5 community engagement ideas inspired by ONA13

Some questions to tackle in breaking the article machine. (Credit: Karen Workman, via Twitter @KarenWorkman)
Some questions to tackle in breaking the article machine. (Credit: Karen Workman, via Twitter @KarenWorkman)

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of reports from five Digital First Media journalists who attended ONA13 through the Digital First Represents program.

I came back to the Morning Sun from ONA13 stirring with ideas for how to better engage our readers and to improve our storytelling. Here are the top five:

1. Launch a community photo club. One of my favorite sessions focused on National Geographic’s Your Shot photo community. The concept is to engage with photo talent from your audience and create content around specific topics or assignments. This inspired us at the Morning Sun to start a mid-Michigan photo community. We will use a Facebook group and blog to share images and communicate weekly assignments, tips and techniques. We will use these submitted pictures to curate photo galleries in our Media Center. We will regularly feature our favorite submissions as the Morning Sun Facebook timeline image. The goal is to capture more images with beauty and emotion from our communities, beyond the typical reader-generated snapshots. We may even use some of that content in print, too.

2. Collaborate with students on a sensor journalism project. One of the most exciting sessions I attended centered on sensor journalism. This is an area of journalism that uses technology to collect data, often with participation from the public. John Keefe from WNYC explained Radio Lab’s cicada project, which is an amazing example of sensor journalism. My long-term goal in sensor journalism is to collaborate with a group of elementary or middle school kids, and a local makerspace or hackerspace (groups that find ways to create gadgets) on a sensor project. The starting point is to introduce the concept to a group of local students to come up with an interesting sensor project to tackle. The most popular lunch room table or playground equipment based on bodies and time spent are some ideas I had, but I want to discover what the students are interested in. Then, we could work with a makerspace to create the technology to measure, and create data-driven content from the collaboration.

3. Apply data to our “Sound Off!” feature. The session “Big data, little newsroom,” focused on methods and resources to get small newsrooms comfortable with the idea of data journalism. Emma Carew Grovum shared helpful resources addressing issues for many journalists such as fear of math (I have this phobia) like this crib sheet on basic data math formulas and this slideshow (with homework!) for business journalism tips. I am going to start with something simple and clean (a tip I learned in the session). The Morning Sun has a daily feature called Sound Off! where readers leave us a voicemail message anonymously expressing their opinion on whatever issue they want to “sound off” on. What I would like to do is track Sound Off each week and graph the number of calls on each topic, bringing to light what currently has our audience the most fired up and engaged.

4. Create interactive timelines with Timeline JS. I discovered Timeline JS at ONA13 and this tool makes it ridiculously easy to create beautiful, interactive timelines. I am working on my first timeline this week, focused on the personal history of a family who is being disenrolled from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. Their story is part of a larger news issue in which more than 10% of the tribe will be kicked out based on technical issues with record keeping in the 1800s. The timeline will help illustrate the somewhat confusing facts dealing with member payouts from casino profits, three different member rolls and families that can trace lineage back to the original members of the tribe, like Chief Pontiac. Using Timeline JS is as easy as copy-and-pasting info and links into an already-created spreadsheet. Try it out for yourself.

5. Push newsroom to think “outside the article.” The session “Oops, we broke the article machine: Imagining what comes next,” broke attendees into groups, gave them a news situation, and gave them one rule: Create a coverage plan without a traditional written article. The room was packed, the energy was amazing and the variety of concept ideas ranged from surveys, interactive games, clickable maps and databases. I plan to implement this concept with my co-workers, to challenge our concept of what the best method for telling any giving story is. With all the tools we have at our disposal in the digital age, why should we resort to presenting a story the same way newspapers did in the 1800s? This kind of brainstorming and forward-thinking is crucial to digital first newsrooms. 

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis

By Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis is the community engagement editor and photographer for the Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant, Mich. She is a 2000 graduate of Central Michigan University with a bachelor's degree in photojournalism. She is fan of books, photography, working out, community, cooking, music; her favorite thing is sharing all of it with her two sons. Yanick-Jonaitis also recently began moonlighting as a news anchor and co-host of a morning radio show. In the past she spent 7 years as an adjunct instructor at her Alma Mater. She has been on the staff at the Morning Sun for 13 years.

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