Transparency toolkit: How to select a winning working group
Do you actually know how your community finds and feels about the news? We created a set of surveys to shed light on news perceptions from three local populations: the community at large, regular news sources, and local journalists themselves. Together, these survey results can provide insight into how your news organization can better serve the community’s information and news literacy needs.
1. Choose 5 to 7 employees to participate.
Ask for volunteers. Who is interested in community engagement and newsroom transparency? This isn’t about blindly assigning staff to the project — if they don’t want to participate, they won’t add anything. Instead choose a well-rounded group from your volunteers, diverse in age, gender, title and beat. This is the perfect opportunity to bring in a new reporter, a veteran columnist and your engagement editor together.
Tip: Our medium-sized newsrooms have found five to seven members as their sweet spot. More members, to them, meant they got less done.
2. Include the community.
Depending on your newsroom’s goals, you may want to directly include a member or members of the larger community in your transparency and engagement efforts. Think about people who are organizers and are invested in the health of the local information ecosystem. That could include educators, librarians, civic leaders, non-profit managers, etc. If your newsroom has a focused audience — or an aspirational audience not currently being reached — representatives of these audiences should be included. You can also include loyal readers or loyal haters (but keep in mind that the latter can be disruptive if they’re not participating in good faith).
Tip: Not ready to have the community participate in the bigger picture initiative? Bring these members in on a project-by-project basis.
3. Determine meeting frequency.
At first, meeting twice a month will help you jumpstart the program and establish your goals, experiments and roles (see the Choosing your experiment step). If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels in the first few meetings, don’t worry. Push through to solidify what you’re going to do. Once that’s decided, our newsrooms found a monthly, hour-long meeting worked best for them. Set a standing meeting, outline a useful agenda and don’t let the meeting take the backseat.
Tip: Add extra meetings when necessary, like in advance of and after a big campaign. Debriefing three weeks after an event isn’t helpful — talk while it’s fresh.
4. Establish roles.
You’ve chosen working group members with diverse backgrounds and jobs. Now’s the time to make use of those specialties. Decide who will own each project, and why. We’ve found co-managing projects is better. One person should not shoulder an entire project or event alone given journalists’ workload today. Divvy up responsibilities and don’t be afraid to delegate.
Tip: Be on the lookout for other colleagues who can pitch in. Get their feedback on ideas and have them participate in events. An outside perspective can be helpful.
5. Adapt as time goes on.
Employees leave, jobs change, priorities shift. When one key working group member moved to a different paper, her projects fizzled without a new owner. It’s up to the working group to adapt as these things change — otherwise your effort is likely to lose momentum. That also means evaluating your projects (see Evaluate as you go step) and making changes as necessary.
Tip: Reassess your members, roles and projects quarterly. Is a new hire interested in what you’re doing? Bring them into the group.