Who’s your audience? (And other questions for reporters)

The members of my community outreach team will be paired up with some of our reporters this week to ask some key questions about what they’re working on. These reporters are all pitching projects — meaty, lengthy projects that they’re hoping editors will give them many weeks to work on.

My goal is that the reporters will bring an awareness of audience and a sense of who they’re writing to — and for — to their early work. Because really, if you can’t answer that fundamental question, what’s the point? If you can’t picture the people who you think will really benefit from the information you hope to share, why is it worth your effort? Not every day-turn story is worth this approach, of course. But for any project, series, investigative report, etc., it’s a discipline I think we should make part of our routine.

Here’s the list of questions I wish reporters would answer about any project.

  1. Who’s already talking about what you’re covering? Where/how (offline and online) are those conversations taking place?
  2. Whose experience or expertise could help you in your reporting? What sources are you looking for, and how could we get creative about finding them? (This could be specific people, or communities of people.) Or should we invite someone to contribute their own voice as a companion to your story?
  3. Is there an opportunity for — and would there be benefit from — letting the community know what you’re working on as you’re still reporting? Is there any danger in doing that?
  4. What do you hope your story will accomplish? Is there conversation that might (or should?) follow? If so, what could (should?) we do to facilitate or be a part of that?
  5. Who’s your target audience? Who do you think most needs — or would most enjoy — the story you’re telling and information you’re providing? How can you make sure they’re invited to see what you produce, and interact with it?
  6. What can the audience DO with your story, or in response to it?

I think 15 minutes spent with this list could help make a project relevant. It could help foster a community’s connection to a project from the early stages. It could show community members what they stand to gain by getting involved with their news, and how a relationship with news could help them be more involved in their communities.

I know reporters feel overwhelmed by all their being asked to add to their plates. But a focus on the audience seems necessary for news organizations, and I think that can begin with individual reporters.

What would you add to the list?


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