John Temple, editor of the Civil Beat (and formerly of the Rocky Mountain News), poses this question: How do you behave when you’re a trusted friend? On John’s staff, the people known as “reporter/hosts” are working to build relationships with readers, and a relationships involves sharing information about themselves and being present in their coverage.
“Readers actually do want (reporters) to tell it like it is, tell them what it means, cut to the quick,” John says. His staff has heard that refrain from readers enough that they’re seeing the value in it. “It’s made them more comfortable over time with a combination of news and opinion.” The reporter/hosts spend most of their time reporting, but they’re also charged with interacting meaningfully with readers, online and in person.
The seven-month-old Civil Beat doesn’t accept advertising and is built on a membership model. President Randy Ching (formerly of eBay) said the goal was to invest in investigative journalism in a commercially sustainable way. They want to build a product people value and are willing to pay for. Non-members can read discussions, and they have access to some articles free. Membership options include $1.49 for a single day and $19.99 for a month.
So, how do you go about becoming the readers’ trusted friend? Here are some strategies that Randy and John (in separate Skype interviews) shared:
— Participate in conversation, listening as well as talking. The online discussions and comments are treated as a priority. Staff members answer questions and clarify points raised by members. They behave in a way that sets the tone for the conversations. Randy says they’re also encouraged to share their own perspective and analysis — not to convince people to agree with them but to be transparent about what they believe. John talks about transparency in terms of not pretending the reporters weren’t there. He used the example of a war correspondent who is less concerned with balance than with painting a realistic, personally observed picture. “(Readers will) actually read the same sort of report about city hall,” he said. “We’re definitely present in our articles and in our stories … I’ve never seen any traditional news organization do what we do.” (Find the Civil Beat at @CivilBeat or #becivil on Twitter.)