The Deputy Program

How to implement this innovative,   open-source approach to community engagement in your newsroom

Created by: Connor Sheets

2016-17 Non-residential Fellow

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

University of Missouri

Benefits of the Deputy Program

Tap into underserved communities

The Deputy Program provides new ways to keep an ear to the ground in communities of all kinds.

Have conversations

The Deputy Program is a two-way street, allowing you to ask questions and receive information.

Expend minimal resources

Unlike many other community engagement initiatives, the Deputy Program requires little time, money and attention, eventually becoming a largely self-sustaining ecosystem.



Community engagement has been a journalism buzzword for more than a decade. From targeted callouts to citizen journalism initiatives, there have been many efforts to connect with broad groups of people in recent years. Some have been successful, many more eventually failed.


The goal of the Deputy Program is to be an open-source tool via which newsrooms of all sizes and varying levels of resources can listen to their communities, and underserved groups in particular, while requiring little money, time and technical know-how. If you’ve got passion, a couple hours a week, a computer and a smartphone, you can pull it off.


As such, the Deputy Program is a bare-bones approach to community engagement that gets real results in the form of conversations, unique story ideas, valuable insights, a new base of knowledge, and audience growth. I can say that because I created the program and implemented it in my home newsroom at in Birmingham, Alabama, and I saw it reap those same rewards.

Whether you’re a newsroom leader, an editor, a reporter or an engagement professional, if you’ve read this far you are likely ready to understand just how the Deputy Program works and how you can deploy it in your newsroom. That’s the goal of this website, from the early groundwork straight through the maintenance and optimization of the program once you’ve got it up and running.

- Connor



Year the Deputy Program was created


$0 to $20 per month for most newsrooms
Estimated time commitment per week

<2 Hours

Step-by-step Implementation Guide

(Hover over images for name of each step, click images for detailed guide)


Deputy Program News

Arizona State University's News Co/Lab features The Deputy Program as a Best Practice
Jun. 12, 2018
News Co/Lab

While the primary result of the Deputy Program is to create better connections between journalists and under-covered communities, participants also learn about the importance of accuracy and verification in journalism.

How Alabama Media Group uses simple text-messaging to listen to diverse voices
Jan. 30, 2018
American Press Institute

At the end of this year-long process, we have access to a vibrant, indispensable reporting tool that has allowed us to better connect with our readers and make our journalism relevant to them in exciting new ways.

The Deputy Program selected as Editor & Publisher magazine's April 2018 Innovation of the Month
Apr. 1, 2018
Editor & Publisher magazine

"If you can get one extra story a month out of it, that's a success for me," Sheets said.

RJI Fellow launches Deputy Program as free newsroom engagement tool
Jan. 30, 2018
Reynolds Journalism Institute

Connor Sheets' goal as a 2016-17 Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow was to help news organizations keep tabs on the communities they serve using available and often limited resources.’s news deputy program: A fledgling success despite obstacles, missteps and hiccups
Aug. 2, 2017
Reynolds Journalism Institute

Connor Sheets’ RJI Fellowship project, dubbed the Deputy Program, has had its share of kinks. But it’s also yielding tips, information and insights that would be nearly impossible for the newsroom to come up with on its own.

Contact / Inquiries


For any inquiries, questions or commendations related to The Deputy Program, please fill out the form below:

Created by:

Connor Sheets

2016-17 Non-residential Fellow

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

Professional website


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