact with their communities to produce news that meets their needs.

“That’s where Andrew got the brilliant idea to build a way to keep those connections moving — to help people who were scattered all over the place be able to continue to learn from each other and support each other when something goes wrong or they’re not sure how to do something,” said Lori Shontz, one of several UO journalism instructors who attended the conference.

DeVigal secured a $221,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support the tool’s development. The Democracy Fund also provided a $100,000 grant to support three engaged journalism workshops the Agora Journalism Center will host in cities around the nation in November, December and January; all three will feature the new platform.

DeVigal said he plans to continue fine-tuning the platform in the coming year. The Gather team is seeking funding to create case studies that examine how members use the platform and demonstrate those ideas to others. The end result, DeVigal hopes, will be resources tailored to a variety of users.

“It’s not like you can take an inspiring project in Chicago and bring it to Portland using the same framework,” he explained. “Because each environment is so unique, you need to customize it based on the demands of that local news ecosystem.”

Those interested in joining the Gather community can request an invitation by filling out a form with information on their role, level of experience and interest in the field of engaged journalism.

“I really believe this platform is the beginning that could truly help journalism build trust within their communities,” DeVigal said.

—Eric Schucht, School of Journalism and Communication