Editor’s note: Civic dialogue will take root in newsrooms in 2024

News fatigue is real. There’s pressure to integrate emerging technologies, such as AI, into newsgathering, and to reverse the impacts of shifting social media algorithms to keep audiences engaged. News leaders spend countless hours redefining their digital strategies to beat the noise that misinformation and constant algorithmic changes bring. The business of media — the need to grow audiences and revenue — creates anxiety and uncertainty for news outlets large and small alike.

Civic dialogue and prioritizing community initiatives to build connections for audiences will emerge as a cornerstone to audience growth strategies in U.S. newsrooms in 2024. A focused effort by local news teams to cultivate civic dialogue and IRL connections for engagement events will be prioritized. Civic dialogue can be used as a tool to grow audiences and reach new customers, as well as to test innovative tactics to develop partnerships and expand revenue models.

At WHYY News, we are fortunate to have a built-in community and engagement team inside the news department, with community members in full-time positions. This structure is unique, as many newsrooms have community teams made up of journalists reporting on specific communities.

WHYY sought systemic changes to local newsgathering and developed a new recipe for community and engaged journalism. Now, the intentional work being prioritized within WHYY News is to improve representation — how diverse communities show up in news coverage — and to increase the opportunities for co-reporting between the WHYY News staff and independent journalists and media-makers.

WHYY News is furthering these civic dialogue practices:

News and Information Community Exchange: N.I.C.E. is a WHYY News training and development program for more than a dozen local media-makers and independent journalists, made possible by the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund.
Bridging Blocks : This WHYY News collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia brings together residents in the same ZIP code with different points of view to discuss hot-button topics. Fred and Barbara Sutherland fund the initiative.
Grassroots source database: This internal sourcing system has more than 500 diverse sources that our news team can access to research and report stories. This work was funded by the Independence Public Media Foundation.
Media and digital literacy programs: We have developed news and digital literacy programs for the public to help readers and listeners better understand news production, fact-based reporting, and misinformation, which fosters a more discerning and engaged audience. Support from the Dodge Foundation has helped the newsroom begin this work.
Pop-up newsrooms: WHYY News staff show up in the communities we cover to meet and engage with residents across our coverage area. These in-person exchanges have resulted in new sources and pitches that have led to stories.

These civic dialogue efforts have propelled better news reporting, source diversity, news coverage, and storytelling. In 2024, WHYY News is planning to hold a civic dialogue conference for Bridging Blocks exercises and to convene community members and journalists to share best practices.

Legacy news distribution frameworks must be disrupted for the Fourth Estate to thrive amid growing sociopolitical divisiveness nationwide. The community and its needs will come into sharper focus. Media companies must create space(s) where debate can take root with civic dialogue practices. News organizations will restore trust via fact-based reporting and the instigation of civil debate. Civic dialogue in news promotes the next level of public service journalism.

Yours in Journalism,
Sarah Glover
WHYY Vice President of News and Civic Dialogue

This essay was first published by the Nieman Lab on Dec. 21, 2023 as part of their predictions for journalism series.

  • December 26, 2023
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