Our mission at the Houston Landing is to inform the community. But we recognize it’s just as important to listen to communities, to invite people to have a seat at the table — especially for those who have been ignored by the media and never had a seat at the table to begin with.

It’s a daunting task. But Jacqué Palmer, our new senior manager of membership, is helping us achieve that goal.

Jacqué’s career at Vox, Gannett and other media companies has been spent pioneering ways to foster two-way conversations between readers and journalists. This week, she hosted an “office hours” event at the Landing for members of the public who are interested in our mission and plans. 

I sat down with Jacqué to learn what it means to be a member of the Houston Landing and why our members are so important for our mission. This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.

Houston Landing director of audience Forrest Milburn, left, senior manager of membership Jacqué Palmer collaborate in the Houston Landing’ offices, Thursday, May 4, 2023, in Houston. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

Q: What does a senior manager of membership do?

A: What I do in this role is help create a bridge between our mission, the work that we’re doing, the impact of that work and help translate that to community members. To remind them why we’re here, why it’s important and see if they’re able to participate in some kind of way. They can take our survey, come to our office hours, tell other people about an article that they read, or, if they have the bandwidth, support us with a gift.

So that’s my role — are readers represented in the newsroom?

Q: Sounds hard.

A: It’s an interesting role because I think it’s necessary for community members and also for the newsroom. I think sometimes journalists can get really into the meat and potatoes of the work that they’re doing and may not necessarily have the bandwidth to also make space to have conversations or just do deep community work. It’s good to have extra hands and someone who’s specifically dedicated to reminding people why journalism is important and why they should be supporting local news.

Q: The Landing was very fortunate to receive some major donations to launch the newsroom. Why is it important to ask readers to consider becoming paying members if they’re able to do so?

A: I think it’s important if they care about the state of democracy in this country, if they care about having verified information. Someone who is doing the work on their behalf who is not partisan. And who is doing the work from a journalistic frame, not just from someone who has a platform on the internet and is just kind of giving their biased opinions.

I think it’s important for us to support that with our dollars. Especially right now with the state that journalism is in. We have a lot of staple local news organizations going under, and it’s kind of scary to think about a future where we don’t have that and news is not accessible and everything is behind a paywall.

So I think if you care about democracy and having access to local news organizations, then you should give if you can.

Q: Is it a hard sell, though? In today’s climate, there’s so much distrust in some circles towards the media, and your job is to deepen loyalty among our readers and potential members.

A: Yeah.

Q: How do you plan on accomplishing that with so much in the way?

A: I think getting more face time with community members and providing a safe space for them to meet other members of the community and the individuals who work in our newsroom — to have conversations, to share ideas, to talk about uncomfortable things. And then to think about how we can provide solutions for that. Just kind of empower people with information and with the ability to know that they have a contact in a local newsroom. Just having that access, being able to reach out to the media, is really, really important.

And so I plan to have more of the office hours for the community to come and have real face time with us.

Q: Can you talk about the office hours a little bit? What’s that look like?

A: The idea is to introduce people to the mission to reiterate that every time we get together, like, ‘Hey, here’s who we are. This is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and why we need your support.’ And then also to take the time to go through an activity together, where everybody can lower their walls and start to have real conversations with other members of their community.

Q: Lower their walls.

A: Yeah, just lower their walls a little bit. Because I think once you meet a person face-to-face, It’s like, “Oh, hey, he’s not that bad.”

Q: Yeah, what I’ve seen over the years was, I’ll have a new story come out and then I’ll get a nasty-gram from somebody. And then I’ll respond, usually politely. And as soon as they realize there’s a real person, they warm up. Do you think part of this is kind of giving people a look behind the curtain to help them understand what journalism is about?

A: Yeah. I think we need to humanize the work. We need to humanize everything and come from a space of empathy and care and safety.

Q: What’s the difference between being a subscriber of a traditional news organization and being a member of a nonprofit news organization?

A: Yeah, so when you subscribe to a news organization, you’re paying for a product, right? So you’re paying either for digital access or for a physical newspaper or for a physical magazine. There’s a certain expectation that you’re receiving something physical or tangible for the monthly subscription that you’re paying.

In becoming a member of a nonprofit news organization, for us specifically, it’s paywall free. But you’re paying into an ecosystem that supports democracy through local news. And some people are subsidizing the cost of that for others who can’t (pay). So that’s really, really important. You’re becoming a member of that and we offer some perks.

I think that with a subscription, it’s more transactional. It’s more like a consumerism point of view as opposed to being part of a community, being mission-driven.

Q: That seems to be a real strength of nonprofit journalism. People feel like they’re part of something.

A: Yeah. You’re joining a community of like-minded individuals who want to support journalism, who want to support democracy and want to improve the local community.

Q: I like what you said earlier about how you can be a member, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay. 

A: Yes, that’s really important. Being a member doesn’t always mean that you need to financially participate. If you don’t have the bandwidth for that, that’s fine. But if you can be an engaged member in another way — like sharing our content, coming to our community office hours and letting us know how we can be of service to you — and that leads to a story, then that’s impactful stuff. You’ve helped us. You’ve helped us provide solutions or bring an important problem to light. You could help us hold institutions accountable. This is really important work.

You don’t have to financially support your local newsroom to be a member, to be a part of helping us make this mission possible.

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John Tedesco is an investigative journalist with 25 years of experience digging up stories across Texas. Before coming to the Houston Landing, John was a reporter on the Houston Chronicle's Investigations...