How can media do well by doing good? What makes engagement strategic?

Combined Session:

  1. How can media do well by doing good — build trust, loyalty, and the bottom line?
  2. For media organizations with limited resources, what makes engagement strategic?

– measurable results?

– scalable?

– what works, has worked for you?

Session Hosts: Linda Miller (APM/Public Interest Network), Susan Gleason (YES! Magazine)


  • Susan Gleason
  • Linda Miller
  • Jeff Brown
  • Sean O’Connor
  • Cylvia Hayes
  • Sami Edge
  • Steph Routh
  • Margaret Staniforth
  • Jana Thrift
  • Rachel Damgen
  • Thomas Schmidt
  • Caitlin Moran
  • Bill Buzenberg
  • jesikah maria ross
  • Carrie Watters
  • Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn
  • Terry Parris Jr.
  • Jo Ellen Kaiser
  • Joy Mayer
  • Amber Rivera

American Public Media (APM) is focused on:

  • Indispensible content
  • loyal audiences
  • engagement and community impact
  • inclusion/cultural competence
  • financial flexibility

What can we learn from the social enterprise / social good sector?

Why aren’t we thinking about the good we’re doing in our community — and how that’s fundable, and/or good for investments?

YES! Magazine has recently visited its mission, values, and theory of change, and out of that, has elevated ‘engagement’ to one of the three pillars of its work. Our core work is reporting, analysis, and engagement. We’ve prioritized a variety of engagement avenues and strategies over the years, but without a larger, more intentional plan to guide our efforts.

Anything we do at YES! gets evaluated against our money (sustainability) and mission (supporting social change) goals. So, wondering how to evaluate engagement tools, processes, and opportunities, in the face of limited nonprofit resources.

Can we create a social enterprise business model for journalism, that is a hybrid of the loyalty/membership model and underwriting from socially responsible businesses and the people who support them?

Is there a ‘there’ there?

Fourth Estate: mission driven, public benefit, for-profit organization.

We believe in “the business” of journalism.

We ask, “How do we incubate the news business?”

We’ve launched 3 journalism startups. We have a venture fund, plus investors club.

American Public Media: membership model

YES! Magazine: funded by 1) subscriptions, 2) grassroots donors (3500 monthly sustaining donors), and 3) large donations/grants

What does it mean to ‘do good’? What does it mean to do “socially responsible” journalism?



Doesn’t fall into the trap of false equivalency

Considers the harm and weighs it against the public interest

Often leads straight to the “advocacy journalism” argument and fears of losing impartiality

Not talking about prescribing solutions

But getting a grant to cover hunger — for example — and showing possible solutions, does mean resources aren’t spent covering other things. That isn’t advocacy in traditional sense but it is agenda-setting, mission-driven.

What did well, clicks-wise? — this organizational priority is a rough, often unwelcome, driver and repeated drumbeat, for journalists in the newsroom

The Missourian: Example of a socially responsible newsroom. For instance, we’re not going to do crime coverage without context

Media as public service / we have a public good mandate

Journalism in the public interest

We’ve had this model, where we the media are: “The best information brokers”


We do have a newsroom of experts …. e.g., on Medicare, on the NSA

We have a number of tent pole investigations with deep expertise.

Our journalists know where the stories are, how to collect and synthesize data.

We use crowd-sourcing and engagement to gather stories …

e.g., we’re working on an investigation about Agent Orange exposure

Sometimes engagement starts before the story … with the Agent Orange story we collected 3200 stories from vets.

We always start with evidence!

How we approach investigations at ProPublica:

– first: how can our Engagement Team help start the investigative process?

– then, there’s still a long way to go: taking the data, taking the people stories we’ve gathered, and applying data visualization, applying machine learning to it to gain something more out of it

Newsroom Identity — who they are, and who they’re accountable to

Metrics — how do they feed back in?

At ProPublica we ask: What worked, what fell flat? We look at metrics (ChartBeat, etc) constantly. We have a lot of resources, space, and opportunity. Are we discovering an ROI (for engagement) that is/can be applicable to other organizations? Those 3200 Agent Orange contacts — we can email them directly, which can contribute to the end-result story having a higher impact. Deep audience engagement …. translating that into something we can measure.

Is a next step in engagement: helping readers/listeners talk to each other?

We never look at our audience as one audience.

Creating loyalty with trust, quality is crucial. Engagement is key factor in all three.

Is your newsroom invested in distribution? Giving users opportunities to add, to build on, a story or beat of particular interest? (e.g., call-to-action buttons on stories?)

APM evaluates impact by asking: “Did this change the way you think about an issue? Did this change your conversations/relationships? Did this story/event inspire you to take action?”

Part of social enterprise model is asking people to support what’s important to them. Test hypothesis that people who are impacted by your coverage are likely to want to help support your coverage.

We could be asking our audiences: “If this is of value to you, are you willing to support it?”

The value of VOX explainers.

“How much energy do you use?” – explainer that did really well

How do we know that people don’t want solutions-oriented journalism if we haven’t really provided it?

People have a big, diverse, appetite for media. They want their meat, their potatoes … and their Doritos and donuts.

Model D Media – Telling a different narrative out of Detroit. Solution stories.


We have pockets of collaboration … but as an industry, we don’t tell our story well.

How can we be relevant to different/multiple stakeholders in the community (public)?

How can we be in, part of, the solutions process (as community forum, etc)?

How can we build trust?

The kind of journalism that helps the healthy growth of the community.

Clay Shirky: We’re in the midst of a revolution — the old model is broken before we know what will replace it. Also known as area of pardox

Public media / commercial media partnerships? Questions? Concerns? Co-opted?

Partnering is happening a lot these days.

How will local newspapers survive if they’re always grouped in “the media” (and all the baggage that holds for how people feel about the media)?

“It speaks to me. It might die without me” = Loyalty

Fourth Estate is a venture fund.

In social enterprise model, people invest in businesses that help them become good citizens

Trust is key, and part of cultivating trust is refusing to give bad actors access to your platforms

Challenges: Hard for people to believe the corporate media does not have an agenda

Starbucks just launched social impact media company. Also, TakePart. The idea of socially responsible media is already taking shape.

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