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Andrea Wenzel is the author of Community-Centered Journalism, a new book from the University of Illinois Press.

434. Put community at the center of your journalism

Community-centered journalism needs to be like communities themselves: based on the priorities and interests of the people who live there, no two exactly the same. 

It “centers both the needs of the community and its assets and has the goal of improving the communication health of the community,” says Andrea Wenzel, an assistant professor at Klein College of Media and Communication and Temple University. She’s also the author of a new book on the subject of community-centered journalism from the University of Illinois Press. 

The book isn’t necessarily a how-to guide or an outline that should be read as the end-all, be-all meant to save journalism, but it can help both communities and newsrooms prioritize the needs of the people who live there. 

“I hope the two can be related, through this process of community-centered journalism,” she says. “It can repair a lot of the problems of journalism and the way we’ve traditionally been practicing it.” 

As the concept’s name suggests, community-centered journalism needs to start with the people in the municipality or region covered by a publication or other outlet.

“You start out by trying to find out what information needs the community has and also what assets they have,” Wenzel says. “There may already be things that are helpful and valuable in a community. There might be lots of strong community organizations or really vibrant social media pages. There might be things that already exist and you can collaborate. The first step is to get a sense of what the needs and assets are.” 

Newsrooms traditionally see themselves as the point of origin for something like this, but that doesn’t have to be the case, she adds. “Some projects might start with community members and work with newsrooms, but have the core in the community. The basic idea is, if you think about communication health for the community, it’ll end up benefiting everybody. It’s a different motivation from what newsrooms have done.”  

Each community might have a different set of priorities: People in one location might want more high school and college sports coverage; another might want more information on local government and politics. But it isn’t until that information is sought and collected that a newsroom or organization can know for sure. 

Community-centered journalism is “not going to generate a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s a process that can be applied in different places,” Wenzel says. 

It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks a friend of the podcast, Andrea Wenzel, assistant professor at Klein College of Media and Communication and Temple University, about her new book on community-centered journalism. They discuss the importance of learning a community’s priorities and information needs as a way to improve coverage and create better and more tailored solutions.

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