Create a Platform for Participatory Civic Action

People seated around one person wearing a green shirt and black pants with a laptop on their lap.
Climate change workshop at the CommonBound conference in St. Louis for the New Economies Reporting Project fellows. Attendees are practicing their interviewing skills with an actual legislator present at the conference.

The pursuit of solutions journalism can provide a foundation for community changemaking. Some partners describe this shift as a re-imagination of the role of a news outlet, from being merely a “paper of record” to helping constituents live their daily lives.

Producing solutions-oriented coverage is one component of this; another is fostering action-oriented discussions that spark policy change, hold public officials to account, or encourage different groups to participate in civic life. By investing in community engagement activities that bring reporters to the table with community members, newsroom partners often experience a profound change in self-perception. The newsroom comes to represent a place to break down barriers and spark conversations on tough issues, strengthening reporting and building new relationships. Journalists no longer see themselves as passive reporters or aloof observers, but as neutral conveners, active contributors, and credible resources for how problems can be solved effectively.

Participatory engagement activities also serve to shine a light on the inner workings of a newsroom and the work of journalists. This in turn helps to build goodwill. Research from the Trusting News Project suggests that rebuilding trust with audiences relies on authentic engagement, speaking about things people are already concerned about, and highlighting your value within their daily lives. Another critical element is to “tell your story” - conveying your newsroom’s values, mission, and purpose, and making clear how and why you do your work.

That’s a crucial function at a moment when public trust in journalism is at an historic low. Beyond that, “people are fascinated by journalism,” says Doug Oplinger, Managing Editor of Your Voice Ohio, recounting that community members have marveled at the difficulty of a journalist’s job and ask to learn more about how the media works. “Putting journalists around the table with people is breaking down the wall. It’s building trust.”

“Part of the job of a news organization is to try to make the community a better place. As an editor, I felt an incredible responsibility about the power that a news organization has to be a voice in that community.”

Marty Kaiser headshot
Marty Kaiser
Former editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“I want the Choteau Acantha to be on the progressive side of things - proactive, rather than reactive. The communities that died in Montana are the ones who stopped trying to find solutions. We have to keep trying.”

Melody Martinsen headshot
Melody Martinsen
Choteau Acantha

“We need to go from exposing wrong all the time, to helping people deal with this wrong and solve problems in their daily lives...This is more than changing the rhythm [of news production], it is about changing journalism itself.”

Doug Oplinger headshot
Doug Oplinger
Your Voice Ohio

“One of the goals of Richland Source has been to be active participants in our community instead of just aloof observers. We want to be part of the conversation to improve and move our community forward. And that’s a little untraditional in journalism. Normally, you’re just kind of on the sidelines but we put ourselves right in the middle of these conversations and sometimes difficult conversations because we really care. You know we all live here, we all care about the place that we live, and I think we’re all driven by this sense of wanting to make the world a better place (which sounds kind of cheesy but it’s true). And I think all journalists kind of start in this industry because that’s what they want to do. And here at Richland Source and especially with the solutions journalism approach that actually gives you the tools to do that which is really rewarding.”

Brittany Schock headshot
Brittany Schock
Richland Source