This Is What the Knight Foundation Means by "Community Engagement"

If we were really ambitious, we'd roll out a feature here on IP called "Engagement in Action!" It'd be like one of those recurring segments on your local TV news. "Good evening. In today's installment of 'Engagement in Action' we have…"

We admit, the idea probably won't see the light of day. It would come across as a bit silly, due in no small part to the use of the exclamation point. But the importance of highlighting tangible examples of nonprofits that use grant money to quantifiably boost audience engagement cannot be overstated.

First, program directors can study the project, determine if it will work for their organization, and implement accordingly. Secondly, grant writers can see what types of audience engagement projects foundations are funding and modify their approaches.

And so we turn our attention to the Lone Star State, where the Dallas Morning News recently received a $250,000 innovation grant from the Knight Foundation. As we all know, Knight liberally funds journalism organizations that "promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts." In the case of the Dallas Morning News, Knight chose to fund their efforts in the area of audience engagement.

So what did Dallas Morning News come up with to compel Knight to open their checkbook? For an answer we turn to Bob Mong, Dallas Morning News editor. In this open letter, he tells readers that the paper will use the Knight grant to fund two key projects:

  • Establishing a Hispanic Families Network. The paper will provide media training in grassroots Hispanic communities focused around kindergarten readiness and literacy issues. A pilot program is already underway in the Bachman Lake neighborhood and will expand to nearby areas in coming months. Parents will learn to research, report, blog, and use social media to communicate with peers and with the larger community about the importance of early childhood education.
  • Introducing new digital tools. These tools will "connect and empower North Texans and make it easier to expand citizen interaction with already existing community networks sponsored by the Dallas Morning News."

The good news? The Dallas Morning News approach can be replicated by journalism organizations elsewhere. Most papers need to reach out and build stronger ties with their respective communities, and the News' Hispanic Family Network provides a model. Furthermore, the News based this model around issues particularly important to the community: kindergarden readiness and literary issues.

As a result, the News acts less as a "reporter" of the news and more like a community partner and gatekeeper of information. To that end, the News isn't preaching the importance of education as much as it provides parents with the tools to engage with each other around educational issues. Call it a kind of socially conscious crowdsourcing.

All told, two nifty examples of "Engagement in Action" (notice the lack of an exclamation point) doubling as the kinds of projects Knight loves to fund.