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This is a weekly newsletter for Gather, a project + platform to support community-minded journalists and other engagement professionals. We’d love your feedback. What's useful about this newsletter? What's missing? Let us know

In this week's newsletter:

  • WHAT WE MEAN: There are many ways to define "engagement."

  • CASE STUDY: What innovative engagement strategies did The Seattle Times use to promote discussions about race?

  • FUNDING ALERT: Apply to be an RJI Fellow by Jan. 31, 2019.

  • HOT READ: The Kansas City Star goes deep into transparency and engagement.

  • INTROS: Meet jesikah maria ross, the Senior Community Engagement Strategist at Capital Public Radio.

What does "engagement" mean (and does it matter)?

Engagement is critical to the future health of news organizations. On that, I bet most folks involved in Gather would agree.

But just what do we mean when we use that word? And what are the dangers of assuming that other people share our definitions?

Loosely, engagement is about the relationship and interactions people have with us and with the journalism we produce. Can we agree on that as an overall umbrella? If we drill down, though, we need to ask: What kind of relationship? Which types of interactions? Which people?

We have people in the Gather community whose work focuses on building relationships with people who are often overlooked by journalism. Earning trust, listening well, meeting face-to-face, etc. Others focus on hosting conversations across divides, seeing journalism as a convener and connector for community members and sometimes also facilitating conversations.

The Gather staff and steering committee like to talk about relational vs transactional engagement, a concept executive director Andrew DeVigal first wrote about in 2015.

The Hearken team wrote this when describing their approach to the work: “Engagement happens when members of the public are responsive to newsrooms, and newsrooms are in turn responsive to members of the public.” Seeking and responding to ideas and feedback — that applies in a lot of ways, right?

Some of us borrow concepts from the broader world of civic engagement, and we see success in terms of action taken as the result of our work. If people protest as the result of an investigation, and that leads to a law being changed, it’s safe to say the community was engaged, right?

How about reporting projects that rely on community stories and engagement? Crowd-powered journalism and crowdsourcing? That could be another category.

Others have work that is focused on the audience as consumer and customer. This work is data-driven, based on how your audience interacts with your content. Newsletter open rates. Scroll depth. Content shares. A recent Consumer Engagement Summit (written about in this Nieman Lab piece) addressed what data can teach journalists about things like encouraging subscriptions and building users’ news habits. That’s engagement, too.

John Levitt of is always up for a conversation about the challenges of measuring things like trust and relationships. Metrics such as engaged time and return visits might not be as sophisticated as we would like at measuring relationships to news organizations, but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. “If you don't have a relationship and trust with the audience, they won't spend time and come back,” John wrote on Slack this week. He went on to write to me:

“We know that the long-term health of a publisher depends deeply on its ability to build long-term relationships with its readers and viewers. And we know that the 80/20 (or maybe even 90/10) rule is a very real thing for the vast majority — meaning 10% of the audience makes up 90% of the value. So small scale, high intensity engagement efforts can have an outsized impact over time, especially for subscription and membership models.”

Data. Trust. Membership. Impact. Relationships. Engagement.

This post isn’t about deciding which is right or best. It’s about encouraging us all to know what *we* mean when we use the word engagement. What do our colleagues mean? How about our bosses? Teams from other departments? Advertisers and donors?

This is a topic I’ve been fascinated by since I first studied engagement during a 2010-2011 fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. I interviewed dozens of journalists doing engagement work and wrote a series of posts titled “what engagement means to …”. I ended a year of research by suggesting three categories of engagement work: outreach, conversation and collaboration. It was clear to me then and is even more clear now that to get where we want to be, we need to be more specific about our goals, our priorities and our shared definitions.

Do you have thoughts about more specific language we could be using to describe what we do? Or a definition to share from your own work? Please, join this Slack conversation or email me at

You have three weeks to ruminate on these concepts! The Gather newsletter will take a break and return on Jan. 9. Happy holidays and cheers to 2019!

Joy Mayer, Gather Community Manager

How The Seattle Times Used Innovative Engagement Strategies to Promote Discussions About Race

By Elaine Uchison

On June 20, 2016, The Seattle Times launched Under Our Skin, a multimedia project aimed at fostering meaningful and honest conversations about race in the region. The site features video interviews with 18 community members from diverse backgrounds. During the interviews, participants were asked to reflect on and talk about a set of terms commonly used in conversations and debates about race. The site is organized by participant and also by term, allowing the user to easily navigate between videos and move organically around the site. It also features an innovative comments section that allows viewers to “react” to the content by choosing from a list of adjectives first and then describing why they felt that way. Collectively, the project is intended to provide nuanced ways of thinking and talking about race in America—in person and online.

Read the case study on Gather.

You can now publicly share the 94 case studies and featured projects on Gather with friends and colleagues. Take a look through, and then recommend projects you’d like to see us dig into.

Lightning Chats

Discuss a shared challenge, brainstorm ideas for a project, or learn more about a case study at Gather's lightning chats. You can also subscribe to a lightning chat calendar on Google calendar or on iCal.
  • CHAT RECAP // What does "local" mean?: Where do people prefer to turn for local news? How do they prefer to find and share which kinds of information? And what do they mean by local, anyway? We talked about that and other issues with three guests last week who have done thoughtful work on the topic. Read the notes and watch the video replay on Gather.

Jobs, Fellowships, and Funding

Check out our full list of jobs, fellowships, and funding opportunities on Gather, and let us know what we're missing.
  • RJI Fellowship, Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute: "The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute invites proposals from people and organizations who wish to partner with us on innovative projects that strengthen democracy through better journalism. Successful projects often include devising new strategies to take advantage of an opportunity or solve a problem, building new tools for news organizations, transforming an idea into a market-tested prototype or advancing a prototype so it’s ready for investment or a full product launch." Deadline: January 31, 2019. Learn more.

Community Updates

If you haven't joined the Gather Slack community, you're missing out on a lot of brainstorming, advice giving and collaboration. Join here.
  • How has Gather been valuable to your work? We asked some active members that question recently and got some great responses. You can find some on our landing page at and we’ll feature some here as well.
    • “I am always looking to learn from smart people who are doing the good work, and Gather is an amazing group of people who believe and demonstrate every day that the future of media is collaboration – between journalists and with our communities.” — Damon Kiesow, Missouri School of Journalism
  • Instagram takeovers: If you've done Instagram takeovers, what KPIs do you track? Dorea Reeser is curious.
  • Hot Read: "KCQ, explainers and more: Kansas City Star goes deeper into transparency and engagement" by Dan Gillmor at ASU’s News Co/Lab. (This is the Gather community's most-shared story on Twitter this week. Look for other 'hot reads' in Friday's Nuzzel newsletter and in the #reads channel on the Gather Slack.)

Meet jesikah maria ross, this week's Featured Member.

Name: jesikah maria ross

Why you’re on Gather: I’m all about bringing folks together to swap stories, share experiences, listen, learn and act.  So being on Gather is a no-brainer. It’s the kitchen table for my tribe. The place where we come together to create new recipes, cook up delicious ideas, and test new ingredients. To continue the metaphor (can you tell I’m writing this while hungry?), it’s where I can commune with friends, old and new, to find inspiration, hear new perspectives, get support or even get a kick in the pants to try harder. In short, I’m here because it’s family.

One thing you want to learn on Gather: I’d love get tips on how to create a public radio newsroom culture where engaged journalism thrives; where community members are viewed as active co-creators of our stories and where we listen first before deciding what the story is in our long form reporting. DM with your strategies!
One thing you have to share on Gather: I’ve spent the past few years developing a model for engaged journalism for our year-long documentary projects. I have a boat load of great language around it (guiding principles, promising practices) as well as some pretty impressive evaluation reports. Happy to share. I’m also very into radical hospitality and how to invoke it in face-to-face gatherings. Hosting artful, impactful and hospital gatherings is my schtick. Happy to share my “encounter design” and “contact zone” ideas.

One thing about your work that gets you especially pumped up: I bliss out collaborating with communities to create stories. Sometimes that’s bringings diverse stakeholders together with journalists to name and frame the issues we’ll report on. Other times it’s teaching hands-on community media production to residents. Lately its hosting lively civic storytelling events. My happy place would include doing all of that in one project!

Who or what inspired you to get into this work? Well that is a long story…but the nutshell is that I had some rough go’s early on in life and then when I started speaking out I had bad experiences with journalists. I’ve emerged from those challenges dedicated to creating spaces and processes for people to speak and feel heard — to push forward community dialogue, support civic healing, raise awareness and generate hope.
How do you like to spend your time?
On any given day I’d rather be on a trail experiencing the wonder of nature. That could be on a cliff along the ocean, up a steep grade in a thick forest or by a meandering mountain stream.
Links for ways to connect with you.
The best place to learn about my work is at  You might especially appreciate my artist statement and all of the fun infographics about my creative process and collaborative storytelling framework. You can also search my name on Medium for my latest writing. Connect with me at
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