Engaged Journalism: Putting Communities at the Center of Journalism

April 26, 2017

​This post was co-authored by Paul Waters

The Democracy Fund’s Public Square program is dedicated to supporting vibrant and thriving media through increasing engaged journalism practices in news outlets across the country. Two of the most common questions we hear about engaged journalism are: what is engaged journalism? And how (once you’ve figured out what it is) do you help the practice spread? To begin answering those questions, we commissioned two papers from Dot Connector Studio. Today, we are releasing those papers publicly for journalists, news organizations, funders, and any others that may find them useful.

The first is Pathways to Engagement: Understanding How Newsrooms are Working with Communities.” In this paper, we have documented a broad spectrum of efforts that help position communities at the center of journalism by creating a taxonomy of engagement practices. Different approaches are outlined, along with useful examples from the field. We refer to the full spectrum of ideas presented here as “Engaged Journalism.” We undertook this effort primarily to clarify our own thinking, not to enforce a uniformity on others. We hope our taxonomy will be of use to the field, but we also see the value in continuing to push and pull on the meanings behind the words we use.

The second paper is “Communities of Practice: Lessons for the Journalism Field.” Organizations in the field need new solutions and ways to spread, compare, replicate, scale, and evaluate engaged journalism. Communities of practice (CoP) are one way to accomplish that for engaged journalism, and also for other groups. This paper examines the theory and evolution of CoPs and explores in greater detail some CoPs that are developing with those working in engaged journalism. The appendix provides a checklist for building and expanding CoPs for any type of group.

We hope that these lessons and examples—drawn from leaders and practitioners—will challenge and inspire both journalists and those who fund them. These papers are designed to share with your colleagues, newsroom leaders, and even community members. We hope that the paper on Communities of Practice will prove useful not only for those seeking to organize CoPs around engaged and local journalism, but for other funders and organizers in the space aiming to coalesce around other crucial responses to disruption in news.

We welcome your feedback on these ideas and look forward to hearing more from you about how engaged journalism and communities of practice are being adopted in your newsrooms and communities. Please send feedback to