Is your local media outlet engaging its community?

Are You EngagedEditor’s note: this was originally written three and a half years ago for a different blog operated by TIS editor Bob Eschliman. It has been amended slightly to fit this website.


How engaged is your local media outlet (i.e. newspaper, or radio or television station)? It’s not as easy a question as it sounds. There are several questions you have to ask yourself, the answers to which may lead to other, far more important, questions.

Question 1: Are you able to comment?

Sure, we can all write letters to the editor, but space on the opinion page oftentimes is at a premium. And, it’s not out of the ordinary for editors to cherry-pick letters based on their content or length.

When you see a story on the media outlet’s website, are you able to comment on its stories? Are you able to comment openly and aggressively? Better still, are you able to comment on ALL content on the website (e.g. community calendar entries, obituaries, classified ads)?

This website not only allows, but welcomes, comments. In fact, you can comment on this very article (see below).

Commenting on content allows the audience to add one more level of reporting into everything the media outlet provides online. For instance, a reader may find something a reporter left out of a story. Or, a reader may comment that a classified ad is, in fact, an attempt to defraud customers.

Yes, someone will always abuse their rights to speak freely. But with a minimum amount of policing, a news outlet can control the negative impact these individuals would otherwise have.

Question 2: Does it feature citizen sidebars?

The community itself can provide a number of invaluable resources to a story, if the news outlet has 1) the time, and 2) the patience to seek out its expertise. Much like citizen comments, directly asking the community to provide additional information adds another layer to the information gathering process.

Providing a sidebar in which the upon a particular story allows for more relevant information to come through. It also opens the doorway for readers to feel free to comment on the article and the information contained therein.

Obviously, there isn’t enough space in a newspaper or broadcast for this type of reporting on every story, but when it’s used effectively, it can be of great benefit both to the media outlet and the community it serves.

Question 3: Are there any community bloggers/columnists?

Blogging started out as non-professional form of online journalism. But, over time, it went from being a fad of technogeekdom to something almost everyone was doing; even professional journalists.

Blogs can provide an entirely new forum for communication with one’s community, so it has become a useful tool for journalists. However, it can also be a useful tool for the journalist’s community to communicate back.

Some media outlets have gotten very serious about citizen journalism by hosting a community “blog house.” The best ones recruit “experts” in various professionals and areas of interest, and ask them to write on a regular basis.

This brings a lot of traffic to their websites, which can be profitable, but it further opens the doorway to full-on citizen journalism.

Question 4:  Where’s the transparency?

Media outlets demand transparency and accountability from those they routinely report upon. But, do they provide that same kind of transparency and accountability back to their readers and the community at-large?

Some organizations have developed reader ombudsmen, who become the go-to source for information, or to lay down a beef about how the outlet covered a particular story. Others have developed editor’s blogs to convey the same information to a wider audience.

In both cases, you will find the give-and-take between the media outlet and its community that is necessary for effective communication. It also leads to a more open and informative forum whereby ideas and discussions can be conveyed back and forth between members of the community itself.

Question 5: Do they employ the use of citizen journalists in their products?

Several television stations have begun offering ways for the community to become active contributors to the overall news product. Most are using the same platform, but a few are branching out to use their own.

In most cases, readers and viewers can upload their own videos and photos, adding more layers of coverage to a particular news story that media outlets with dwindling resources most often are incapable of providing on their own. This is called “crowdsourcing,” and it is becoming more and more popular every day.

But, beyond that, a media outlet that has completely bought into the notion of citizen journalism will actually employ members of the community to report upon news stories from time to time, as opposed to using only professional journalists. This type of reporting requires a little more work on the editor’s end, but can provide a layer of trust in the community as a whole.

Better still, it fully and completely opens the doorway to citizen involvement in the total news product. The community is more likely to read, comment, and appreciate a news product with citizen journalists involved.


So, if this is what your local media outlet is doing, first off, thank them. Then, get involved. Volunteer to provide content that is both relevant and useful to your community. Make the outlet’s investment in citizen journalism worthwhile.

But, if you’re not sure, or it doesn’t appear that the media outlet has embraced citizen journalism, become engaged. Ask why. Maybe the management mistakenly thought the community wouldn’t embrace it.

And, if they refuse to engage, find another media outlet that will. It might even require you to start your own. And, we’ll get to that next week.