I’m helping organize a Poynter summit on audience engagement. (It’s Aug. 29 in New York, and you should grab one of the remaining seats!) One of the panels will look at inclusion as it relates to community work. In a planning call this week, the speakers (the amazing Anika Gupta, Andrew Haeg and Michelle Ferrier) asked questions like:
- Who are we engaging with?
- Who do we WISH we were engaging with?
- Why do we think people will want to engage with us? What would their motivation be?
- Does our interest in our communities feel authentic or self-serving?
The conversation has me chewing on some overlaps between community journalism and gaming or other niche communities.
Join me in mulling over this question: How does it feel when newbies (noobs in gaming vernacular) dive into something you know a lot about, overestimate how much they really know, mischaracterize your culture or truth and don’t seem to care or even be aware?
When people ask what I do, I can answer a lot of different ways. Engagement, after all, means a lot of things.
I found myself yesterday morning reverting to what might be my favorite description, though. In a conversation with Brian Ries, engagement editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, about strategies his newsroom might try, we discussed how it all comes down to invitations.
What are you inviting your users to do?
The default answer usually comes down to consumption. Most of our communication efforts with readers/listeners/viewers/followers have two things in common:
- The goal is to get as many people as possible to click/read/listen/watch the journalism we have produced.
- They efforts are not specifically targeted but instead are a mass invitation to anyone whose attention we can get.
It’s not hard to move beyond that, but it does take a shift in mindset.
Audience-focused, engaged journalism wants more than consumption. It wants participation. Criticism. Discussion. Collaboration. Empowerment.
I’m spending a couple of days with community newspaper folks at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, and I led a discussion this afternoon about questions that make journalism more social.
I threw out a few topics to chew on, and one of them was this:
Where, offline and online, are people in your community talking to each other about what’s going on in town?
It’s easy to talk about online conversations (and boy, do I spend a lot of time doing that). But I also really love talking about what’s happening offline. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball. Over coffee, beer or sports. Over shared interests, shared geography or just an accidental shared location.
Wherever the public is gathered, journalists have an opportunity to be listening. They also have an opportunity to be distributing content customized for that specific gathering, situation or news need.
Here’s what I heard from community journalists today about where in their towns people frequently discuss community life. What would you add?
- Sports events (youth and high school)
- Beauty shops and barbershops
- Coffee shops
- Cultural events
- Post offices
- Chamber functions
- Grocery stores
- Standing in line anywhere
This is a version of a talk I gave this morning at the Green Shoots in Journalism Education event at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Appropriately, a lot of what we teach in journalism school is about the craft of gathering information and telling stories.
But too often missing is a discussion of who it’s all for.
- Who wants it?
- Who is it helping?
- Who will seek it out?
- Who will pay for it?
- Who gets to decide what “good journalism” is?
If we want a future full of relevant, well-funded journalism, we have to be teaching students to ask those questions.
We can’t work in a vacuum, publish, then pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next story. We need a plan to:
- aggressively reflect a community’s priorities and voices
- identify the audience for what we do
- invest in bringing audience and content together
- track what works so we can continually experiment and improve
My Participatory Journalism class makes up my staff at the Columbia Missourian newspaper. And our task as the paper’s community outreach team is to ask and answer those questions on behalf of our product and our newsroom. We work to infuse audience-focused philosophies into our newsroom’s processes and products.
What I’d love to see is a journalism curriculum that infuses this focus on audience into all our classes. I’d like there to be no need for a Participatory Journalism class or a community outreach team. We all need to focus on making journalism that the audience wants and finding the audience for the journalism we think is important.
Here’s an example of what that looked like for a package of stories that my newsroom published a couple of weeks ago. Click through the slides, or watch me explain them during an 8-minute presentation.
I’m delivering a webinar for the Knight Digital Media Center next week, and I wrote this blog post introducing it. It was originally published by KDMC.
If you sell shoes for a living, you have a clear metric for success: How are my sales, and are they enough to keep me in business? When you do or fund mission-driven work, the metrics are much less obvious, but it’s still natural to crave them. If you think your work is making a difference, it’s important on many levels to have evidence that you’re right.
But when your primary goal is not something concrete like dollars made or products created, how do you know if what you’re doing is “working?”
One good plan of action is to define what “working” means to you, find some metrics you can attach to those, then commit to the time it will take to track those metrics.
As a preview, let’s look at each of those three steps individually.
1. Set goals.The important first step is defining what you hope will happen as the result of your work. If this is hard for you, roll around in it for awhile and get comfortable, because you can’t move on unless you get really specific here. Do you hope people will get more involved with your organization? Take action on an issue? Attend an event? Or how about this one: Learn? Often, one core goal is raising awareness. Think about those days you leave work feeling really satisfied. What has likely happened? What drives you and your organization? What is success?
Read the rest of this entry »
I just watched this archived talk from September 2013 from Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s center for Civic Media.
Zuckerman is smart about a lot of things. Today, I especially enjoyed the last section of this 15-minute talk, when he talks about:
- news judgment and accompanying responsibilities
- encouraging the right kind of civic action
- reaching a new generation of media consumers with impact-oriented messages
What we can’t keep doing is building news that is disconnected from peoples’ ability to have an impact. We can’t continue to say, “We’re going to put this information out here, you’re going to be an informed citizen, and then something will happen and it’s all going to work out from there.”