Putting Engagement to Work: How News Organizations are Pursuing “Public-Powered Journalism”

The University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication established the Agora Journalism Center in 2014 to drive transformational advancements in journalism and communication to enhance public knowledge and to enrich civic life for all community members. We care about the future of journalism because it is linked to the future of a healthy democracy. We believe the future of journalism depends on journalists finding new and better ways to engage with the publics they serve.

This report, based on research led by our first Agora Journalism Center postdoctoral fellow, Thomas R. Schmidt, examines how newsrooms across the country are pursuing deeper audience engagement using the tools and methods provided by the company Hearken. Hearken has emerged as a leading innovator, both challenging and guiding newsrooms to pursue a deeper approach to audience engagement. Our goal with this report is to examine how newsrooms are adopting those tools and taking up the challenge to involve the public at every stage of the news production process. We find the challenge is addressed somewhat unevenly, largely due to resource constraints and variations in
the way outlets produce “public-powered” news within their particular contexts.

We also find a heartening commitment across these outlets to more deeply engage with the communities they serve. In the end, all of the newsrooms we spoke with believe that meaningful engagement is key to journalism’s continuing relevance and sustainability.

We think these insights come at an opportune time; the news industry is looking for better ways to build relationships and trust with the communities they serve. We welcome your thoughts on the future of news and the developments outlined in this third Agora Report.

— Regina G. Lawrence, Executive Director, Agora Journalism Center
— Andrew DeVigal, Associate Director, Agora Journalism Center