To support its community listening fellows and their newsrooms during the coronavirus pandemic, the American Press Institute will adjust grant plans and pay for all fellows to access the listening and engagement tool suite, Reach.

The move supports up to all 10 newsrooms in the API Community Listening Fellowship, a grant-funded project to help news organizations start more journalism from a place of listening.

Each fellow has a yearlong project to build relationships and pursue engaged journalism with communities their news organizations have alienated or inadequately served. Last year, fellows were paired with an expert adviser for in-person and remote support, and have had access to other in-person and remote opportunities to learn from other leaders in the field.

The change uses funds for remaining in-person events to cover the costs of Reach for use in newsrooms for six months. The fellowship is funded by the News Integrity Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School for Journalism at CUNY, which also was an early funder of Reach, an initiative of the nonprofit EducationNC.

“Newsrooms right now need community and guidance, but they also need resources,” said Amy L. Kovac-Ashley, senior director and vice president of API. “We hope the access to these tools helps newsrooms continue to listen and better serve their communities while socially distant, and continues to lay groundwork for better relationships whenever COVID19 subsides.”

Reach is a suite of tools for engagement, listening, and conversation. It allows for newsrooms and other organizations to meet their audiences where they are via text messaging, online surveys, article and website embeds, and live events. The tools are built to engage communities in conversation through traditional survey formats, SMS, chatbots, and other question types. In combination or individually, they allow partners to understand their community, evaluate trends, and identify information needs.

“We are delighted to partner with API to make the Reach engagement suite available to community listening fellowship newsrooms to power engagement during these uncertain times,” said Nation Hahn, director of growth for EdNC, which jointly runs Reach with Public Input. “Reach was built to provide pathways for communities to engage via text messaging, online tools, and events at scale. We believe that newsrooms must continue to develop relationships with their community — and that communities retain a desire to connect around their common goals. We hope newsrooms will use the service to meet the information needs of their communities in the months ahead.”

Hahn is also an adviser to Steve Mencher and Northern California Public Media, whose fellowship project focuses on a southwest Santa Rosa community, predominantly Spanish-speaking, that until recently lacked representation in city government. Reach is also used by Outlier Media, whose founder Sarah Alvarez is an adviser in the program. Outlier will offer insights to the fellows as they consider the tool.

The fellowship program overall will also focus remaining monthly conversations on remote strategies for engaged journalism. This month, fellows had the opportunity to discuss the topic with Michelle Ferrier of Florida A&M University, who discussed digital and non-digital ways to engage audiences and inherent challenges for remote engagement. Ferrier is also the adviser for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

API’s Community Listening fellowship is funded by a one-time grant from NII. It builds on API expertise on connecting newsrooms to advisers who can help them, as well as its work on building a culture of listening in news.

For updates on this program and also what the fellows learn from the experience and adaptation among COVID19, sign up here. For questions about why API chose this path, email Kevin Loker, director of program operations and partnerships, at kevin.loker@pressinstitute.org.

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