Community engagement positions in newsrooms – what you should know

By Alexandra Watts

Photo courtesy of Roger H. Goun, Licensed under a Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sskennel/2330323726

Photo courtesy of Roger H. Goun under Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Community engagement in journalism is not only a buzzword or hot topic, but also an area with careers. But what does it mean to work in community engagement?

A community engagement job in journalism will depend on the medium, newsroom and various other factors. However, in talking to a few individuals who are currently involved with engagement positions, here are a few things students should know (and do) if they want to work in community engagement.

How can I get involved as an undergraduate?

No matter what engagement position one takes on, the importance of community will be a factor.

As an undergraduate, there may not be a lot of courses related to community engagement in journalism. However, there are still ways students can get involved.

jesikah maria ross (who does not capitalize her name) is a community engagement strategist from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California. She offered advice to those who might want a future in community engagement.

If a school doesn’t offer exact courses in community engagement, ross said, there are still ways to get involved.

“I think that undergraduates can get involved in either a community organizing campaign or a community organization that is addressing a social issue they’re interested in,” ross advised.

For those who might want some kind of classroom experience, ross also recommends taking a course in community development.

What will my journalism degree do if I’m engaging a community?

Becky Bennett is an editor of Public Opinion. She posted a position for a community engagement job on JournalismJobs.com.

“They (the applicants) tend to be some sort of journalism majors,” Bennett said.

Bennett noted that journalism students also tend to be good writers.

But Bennett added that her top choices in the applicant pool had experience in different areas.

For example, one of the top candidates had experience in marketing, social media and other ventures.

Bennett said a wider variety of opportunities means individuals have more ways of communicating with other people. It shows that one can communicate in a wide variety of ways.

What other skills should I know if I want to work in community engagement?

Blair Hickman is an audience editor at The Marshall Project. When asked about important skills to have, Hickman touched on the importance of data analytics.

“[And] knowing how to use analytics, not just read them, but to actually inform action,” Hickman said.

This means not only knowing how to read graphs, but also how to apply them in communication. A lot of community engagement is done digitally, and social media is a factor in many of the community engagement job posts.

To engage with a community, one must be able to communicate with people, and people communicate over social media. However, what is community engagement if you’re not reaching the community? And how do you know if you’re reaching the community? This is where the importance of digital skills comes in.

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