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Once upon a time, journalism had it all to itself. It asked the questions. It provided the answers. It analyzed the actions and set forth the thinking.

That model has been disrupted by technology. The public’s desire to know and know now has changed the traditional gatekeeper role of the journalist. News consumers play an active, not passive, role in the gathering and shaping of news.

Meanwhile, the business models of news media are changing also, as advertisers move dollars around or simply pull them back in a down economy.

Mainstream media outlets are still important, to be sure. But in this dynamic world, those outlets will only survive, and thrive, if they embrace all this change. At The Seattle Times, I’m in the middle of that change.

A few months ago, Executive Editor David Boardman plucked me out of my comfy and familiar seat as the newspaper’s features editor and cast me into a newly created post: assistant managing editor of community engagement. My charge is to make sure we’re connecting with our readers, and with the community at large, in new ways — from high-touch to high-tech.

In an era of polarization and segmentation, we aim to be the region’s town square. We want to be in the middle of the conversation around and about the news. And we want to knock down any perceived walls between us and the people we serve and cover.

As part of that effort, we have created what we’re calling a “community chair” in our newsroom. Each Wednesday, we are joined by an invited guest from the community so that they can learn more about us and — more importantly, so that we can learn more about them and their issues and concerns.

Since we began this effort, here’s what I’ve learned from the folks in that community chair:

How Eastern European immigrants want to be identified in the newspaper.

How local public and private institutions are collaborating to prepare for a global pandemic.

How children and their parents suffer from bullying, and what can be done about it.

That “small business” no longer defines the size of many local endeavors, and that “micro-business” is a more apt descriptor.

That Native American leaders are gravely concerned about the mental health of their children.

That mainstream Christian churches feel overlooked by us and other media.

And so much more. This effort will make us a better news organization, and lead to stories we might otherwise miss. At the same time, the community-chair guests are seeing how the sausage is made.

Without exception, they say they come away with a far greater appreciation for the challenges we face and the care we take to try to give you the best report we can, in the newspaper, on Seattletimes.com, and on your mobile device.

Whom should we invite next? We welcome your suggestions and ideas. Because today, it’s all about the conversation.

Carole Carmichael: 206-464-8136 or ccarmichael@seattletimes.com