by Shauna C. Murphy
Why Utah? is a collaborative community Facebook page by The Salt Lake Tribune which launched to solicit input from Utahns. The state is experiencing a surge in population growth, and so the newspaper sought to represent issues which the community cared about most. Sara Weber, the organization’s Engagement Manager, pioneered the initiative and collaborated with community thought leaders and individuals to listen to ideas for reporting that the community found most valuable.
The project’s biggest accomplishment has been its ability to spark new conversation within the community, as well as the Salt Lake Tribune’s new ability to discern community interest in a variety of topics through the online Facebook page.
Project Goals: Why Utah? is a Facebook group used to connect The Salt Lake Tribune’s reporters with the communities they cover. The goal is to “hear from Utahns — both new and native — about what’s happening here and how it’s being covered.” Sara posts some prompts to the group and encourages members to share their experiences, critiques, questions and ideas.
The Facebook group eventually helped Sara form a community listening project in which she traveled to Salt Lake City’s west side for a series of discussions with a rapidly growing and historically underrepresented group of people.
Tools and Technology: The Salt Lake Tribune has a primary Facebook page where it shares most of its stories with followers. It uses the Why Utah? Group to foster more intimate and open dialogues with the paper’s most engaged readers.
Impact: Comments and posting views are measured as impact. Engagement over time fluctuates. One topic may solicit a wide array of responses or a discussion, and another may not be commented on much. This may partly be due to Facebook’s algorithms, and Sara states that, “Posts are sometimes seen by a couple of people, or hundreds.”
One clear story of impact: On March 18, 2020 a 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook northern Utah. The epicenter was in Magna, which was one of the towns Sara visited for the community listening project. Immediately after it struck, editors and reporters reached out to Sara asking if she could send them contact information for anyone living in Magna. Two people who participated in our Why Utah? conversation group ended up speaking to Tribune reporters. Their insight and experience helped The Salt Lake Tribune’s reporting stand out and inform the public.
Organization Background: The Salt Lake Tribune transitioned into a non-profit organization just as the newspaper’s community listening project was fully realized. The organization’s goal was to become a paper that did not simply seek to serve one side of the city, but all aspects of the city, from those newer to the city to those with a rich history of living in Salt Lake City. The Why Utah? Facebook group and series of discussions help to demonstrate the paper’s commitment.
Project Resources: Sara created the Facebook group in 2018. She primarily handled it alone. A grant helped launch the west side effort, and a certain number of Sara’s work hours were set aside for the project. The Salt Lake Tribune approved Sara to advertise for and host community meetings which were held at community libraries or even gym rooms which provided childcare services. Participants received gift subscriptions to The Salt Lake Tribune as a gesture of thanks.
Here’s what worked
1. Having consistent voices engaging online
The Why Utah? Facebook page experiences fluctuating amounts of engagement depending on the day’s news. On a good day, members offer unique perspectives on what’s happening in the state and help inform where the newsroom focuses its efforts.
2. A test-group for ideas
The Salt Lake Tribune had the ability to test ideas pre-publication to gauge community interest in the topics; for example, one prompt asking whether pollution was a deterrent to living in Salt Lake City had huge engagement online. This was a reporting topic the Salt Lake Tribune could have overlooked without confirmation of interest.
3. Changing the face of The Salt Lake Tribune
The Tribune’s first west side discussion group was held the same day that The Salt Lake Tribune announced non-profit status. This helped aid the internal changes already happening within the organization and prompted a lively discussion about the paper’s role in participants’ communities.
Here’s what could work better
1. More time to work on the project
Sara can manage the Why Utah? Facebook group on her own, for the most part. When it comes to setting up the listening sessions, however, time management became a little more difficult. A good amount of time had to be invested in advertising for the community meetings. Under more ideal circumstances, more time would have been set aside to gain even more community interest and engagement.
Here’s what else you should know
- Be flexible: The goal of the Why Utah? Facebook page has always been to let the community contribute to the conversation. Sometimes that means posting a story to start a conversation, or simply asking, “What’s on everyone’s mind today?” The Tribune also had to be flexible when it came to organizing the community listening sessions. Sara said that, “The original idea was to bring people from two different places within the Salt Lake Valley to talk about what’s happening in their neighborhoods and how it’s being represented in the media to increase dialogue, understanding and trust. After speaking with members of the Valley’s west side, though, I learned they weren’t super interested in speaking with people from the east side. Instead, they wanted to improve relations with The Tribune itself. So, we shifted focus and turned the project into a series of live community conversations with people in five different west side cities.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask: Sara said that, “Speaking with community leaders ahead of time helped me understand what issues matter most in different neighborhoods and gave me good background knowledge… I received some advice from my grant cohort about using post-its to get conversations started and ensure everyone’s voice is heard. This worked very well.”
- Look for opportunities to give back: Those who participated in the community listening sessions each received a one-year e-subscription to the newspaper, as compensation.