Q&A with Resolve’s New CPO, Sara Shahriari

Headshot of Sara Shahriari

Community engagement is the brick and mortar that will build the future of local journalism. But I’m not talking about community engagement in the sense of reporting a story and then holding an event and asking people what they think about it after the fact. I’m focused on meeting people where they live and learning about the information they want and the stories they want to tell.

What about Resolve or the CPO position inspired you to join Resolve?  

I’m passionate about doing journalism and sharing information with people and communities, not about people, which perfectly aligns with Resolve’s mission. The relationships Resolve builds with Philly residents through publications like the Germantown InfoHub embody the kind of journalism I want to support. The opportunity to lead a team that is already doing such responsive work and building more ways to involve people in information sharing, like the Philly Documenters program, was something that immediately drew my attention. After meeting the staff, I was even more motivated to join, and I am so thrilled to now add my strength to Resolve’s mission and this awesome team. 
 

What do you envision the future of local news will look like?

I deeply believe that access to information is a cornerstone of community and democracy–and that’s what makes local news so important. In many places the established, advertising revenue-driven newspapers have either completely collapsed or seen their budgets and staff radically reduced. That’s a real problem because people lose an important space for sharing information that empowers them to be involved in decisions that affect their lives. In the future we are going to see more communities served by nonprofit news organizations doing local reporting alongside the enduring older media, along with increasing collaboration between media outlets. We’ll also see growth in hyperlocal news outlets, backed by a variety of financial models, that are founded by people to serve their own communities. 


What are three things you’ve learned as a leader that help you stay focused?

  • Know your guiding star. There are so many demands on everyone’s mental and physical energy. Making time to define simple core values and decide on the most important things we want our work to do in the world helps me decide when to say yes to a project and when to pass. 
  • Make meetings count. Have you ever walked out of a meeting and thought, “Wait, what are we doing now?” That feeling is my kryptonite. Nobody has time for an hour-long session with no outcomes, so meetings need a written agenda and follow-up tasks. 
  • Collaboration is strength. Believe in people’s capabilities, respect their strengths and understand that partnering with people through goal setting and planning yields better outcomes for everyone involved. It might seem easier to just tell people exactly what to do and how to do it, but creative leaders shape processes that let people do great things. 


How do you see the role of community engagement evolving in local journalism, and what strategies do you plan to implement to enhance it at Resolve?

Community engagement is the brick and mortar that will build the future of local journalism. But I’m not talking about community engagement in the sense of reporting a story and then holding an event and asking people what they think about it after the fact. I’m focused on meeting people where they live and learning about the information they want and the stories they want to tell. I’m focused on getting that information into their hands by expanding the Equally Informed text line so we can directly answer more questions and connect people with resources. We’ll also share our experience with a growing number of newsrooms across the country. For example, Resolve’s Community Engagement team’s in-person Sound Offs build deep relationships throughout the city that surface many issues that are important to Philadlephians. That information nourishes the Philadelphia Journalism Collaborative’s network of local newsroom partners and allows them to respond to citizens’ interests and concerns. This is a unique network, and sharing Resolve’s approach will strengthen how community engagement works far beyond Philly. Finally, I’m excited to grow our Philly Documenters program, which pays Philadelphians to attend and take notes at public meetings across the city. For me, Documenters highlights the ways local media organizations can be centers of civic engagement and learning while also providing valuable information to local newsrooms. 


What’s something you missed about Philly that you’re excited to do/visit/see again?

Philly is so vibrant, and getting out and walking around the city is one of my favorite things. Having lived in other cities that are really hard to get around, I have a renewed appreciation for this place and all the architecture, neighborhoods and public spaces I can access so easily. I’ve also missed the amazing variety of unique restaurants and food trucks. So I can’t wait to get back to walking out the door and heading over to an old favorite or to try someplace new. 


How would you spend your days if you had unlimited time and resources?

Honestly, I would still be at Resolve because I’m one of those people who likes both the variety and focus that work brings to my life, and Resolve’s mission and this team are important to me. I would definitely put a lot of money into supporting local news. In my infinite time off, I would travel with my friends and family all around the world. I’d visit a museum in Philly every month. I’d buy a huge farm and take care of every lost animal that came my way. And I would have an endless Wawa coffee fountain installed in my house.