One popular term in the newspaper business these days is “community engagement.” At its core, the idea is for a news outlet to create a more interactive relationship with its community in the hope of using its collective knowledge to develop better story ideas and produce more relevant stories. And, oh yeah, there’s an economic element as well, since another goal is to parlay that closer relationship into more print and digital subscription dollars. Heaven knows the newspaper industry needs to get creative about revenue.
I’m no fan of jargon, which the phrase “community engagement” sounds suspiciously like. But journalists should be actively talking and listening to the people we write about on a regular, ongoing basis — and that certainly goes for us at the Sentinel too.
So in this edition, we are throwing out some ideas we are implementing to try and enrich that conversation.
For starters, we’d like to establish a board of community advisors. These are folks who would be willing to share their feedback about the paper, tell us about important stories they think need to be covered and would generally serve as a sounding board for us. For those efforts, I can promise pizza and drinks at meetings to be held every couple of months. There are no hard and fast requirements for this board other than a genuine interest. If you are, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Separate from the board of advisors, we have begun convening small groups of people who represent different walks of life on the Outer Banks to solicit their ideas on how the Sentinel can cover their community better. Last week, there was a meeting with half a dozen people who are members of the local clergy or affiliated with religious institutions to talk about improving reporting on spiritual/religious issues. The plan is to do something similar with watermen, local artists, law enforcement personnel, etc.
As a non-native Outer Banker, one surprise after I moved here was how large and active the non-profit sector was. (I also was surprised by the number of working poor who are reliant on their charitable work.) These folks are a vital lifeline. This week, we are introducing a column on charitable giving by Outer Banks Community Foundation director Lorelei Costa. In addition, we will start a feature called “Non-profit of the Week” in which we provide, in effect, mini-profiles of these various organizations. We’ll be reaching out to those organizations to get that rolling.
With virtually every story we write, no matter how much reporting we do, there is someone in the community who knows something more about the story or subject that we didn’t find out and publish. So we are going to tag the bottom of stories with a “Do You Know More About This?” prompt. Anyone who has information that would improve the story, make it more accurate or bring more context will be invited to call or email the Sentinel. If requested, sources will be guaranteed anonymity.
Finally, we are introducing a regular Sentinel ombudsman’s column. In this column, we’ll try to accomplish two things. One is to give you a better sense of how the Sentinel works internally. The other one will be to take stock of how we did in covering certain stories, particularly if they are controversial or draw criticism. For example, when we did a story earlier this year on locals using social media to criticize or attack tourists, it created some interesting feedback. That’s the kind of things we’ll look at in this column — scrutinizing our own work in response to public feedback.