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 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?
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.
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? Continue reading “Upcoming webinar: Motivating and measuring community knowledge and action”→
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.”
** Where you see asterisks, I’ve elaborated since the original publication.
I’ve had meetings with several students lately who want to work professionally in or do in-depth research on social media, and I was reminded of dozens of chats I’ve had with professional journalists.
The journalists (student or professional) had this in common: They have a firm grasp of tools and enjoy using them, but they haven’t thought through deeply enough some key questions.
Please, let’s build a social strategy around these questions:
1. Why am I doing this?
What’s the purpose behind the post, prompt, invitation or link? To drive visits to your website? To invite connection between journalists and users? To find sources? To promote brand awareness? To get a window into users’ values or opinions? The answer of course differs between brands or newsrooms. And it should most certainly differ between posts. What do you hope to achieve with each post, and are you mixing it up?
Prepping for a class discussion on the powers of collaboration, I’m re-reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus. I was struck again by a specific passage that I just might read aloud to my newsroom this week.
Shirky tells the story of the little girl who, while watching a DVD, went behind the TV to look for the mouse.
He then writes:
Here’s something four-year-olds know: a screen without a mouse is missing something. Here’s something else they know: media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those things make me believe that the kind of participation we’re seeing today, in a relative handful of examples, is going to spread everywhere and to become the backbone of assumptions about how our culture should work. Four-year-olds, old enough to start absorbing the culture they live in but with little awareness of its antecedents, will not have to waste their time later trying to unlearn the lessons of a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island. They will just assume that media includes the possibilities of consuming, producing, and sharing side by side, and that those possibilities are open to everyone. How else would you do it?
The girl’s explanation has become my motto for what we might imagine from our newly connected world: we’re looking for the mouse.
I spent last year at RJI studying audience engagement — reading, talking, interviewing, writing, more reading — and ended that year motivated to put what I’d learned into practice.
Luckily, the job I came back to was in a newsroom built on experimentation, with colleagues willing to go along on the engagement ride.
In August, we kicked off the Missourian’s community outreach team, made up of students in a class I teach called Participatory Journalism. (The class has existed for years and was developed by Clyde Bentley, also an RJI fellow.) This year, the focus of the class broadened to include more ways the relationship between journalists and their communities are changing.
The team’s tasks are diverse. We started out with some specific goals, succeeded at some, failed at a few and adapted others. We made up a lot as we went along, and a spirit of experimentation and assessment guided us.
I want to share some highlights from our first four months, and I’d welcome your ideas, feedback and questions.