Q&A with AxisPhilly CEO Neil Budde on impact of public interest news

In the first piece in the a weekly Q&A series from CPIJ on the impact of public interest news, Neil Budde, CEO of AxisPhilly, shares how his intentions for having impact shape his organization’s workflow and development strategy.  Feel free to leave follow-ups in the comments and look for the next Q&A (with video!) with Matt Golas, Managing Editor of PlanPhilly, next week.

How do you define ‘impact’ for your organization?
A main focus of the work of AxisPhilly will be to tackle topics and issues where we can provide news, information, and interactive tools that will support citizens in seeking change. As such, we primarily define impact as making a difference on key issues to the city.

In what ways do you measure impact?  
The kind of “change” that may occur will vary from issue to issue, ranging from new city policies or legislation to new approaches being adopted to citizens organizing to solve problems in their neighborhoods. Along the way, we also expect to measure interim impact based on the level of community engagement through use of interactive tools, sharing of content, and participation on discussions on key issues.

What do you expect (or hope) audience/community members to do with your news/information?
With most topics, we intend to offer interactive tools that will allow community members to check on how an issue affects them or to suggest possible solutions. We also expect to offer new ways for the community to let public officials know how they feel about issues.

How do you see a concern for impact affecting day-to-day process of news work? E.g., Do you structure stories to be able to measure impact?
While the main effect will be on the selection process for the topics we dive into, on a more regular basis I expect that it will affect the questions we ask and the tools we decide to build.

How much does the possibility of impacting civic discourse and public affairs affect budgeting and staffing decisions?
Staff time and other resources will be heavily weighted toward reporting and writing about issues where we can have impact, gathering and analyzing data that helps illuminate issues, and seeking ways to engage the community around the issues.

Do you have explicit social goals affiliated with your work?  How do you know these goals have been met?
“Explicit social goals” might suggest that we go into a topic or issue knowing what the solution will be or how things need to change. In most cases, that won’t be true. We may identify an issue or topic that we want to focus on because it represents a problem for citizens. But the possible solutions would come out of the reporting, data and community engagement.

What are the biggest obstacles to measuring the impact of your work?
Time is the biggest factor to knowing if our efforts have impact. Often, it may take months or more for definitive change to occur.

Do you ever time (rush or delay) the release of a story to increase perceived impact? Examples?
I doubt that we’d rush or delay the release of coverage, but we might time the start of an effort around a particular topic to coincide with other events related to the topic. In addition, a breaking news event related to a topic (a deadly fire at an abandoned building) might cause us to initiate work on a new topic.

Do you track which civic leaders consume or comment on your news?  Does that matter to you?  Why or why not?
We do see it as important to reach both citizens and civic leaders to achieve impact. As such, it makes sense that we actively try to get civic leaders to participate.

Do you ever include a call to action in your news?  Why or why not?
Yes, we expect most of our projects to include ways for people to voice their opinions or connect with civic leaders.

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