Our newsroom has formed a community advisory group. Here is what we learned
A few months ago, we introduced you to The Oaklandside’s First Cohort of Community Advisors, seven longtime Oaklanders we recruited to share their thoughts on our journalism and how we live up to the values we set out in collaboration with our community.
We worked with this great group for two months starting in April. Each week, advisors read three stories posted by our staff and shared their thoughts on each one through a digital survey we created. They also told us which of our “mission metrics” – a set of criteria we use to measure how well our journalism connects to our newsroom’s core values - they thought every story matched, if at all. It gave us a sense of how the people of Oakland view our journalism and whether or not they think it lives up to our mission.
We also received many qualitative contributions from our advisors on how our journalism could better serve Oakland. We created two additional polls that solicited their ideas for the news we cover and held two virtual meetings between advisors and our staff.
Once our Community Advisors completed their work in mid-June, we took the time to synthesize all of their comments to come up with a set of recommendations for the future of our journalism. Here are some of the main takeaways:
- Include more resource listings, related links, and calls to action. Advisors wanted to know what they could do about particular issues, how they could help, and where they could learn more about the topics we cover. “I always appreciate it when there are links that take you to another article with more information on a particular thing,” said one advisor. “It’s also useful when there are clear ways for people to act and get involved. “
- Make our writing more accessible. Advisors pointed out that some of our stories used words and terms that many people in Oakland may not be familiar with. We can pay more attention to the language we use, especially in policy-oriented stories, to make sure our writing is easily understood. In response to a story we reported about illegal sublets, a counselor wrote: “It was difficult for me to really understand the story because of the words used which were very particular to a specific area, ie. occurrence housing. It was like I needed to be an expert to find out what was going on.
- Be clear on what to do next. After reading our stories, counselors regularly asked what happened next and when they could expect a follow-up story. Being more explicit about our intentions to follow the topic will help people know what to expect from our coverage.
- Incorporate more local history. Of all the mission metrics advisers tagged on the stories they read, “Preserving Oakland’s History and Legacy” was cited the least. At the same time, advisers praised stories, like our article on the Oakland Black Liberation Walking Tour, which focused on the history of Oakland. This challenged us to think of ways to incorporate the story into our reports more regularly.
- Highlight basic solutions to local problems. Advisors deeply appreciated our profiles of businesses, organizations and community members who find new ways to help our communities thrive and meet challenges. Commenting on our story of how a community organization, Street Level Health, supported the Oaklanders during the pandemic, one advisor said: And the support during this global crisis is not only uplifting but inspiring as well. “
- Explain our editorial decisions. Comments from advisers have sometimes highlighted how the choices we make about who to quote, what information to include or not to include, or why we chose to make a story in the first place are not always easily understood by readers. The practices and decisions that may be necessary for good journalism, they reminded us, are not always common knowledge to people who are not journalists.
- Examine how policies and programs affect communities differently. Equity is already at the heart of The Oaklandside’s work, and advisers have often asked larger questions about the implications of local agendas and policy decisions and how specific communities are impacted.
- Do more visual storytelling. Advisors often said how much they liked the photos of our stories and suggested that we produce videos as well to get more people to see our work.
- Raise the prospects of young people. We regularly heard counselors asking for more youth voices in our stories, and they praised us when we focused youth in our reporting, such as in our article highlighting how students wanted to see the school year reinvented. “I loved that the students tell us what they want to see rather than just the adults and board members about what they plan to do,” said one advisor.
- Convene community conversations. Councilors suggested The Oaklandside could host and moderate events to bring together people from different communities, who do not normally dialogue, to discuss the big issues facing the city.
Obviously, our advisors have given us a wealth of ideas on how our journalism could be more in tune with the needs of the people of Oakland. The next step is to act on these recommendations in a concrete way.
To start, we shared the full list of recommendations with staff and together we voted on three to prioritize immediately: producing more stories that elevate local approaches to local issues, incorporate more history and context, and experiment more with visual storytelling.
Over the next few weeks, our team will take action to address these recommendations, such as our new series explore the history of residential buildings in Oakland and the people who lived there.
Since this was a pilot program, we also asked the counselors how they would improve the process for future cohorts. While most appreciated the experience and the excuse to sit down and read local journalism each week, they suggested a variety of ideas, including more time for counselors to speak with staff, more time ‘opportunities to share specific article ideas and to meet in person next time, something we haven’t done this round because of the pandemic.
We are proud to share what we have learned from this generous group, and hope this information may be useful to other local newsrooms as well.
We’re also curious to hear what you think of this work and how our newsroom can better serve the needs of Oakland residents. Use the form below to share your contribution.