When the editors and reporters of The Oaklandside launched this new nonprofit newsroom for Oakland last June, we made a commitment to root our reporting firmly in the needs and wants of diverse communities across the city. 

About the authors

Tasneem Raja is Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside.

Cole Goins is our contributing editor for community engagement.

From the beginning, we’ve known that living up to that commitment would require creating a continuous feedback loop between residents and our newsroom so that we stay tuned to how our work is—or isn’t—resonating with Oaklanders we aim to reach and serve.

To start, we embarked on a months-long listening program—well before we had a website or even a name!—in which we asked a wide range of Oakland residents about what they wanted from a new local journalism organization. From those conversations, we developed a set of founding values that informed what we call our “Mission Metrics.” They reflect our community’s priorities and guide our daily journalism, and we’re committed to quantitatively tracking and sharing how we live up to these principles over time.

They include:

  • Reporting for, and not only about, people dealing with problems in our city
  • Amplifying diverse community voices
  • Reshaping harmful narratives about Oakland
  • Investigating systems, not just symptoms
  • Making local government more accessible
  • Preserving Oakland histories and legacies
  • Partnering with others serving information needs in Oakland 

We were inspired by the pioneering work of our friends at City Bureau, a civic journalism lab in Chicago, and the deep questions they’ve asked about what (and who) journalism is for and how newsrooms can develop new metrics of success that prioritize equity, participation, and access.  

In this spirit, The Oaklandside is now working to strengthen our community feedback loops by creating new ways to get more direct input from Oaklanders about how we’re doing and how our reporting may or may not be living up to the values that they’ve helped us develop.

We’re grateful to have new support from the San Francisco Foundation to help us launch a pilot program over the next few months where we’ll work directly with community members to evaluate our reporting and help us find opportunities to better meet the needs of Oaklanders with our journalism. 

To start, we’re creating a seven-member group of paid community advisors, one person per Oakland council district, with a strong commitment to representing Oakland’s diversity, who we’ll collaborate with over the next few months to assess the stories we publish and share feedback with our staff. For this pilot group, we’re prioritizing working with people who aren’t already familiar with The Oaklandside’s journalism. 

We’re taking both a quantitative and qualitative approach to this work. We’ll ask our community advisors to help us track how often our stories reflect our newsroom’s various Mission Metrics, from their perspectives, so we can spot areas where we need to boost our efforts and help us better understand what we’re doing well.  

We’re also planning to deepen our emphasis on listening and consider how we can make our reporting more relevant and valuable to more people in Oakland. Here are a few of the big questions we’re asking:

  • Is our reporting useful to Oaklanders? How?
  • Is our reporting helping people understand what drives the big issues in our city?
  • Do diverse Oaklanders see themselves and their communities in our coverage?
  • Does our reporting reflect the Oakland that our constituents know and love?
  • Has The Oaklandside helped Oaklanders feel more equipped to make change?
  • What are our blind spots as a newsroom? 
  • What do people find trustworthy or untrustworthy about The Oaklandside? 
  • How is The Oaklandside challenging—or perpetuating—harmful narratives about our city and its people?

We’re in the early phase of developing this group of community advisors, and will share more about our process in the coming weeks to ensure transparency. At the end of this pilot program, we’ll also publicly write about what we learn, and the decisions that our staff make in response to input we collect from our community.    

We’re also planning to design and test a few other opportunities for Oaklanders to give us feedback during this pilot initiative. If you subscribe to our newsletter, be on the lookout for a survey later this spring that will seek your thoughts on our key questions. And keep your eyes peeled for new features on our website that will offer easy ways for anyone to tell us how they think our stories are meeting the values we’ve co-created with our community. 

We believe that taking the time to embed community input into the fabric of our newsroom is critical to our success, and we’re eager to continue building feedback loops with our Oakland neighbors to guide our journalism. If you have any questions about our Mission Metrics program, please email Cole Goins, contributing editor for community engagement, at cole@oaklandside.org. And, as always, you can always get in touch with our team about a particular issue here.

Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas. She was a senior editor at NPR's Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped build the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and daughter.

Cole Goins is a contributing editor for community engagement to The Oaklandside. A media consultant, organizer and facilitator, he serves as the engagement lead for The New School's Journalism + Design program, and has led a variety of trainings, events and community-based journalism initiatives with organizations such as the American Press Institute, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, and the Poynter Institute. He spent a decade in nonprofit investigative journalism, first as the engagement editor at the Center for Public Integrity, and most recently as the director of community engagement at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.