This summer - with my job-share colleague Eliza Anyangwe - I took on the relatively new role of ‘Community Organiser’ at the Bureau Local.
The Bureau Local is a unique collaborative network made up of 800 journalists and members of the public working together to investigate issues that matter to communities across the UK.
Working as a Community Organiser for an organisation like this presents a unique challenge. The aim is to help both the journalists/members of our network and the disparate communities that they serve across the country. We believe that bringing these two crucial parts together can make for better investigative storytelling.
The idea that media organisations need to focus on building trust and opening up journalism is finding much favour in the US, with plenty of exciting innovation happening to figure out what works - and also what doesn’t.
The UK is also host to new and inventive projects aimed at changing how journalism works: check out the Bristol Cable, The Ferret (where I am also head of engagement), the Star & Crescent, the Independent Community News Network, Media Diversified and The Media Fund, to name but a few.
Established news organisations are also stepping out of their media bubble, and experimenting with new models of listening, as Huffington Post UK did when it set up a pop-up newsroom in Birmingham in July.
These are exciting times but the challenges for community organising in journalism are profound. There are many different types of community to consider, such as:
- Journalists themselves and the wider community of journalism - data and tech experts, civic society organisations/activists and the wider public, who can inform our choice of stories and how we develop them
- The communities directly affected by and living the topics we report on
- People keen to share our work after publication so it can have the widest possible impact
It’s our job to work out how busy people, with many demands already on their lives, can play a central role in journalism that benefits us all.
It became clear that by building a community of practice together, our UK community organising scene could benefit from sharing lessons already learnt so that we don’t make similar mistakes, and so that insights that come from successes can be mobilised across the country.
Organising the Organisers
This is where Organising the Organisers comes in. Set up as a partnership between the Bureau Local and The Ferret, this quarterly meet-up (launched last spring), it is a way of bringing together people working in community organising and engaged journalism, as well as those in related fields who want to learn with us.
So far we have met in Edinburgh and London (hosted by the Centre of Investigative Journalism), with attendees from organisations including DotEveryone, the European Journalism Centre, the Independent Community News Network, Journo Resources, The Media Fund, MySociety, Shine A Light, Spinwatch, and Unearthed.
Our next meet-up will be on the evening of October 14 in Cardiff, ahead of the News Impact Summit there the next day, which is aptly themed ‘Local news and community engagement’. You can sign up to our meet-up here.
We are also hosting an afternoon breakout session as part of the summit itself – entitled “Innovative Ways to Get Involved with News Coverage”. In this session we will be hearing from two of the people spearheading a new initiative called News Club, which aims to bring local communities together to discuss and critique news stories that affect them.
Creating networks such as Organising the Organisers can help make good reporting in the UK more resilient, more like a rhizome and less like a tree, to borrow journalist Heather Chaplin’s analogy. “[A rhizome] is an underground root system that is essentially decentralised,” she explains. “There’s no central starting place. Plants spring up all over, but all growing out of one common root system. And if you hack off a flower in one place, it doesn’t kill the whole thing — another will spring up somewhere else.”
Our intention is that Organising the Organisers can play a part in nurturing that root system.
Join us for our next meet-up in Cardiff on October 14 by registering here.
Sign up if you’d like to be on our Organising the Organising mailing list.
We plan to keep ‘touring’ Organising the Organisers around the UK. If you’d like us to come to a particular location, would like to help host a session or have a theme or project you would like us to explore, please send an email to [email protected]