Redefining News: A Manifesto for Community-Centered Journalism

When founded nearly a decade ago, the Agora Journalism Center became a leading voice in the growing collaborative movement toward “engaged journalism.” Rather than approaching their work in transactional and extractive ways, we believed journalists could produce better journalism through deep listening, collaboration, and relationship building. 

Guided by insights from Andrea Wenzel (Temple University), Ashley Alvarado (LAist), and Darryl Holliday (City Bureau), we began to talk about “community centered journalism.”

In part, we shifted toward the broader mission of community-centered journalism because the term “engagement” had developed different meanings in the news industry, only some of which reflected relational rather than transactional principles. “Engagement” also seemed to focus more on technique than principles. At a time of growing crisis for local journalism, civic health, and democracy, a sharper, wider call to action seems needed.

As our colleague Damian Radcliffe describes in this report, many people and organizations are building this new approach to journalism–an approach that is premised on engaged journalism practices, with a focus on serving communities in partnership with them. As one of many journalists Damian interviewed for this report put it, in community-centered journalism, “You’re approaching it as someone who is of the community and trying to do this journalism for that community.”  Importantly, as this observation suggests,  the mission of community-centered journalism isn’t to “save” journalism or to restore local journalism as it used to exist but rather to strive to better serve the information needs of our communities.

The broader acceptance of community-centered journalism in newsrooms was also the reason why the Agora Journalism Center recently co-hosted a pre-conference with Journalism That Matters at this year’s Online News Association conference in Philadelphia, where 120 community-driven journalists assembled at Temple University. We partnered with organizations such as Solutions Journalism Network and the Center for Cooperative Media to discover new synergies in our shared work and uncover knowledge and process gaps. We called the gathering Engaging Emergence, aspiring to the belief that when diverse practitioners come together, meaningful ideas and equitable solutions emerge.

We hope this report will offer an accessible but provocative resource for journalists new to the community-centered approach and those already practicing it–and as a manifesto to a profession whose work is more desperately needed than ever.

Andrew DeVigal, Director
Regina Lawrence, Research Director
Agora Journalism Center