Larger news organisations now have audience engagement teams but in smaller newsrooms, the person in charge of this aspect can often be the only one doing this type of work, which makes it more challenging to ask for advice.
Launching today (2 October), Gather is a platform that aims to connect and support people working in community engagement, enabling them to find case studies, share best practices and access resources such as jobs and funding. Those interested in joining Gather have to request an invitation by filling out a form with some information about their role, their experience with engagement and their interest in the field.
The collaborative project is led by the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon and funded by the Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund. It was designed as a "community of practice" that amplified conversations taking place at events such as Experience Engagement in 2015, and Elevate Engagement in 2017.
"We were trying to branch out beyond looking at engagement in a transactional way and look at it in a much more relational way," said Andrew DeVigal, Endowed Chair in Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement at the Agora Journalism Center, and the project's executive director. "How do we get people working by themselves to connect with others in order to learn from each other?"
Gather is not just for journalists who have the word "engagement" in their job title, explained Joy Mayer, Gather's community manager. It is also a space for reporters with more traditional job descriptions doing this type of work, editors looking to hire people in engagement roles, and academics who are teaching engagement as part of journalism curriculums.
"It's really common for people to struggle to tell the story of engagement work, persuading their organisation to invest in it and explaining what this work accomplishes for a newsroom," she added.
"I am hearing a lot of journalists who work in this space talk about how to host a live event, how to attach revenue to engagement goals, what it's like to host a conversation offline versus online, as well as how to teach engagement, because we have many academics in the Gather community."
Through the platform, journalists will also be able to keep in touch with peers after attending conferences and events, and to participate in lightning talks to discuss current or past projects, which Mayer has already been organising in the Experience Engagement group on Facebook. The group will continue to be active, but the Gather website will have the added value of a searchable collection of resources and case studies.
"The challenge with Facebook is that it's a stream of consciousness of what's happening now, making it feel like the latest is the most important," DeVigal said.
"We want to honour the work that has been done in the past, and it's important to amplify that and add to those learnings, as opposed to feeling like whatever is the latest tool is the best one."