By Sandy K. Johnson

Q. What do poetry, art, plays and festivals have to do with journalism?

A. Community engagement.

Community engagement is an evolving practice in newsrooms eager to keep loyal readers and attract new ones. It’s a way to connect journalists with stakeholders in creative, out-of-the-box ways.

Three journalists shared their tips and resources on video for the National Press Foundation.

Cole Goins, senior manager at REVEAL at the Center for Investigative Reporting, described several projects that he has worked with:

  • Postcard outreach to citizens in Oxnard, California, who may have been exposed to harmful pesticides. Residents could interact by text message with an exhaustive database built by CIR.
  • A reporting project on surveillance in Oakland, California, that culminated in an interactive exhibit at the Oakland Museum.
  • An investigative series about a fatal explosion by Kansas City Star reporter Mike McGraw that was written into a play, Justice in the Embers, that drew packed audiences.

“Think about how you can take your story directly to the public, rather than making them come to you,” Goins said.

Goins also mentored Maggie Clark, a reporter at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, on a project about 2 million Florida children on Medicaid. She used social media to reach Medicaid parents who gave her data-driven reporting a human face. And the reporters also attended a children’s fair to reach out to parents and kids. Clark describes her efforts in this video.

Greg Barber described a “story tools” group at The Washington Post, where he is director of digital news projects. They help reporters create quizzes and polls, as well as find communities to interact with to enrich the reporting. He cited the Post’s advice columnist Carolyn Hax and the Capital Weather Gang as especially successful at building communities of interested readers.

Barber is also co-founder of The Coral Project, which is in the process of producing open-source tools and resources for publishers of all sizes to build better communities around their journalism. Though the tools aren’t yet ready, journalists can sign up for The Coral Project newsletter to keep up with best practices.

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