The impacts that journalists and news outlets can see from digital and traditional forms of engagement can include deepening relationships, generating leads, and helping to promote news literacy. These goals are, arguably, even more likely if that engagement includes opportunities for face-to-face engagement.
Interaction That Can Help Promote Media Literacy
Caitlyn May, editor of the Cottage Grove Sentinel (Oregon), hosts a weekly open table at the local bakery dubbed “Coffee with the Editor.”
“Members of the community are invited to come chat about anything and everything on their minds,” May says, “whether they have questions or complaints about a story, tips for a new one, or just want to ask me about myself: my political leanings, personal beliefs, or how I came to be in their community.” She continues:
In some instances, folks who have routinely attended Coffee with the Editor will venture a question about a national issue or story they read in a legacy publication, and we get to discuss why that story was or (in some cases) was not accurate.
Organizations like Hearken have also advocated for approaches that can achieve similar end goals. For example, they have suggested having a member of the community “buddy up” with a reporter on a story, from inception to publication. This approach can help achieve wider media literacy goals while supporting e orts to reach and engage with underserved communities.
Facilitating Engagement by Stealth
At the Vancouver Columbian (Washington), Brancaccio took a slightly different
approach. In 2013, the Columbian introduced a limited run of first-edition “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff ” coffee cups— a phrase that peppers Brancaccio’s Press Talk column. They sold out in just over four hours. Jump forward four years, and the Columbian is still selling the mugs, with a steep discount if you pop by the paper to purchase them ($10 as opposed to $18 if you order online).
As Brancaccio admits, the mugs created a novel means for direct interaction with readers. They were a source of discussion with, and visits from, people he otherwise might not have had the opportunity to talk to.
The Power of Events
As we will see in the next section, events are, in some cases, part of the revenue strategy for many news organizations. But their usefulness goes beyond this.
As Josh Stearns at the Democracy Fund has demonstrated, news events can “foster engagement and expand revenue.
To fully maximize this potential, outlets need to consider the bene ts of partnering with other organizations, suggests Sharon Chan of the Seattle Times. Nongovernmental organizations and other trusted community partners can play an integral role in broadening the scope of attendees, so that participation goes beyond most outlets’ core audiences.
Reflecting on events hosted by Education Lab, Chan says, “We could run ads, giant full-page ads, all day long in the Seattle Times newspaper. There’s no guarantee that we actually get the people we want from the education community at an event.”
Events are a great example of journalists getting out of the newsroom to directly engage with audiences and communities. The event itself can be a story, and it can also be a great source for many other leads.
Moreover, events can also help build—and change— brand perception while creating an opportunity to discover new stories and leads and providing a means for members of the public to talk directly to journalists about their work and the decisions behind it.
Willamette Week is a local outlet that has identified (intentionally or otherwise) another potential bene t from public events. The Portland-based alt-weekly hosts public a airs events, such as “Candidates Gone Wild,” which their editor, Mark Zusman, describes as “not your father’s political debate.”
“We do it in a club, and we serve beer, and the candidates stand up on stage,” he says. “Among other things, they have to show a talent. And we charge money for that.”
Events such as this can change perceptions of local politicians and journalists alike.