6 things to know about the Agora Journalism Center

A great number of thoughtful people, organizations and projects are working to improve the future of local news. To help ground the work, CISLM compiled a database of projects already in progress.

Andrew DeVigal is the endowed chair in journalism innovation and civic engagement at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism & Communication. He is also director of the Agora Journalism Center, a forum for the future of local news and civic health. The center’s work stems from the belief that vibrant local information ecosystems are critical to civic health, defined as the ability of diverse communities to engage and work together to address shared problems. Community-centered journalism can provide quality, trusted information and improve understanding across community differences.

DeVigal’s leadership at the school has led to initiatives such as Gather, a support platform for community-minded journalists, and the Doers Gathering, a toolkit to drive community-driven solutions. Prior to joining the UofO, DeVigal was the multimedia editor at The New York Times.

Read Agora’s latest report, Assessing Oregon’s Local News & Information Ecosystem 2022, which DeVigal co-authored. CISLM Intern Reagan Allen spoke to DeVigal via Zoom. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media: Can you describe the mission and work of the Agora Journalism Center?

Andrew DeVigal: Our main focus is to look at local news, and, really, the intersection of local news and civic engagement. …The whole notion of “nothing about us without us.” So that’s our mission, is to ensure that the idea of local news really is in sort of a collaboration partnership with the local community to support their local civic health.

CISLM: What is the desired impact of your work, and how do you measure success?

AD: To understand the impact, it’s really important to understand the information health of our communities, right? Since we’re in Oregon, we have a sort of a deep focus on our local ecosystem across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. So to really measure the impact is really to understand if people and communities aren’t getting the information that they are craving. … More importantly, is (gaining an) understanding (of) the information health and not just the information needs, (and) also to completely understand the information assets, the gifts that community members have to help inform each other and to build that network.

CISLM: How do you all collaborate? And in what ways can folks get involved with the work you do?

AD: We actually have a platform called Gather. It’s really to support community-minded journalists. So if you’re new to Gather, I encourage you to check it out at Let’s Gather. If that intrigues you, what we offer just from the get-go is our resources to better understand how to do community-centered journalism. And also to understand not just resources, but also case studies, to really kind of model how journalism and journalists and local news organizations can actually change the way they practice journalism to be much more community-centered. If you join (as a) member of Gather, which is of course absolutely free, you can then have access to a network of community-minded journalists across the globe. Right now it’s about 2,000 strong. We’re pretty active in our Gather Slack workgroup that really engages with the community and also is an opportunity to exchange information, challenges and support each other. So that’s how we support collaboration, is really to bolster and support the community of practice of those focusing on community-centered journalism.

CISLM: What should local journalists, or just your civically engaged community members, learn from y’all’s work? And what resources can they access to learn more about y’all’s work?

AD: Go to agora.uoregon.edu, which is obviously our main website. There are several reports that we put out.

Also, we have also co-hosted at least three national conferences that really focus on how we center communities in the journalism that we produce. Don’t just go to Gather but also check out Agora because we also have an enormous amount of resources on that platform as well.

CISLM: Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about the center that you want to include?

AD: One of the things that makes our center unique is that we have a collaboration between the leadership, and also the idea of the power of both practice and theory. I’m honored to be working with our research director, Regina Lawrence. But she’s also the Associate Dean for the School of Journalism and Communication in Portland, where we really take it from the practice side, as well as the academic research side. So she’s a political communicator and an authority around civic engagement. So it’s really nice to be able to support the work that we’re doing through rigorous research, and vice versa. It honors this notion of this communication, this collaboration across sectors and fields, which kind of carries on to the ethos of what we believe and how we can really support journalism better.

How do we then develop the same kind of collaborative feedback-based loop between community members and journalists?