Elise Stolte: I'm saying farewell, celebrating what Groundwork achieved and leaving you in good hands


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“We realized we weren’t alone.”

I was scrolling through survey answers to summarize what readers thought of Groundwork, the Edmonton Journal‘s pilot project in engagement journalism, when those words caught me up.

Not alone.

This winter, we chose the topic seniors and COVID-19 for our second experiment in this new approach to reporting. We used surveys, text-messaging, a mail list and targeted listening sessions to hear what every day seniors and their families were experiencing. Then we used that to shape our coverage — first focused on the vaccine rollout, then isolation, then continuing care — and made certain the stories of those most impacted were at the centre.

But was it possible just this act of listening and reporting could be so powerful?

Journalism at its best is like a mirror. It reflects back to the community a true picture of what’s happening. It tells us that in our troubles we are not alone, just disconnected.


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Today I want to report back on our progress for two reasons. One is personal, because I’m moving and handing this off to my colleague Keith Gerein. The second is because, since we launched this effort last October, we’ve come a long way. We started with a vague idea of wanting to create a safe place for people to share frankly and help shape the news. Now we’ve seen the impact. We know it can lead to stronger journalism and changes what we report on.

For example, last fall we picked the topic COVID-19 and schools, then abruptly took a tangent when it was clear one desperately-unreported story many parents needed telling on the impact of cuts to special needs funding. This winter, we set out to report on seniors, thinking it would largely focus on long-term care. I didn’t foresee our focus on unpaid family caregivers, a role I previously thought little about.

Our techniques have evolved as well. We’ve been using online surveys and tested a text-messaging program to reach seniors who might not be online. We also added a weekly newsletter so we can have an ongoing conversation, and we’ve realized the importance of targeted outreach. If we want to hear from a broad spectrum of people, we need to recognize which ethnic and socio-economic groups are less likely to be reading our website. We’re trying to deliberately reach out to them so this new reporting approach doesn’t simply reinforce our blind spots.

When we asked readers to evaluate the results, more than 130 people weighed in. Several people mentioned they felt less alone and that it reduced their anxiety. Others said it gave them a voice. They loved it when they could hear me put their question directly to chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and felt the articles about real people helped focus the reporting on what matters.


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Groundwork III is launching this week. It’s going to focus on Edmonton and the question of local prosperity. This city has been hit with so much — the pandemic, the decline in oil prices, cuts to public service jobs. But how are residents really doing on the ground, and why? And what will this mean for October’s civic election?

We welcome everyone to share their stories. Watch for more details from Keith Gerein in the coming days.

For myself, I am leaving Postmedia and moving to Calgary. It’s going to be hard to leave Edmonton, where I gained my feet professionally, met many friends and started a family. Thanks to this community and a series of supportive editors, I’ve had space to grow and experiment.

The move will be a new adventure but I’m staying in journalism and I’ve found my passion. Media across North America are experimenting with these new reporting techniques that use collaboration and relationships to strengthen local news. It’s a pathway to rebuild a struggling industry and empower our communities. This is what I want to continue. Look me up online sometime, I won’t be far. We’ll all be learning from each other.



Groundwork is an Edmonton Journal pilot project in engagement journalism. Subscribe to the newsletter and get involved at edmontonjournal.com/groundwork

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