Saving journalism: put your audience first

Amidst shrinking ad revenue and a battle for attention in a tsunami of content an important key to a solution lies with your audience. And that’s – in our opinion – the beginning of building sustainable journalism and media companies.  

Understanding media no longer means talking about print versus digital or desktop versus mobile. How people behave is the new way of thinking about media in the digital world. The grammar of online storytelling is the behavior of your audience. That’s new and it’s a massive change for publishers and media companies. Also, because their business models are focused around the format first. In this digital era, it’s important to start focusing on audience first.

More and more news organizations are looking towards their audience for their sustainable future. How can we do that? Hackastory’s newest recruit and designer, Luke van Eersel (me), is currently doing research on this topic and will blog about it the coming months. This first blog focuses on audience engagement. It’s not the full answer to saving journalism, but it’s a start. We listed some very interesting examples and tools to achieve more engagement.

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Crowdsourcing is the new black

ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom based in New York City, collaborates with their audience. It makes their content different from other newsrooms. “ProPublica believes that recognizing crowdsourcing and engagement as a tool for journalism shifts your thinking in how you might utilize the public for journalism – not just for referral traffic,” as ProPublica’s deputy editor of engagement Terry Parris Jr. explained in this interview.

They have different approaches. For example: they did a story about Facebook hate speech and created a Facebook bot. This resulted in ProPublica getting stories about various experiences with hate speech on Facebook from all around the world, which they could use for their investigation.

Another example was the Whatsapp experiment for their investigation into American company Firestone’s role in Liberia’s civil wars in 1992, called Firestone and the Warlord. Firestone ran the plantation that was used to direct the assault on Monrovia which started the wars in 1992, but years later, ProPublica wanted to tell the untold story from Firestone’s perspective – which turned out to be a more complex story than expected. Parris: “So we came up with a WhatsApp broadcast list and asked community organizations and media companies in Liberia to share their number. Anyone with an interest in the investigation could subscribe to receive the updates on WhatsApp. Users would receive a summary and link to each part, discussion questions posed by the author, excerpts from the chapter – including text, image or audio – and the chance to ask the author questions about the story.” So even with a simple app like WhatsApp or platform like Facebook, you can achieve great engagement. If you use it in a creative way, that is.

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Know your audience’s needs and wishes

Hearken, a platform for journalism, makes it easier for newsrooms to connect with their audience. It flips the traditional model on its head, ensuring that all decisions can be made at the right time. This way, journalists will know that their work is relevant before even publishing it. Hearken enables newsrooms to understand the needs of their audiences and how to act on them by listening to them from story inception to completion.

Keep up with big volume

Screendoor is an online tool from company DOBT, aimed at making it easier for governments to better manage incoming data and engage with their citizens. But it’s also a pretty cool tool to use in journalism for engaging with the public. For example, ProPublica loves this tool to create their stories, especially for organizing and visualizing the incoming responses. Screendoor starts with all of the basic ‘form builder’ features, just like Google Forms does, but their review interface is much more elaborate. And that’s useful when you engage a lot with your audience.

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Go live!

Facebook’s Live Video, Instagram Live and Twitter’s Periscope led the way for a new form of journalism: live journalism. This way, you can basically reach audience engagement without following the rules of a tool or depending on a tool: you can see the response yourself, real-time. Going live is as real as engagement can get, so why not?

This is the first step. Our goal is to find an answer in how you can build a sustainable media organization funded by your audience. We have a WhatsApp group to share knowledge, insights and to connect with each other. This group is specifically for journalism professionals who are interested in the future of audience-funded journalism. If you are interested and fit the profile, please send an email with your mobile number to research@hackastory.com.

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