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Models for community engagement

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Models for community engagement

Susan Mernit says: I'm preparing to launch Oakland Local, a community news and information hub (has a JLab seed grant) that will marry grassroots community information/news with beat reporting and investigative journalism and am eager to discuss models and best practices.

I'd like to do a session with others on this topic and explore best practices, what works, tools etc.


One of the BIG debates for us in Grahamstown is how much we get involved in the issues, versus how much we just raise them, reasonably objectively, and then just see what happens. Just in May/June we've had 4 big meaty and controversial issues, such as the building of a new bus rank in the center of our historic town. In that case, the newspaper just told it 'like it is', ie what the plans were etc, and resisted the temptation to climb into the debate, editorialize etc. Then lots of people got involved, pro and con, new ideas flowed, lots of passion, and a nice spike in our newly unveiled version 2 of our sms comment line. While there is a slight slant in most of our stories, on some of the most contentious issues, our editor likes to play it as straight as possible and see what happens thereafter. Sometimes we don't get the outcomes we want, but his view is we're a powerful resource in our city, and many issues are complex, and our job is to get the maximum number of people involved (part of what we're up to with Iindaba Ziyafika, and cell phone CJ etc), facilitate involvement, but not necessarily 'take a stand'. I'm much more from the 'take a stand' school but I'm intrigued by the idea of a more neutral facilitation role. I'd love to hear what others think during this session. Two related 'burning' questions -- preemptively fomenting 'issues' (as opposed to waiting for them to arise from a beat report, an event, a meeting, ie something external), and the issue of the safety of young reporters who 'whistle-blow' on under-performing (and worse) teachers and principals at their schools.