Nonprofit and investigative journalists, documentarians, researchers and funders gathered in Oakland in October for Dissection: Impact — a daylong exploration of emergent tools for evaluating media outcomes organized by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), with support from the Ford Foundation. 
Now, they’re taking the discussion on the road for Dissection B, a January 30-31 event hosted by Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, Georgia. (Update: read the Storify wrapup on the January event)

The Dissection workshops are designed to “build a bridge between content creators and network, data, and information scientists,” and provide sessions for participants to critique impact tools under development. 
CIR has demonstrated its own commitment to this concept by bringing a researcher into the fold. Lindsay Green-Barber recently earned her doctorate in political science from the CUNY Graduate Center, and is spending two years embedded at CIR as a media impact analyst thanks to a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.
At the first Dissection event, she presented her own research on how CIR staffers define “impact,” and how such concepts could be used to assess CIR’s collaborative multimedia reporting project, Rape in the Fields.

This bilingual production, which uncovers the prevalent sexual abuse suffered by female agricultural workers, involved Frontline, Univision, and the Berkeley School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program. In addition to powerful digital elements such as the animation above, the production has involved face-to-face outreach, including more than 20 independent screenings by agricultural worker communities. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other government and advocacy groups have also used the reporting project as an educational tool.
barber tweet
Visualizing Impact Networks
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign professor Jana Diesner — who captivated attendees at our own November MIFocus event at The Paley Center — presented on ConText, a tool for measuring the impact of documentary films at Dissection. She will be back with an update on its evolution for Dissection B.
contextConText is designed to gather data about selected documentary films from Facebook, Twitter, news databases such as Lexis-Nexis, and the text of focus group interviews. This data is then used to identify salient people, organizations, terms, themes and sentiments associated with the film, to create a baseline social network analysis. A parallel analysis is performed on the script of the film to identify key messages.
Researchers assess impact by comparing the baseline with a similar analysis conducted after the film’s release, to see if related discourse or networks have shifted. The data can also be used to create network diagrams that reveal changing interaction patterns. This process can be repeated at key points in a film’s lifecycle to track reactions and connections over time. Dig into Deisner’s methodology here.
Continuing the Conversation Together
In a recap of the first event, CIR noted that an overarching goal of the Dissections is to form a “community of practice to critically assess the concept of impact itself.”
The Center for Collaborative Journalism offers a fitting setting for connecting thinkers across disciplines. Funded by the Knight and Peyton Anderson Foundations, this media partnership brings together Mercer’s journalism and media studies program, daily newspaper The Telegraph, and Georgia Public Broadcasting in a joint newsroom where students train in a “teaching hospital” model.
The Center aims to “not only transform journalism education, but also to transform our own community.” Learn more:

We look forward to hearing more about what emerges from the discussion.  In the meantime, see our AIM section to stay up-to-date on evolving practices for assessing media impact.

About the Author
Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark

Research Consultant

Jessica is a research consultant for Media Impact Funders, and the founder and director of media production/strategy firm Dot Connector Studio. She is also currently a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project. Previously, she served as the media strategist for AIR’s groundbreaking Localore project, the director of the Future of Public Media project at American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact, and a Knight Media Policy Fellow at D.C.-based think tank the New America Foundation. Over the past decade, she has led research and convenings with high-profile universities and national media networks, including NPR, PBS, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, MIT, and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. She is the co-author of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media (The New Press, 2010), and a longtime independent journalist.