Measuring Impact with CIR

I have to admit, my journalism red flag goes up whenever I hear discussions of impact and solutions. I’ve always been taught that journalism is about presenting the issues at hand, and leaving it up to the audience to act, if they are so inclined.

But the consensus that journalists are responsible for arming citizens with the tools to create change were assumed at “Dissection F.” Dissection F was a half-day conference led by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) about the organization’s efforts “to build a community of practice around media impact measurement.” In other words, how can we quantify the difference our journalism makes on our audience?

The meeting was the sixth of its kind (they are holding these “Dissections” in alphabetical order, if you haven’t yet picked up on the name), and was intended to dive into the framework of “impact indicators” brainstormed during Dissection E in August.

Joaquin Alvarado, the CEO of CIR, kicked off the session by asking key questions.

How do we know that we’re making the right investments? How are we growing the capacity for the communities that we serve to make an impact?

I have always been impressed with CIR, and the work that Lindsay Green-Barber is doing is absolutely fantastic. Her whitepaper on “Rape in the Fields” demonstrated both her forward thinking in quantifying impact of CIR’s investigations and the commitment the organization has to following up with communities affected by their reporting.

CIR also asked a few journalists to speak about the intersection between engagement and impact. Cole Goins, CIR’s distribution and engagement manager, framed the issues at hand.

Goins emphasized the importance of finding the communities where they are: Hold events with the local community, in the place it will matter to people.

An example he cited was a “solutions summit” that CIR held at the Sonoma developmental center after the community was featured in the investigation “Broken Shield: Exposing Abuses & California’s Developmental Center.” The event was packed, and all sides came together to talk through ways to deal with the problems surfaced in CIR’s report.

John Barth of PRX presented first, discussing his organization’s approach to engagement. He cited the viral success of “Two Little Girls Explain the Worst Haircut Ever” as an example of online impact, and the Moth Radio Hour as a show that is committed to engagement from the audience.

“Our entire content strategy is based on engagement,” Barth said. In fact, PRX chooses its partners based on their commitment to engagement. The Moth, for example, is engagement, not a show, says Barth. The audience comes first.

My presentation focused on how The World focuses on engagement through social media, creating communities and opportunities for impact. Here’s the deck:

Finally, Scott Walker of the Alabama Media Group presented his team’s multimedia investigation into the state’s prison system, those timing Alvarado praised as an innovative opportunity for audience engagement.

The first “season” of coverage, Walker explained, was about the problems in the system, and the upcoming “season 2″ is all about solutions. Alvarado pointed out that this timing provides a place for the community to catch their breath, and convene for a solutions summit. “This created a layer of trust with the community.”

For the remainder of the afternoon, we split into small groups to discuss CIR’s impact taxonomy and indicators, which are currently in draft form.

What do you think of their work in this area? How do you measure the impact of your reporting? What is the difference between advocacy journalism, solutions journalism, and just “journalism”?

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