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How can newsrooms better engage with their audiences?


How can newsrooms better engage with their audiences?

Picture of Meenal Thakur
Meenal Thakur — Project Manager
October 07, 2021

Lessons learned from our European Development Journalism Grants bootcamp for grantees.

Every journalist knows: A lot of work goes into producing and publishing a story. Every step needs careful and meticulous planning. While content is key, keeping your audiences interested and engaged is equally important in today’s age of information overload.

To help our eight grantees of the European Development Journalism Grants programme achieve this, we organised a virtual bootcamp with experts from the field. Together, we discovered new storytelling formats, ways to study audience needs and measure impact.

Here’s an overview of everything we learned.

1. Use solutions journalism in an innovative way

Solutions journalism is a journalistic approach that engages audiences by giving common narratives a new spin. Rigorous and evidence-based, it reports on responses to social problems and discusses their limitations. If presented in innovative formats, these stories generate curiosity and keep your readers’ interest, as trainers Nina Fasciaux and Meenal Thakur explained. Here are some examples:

  • Using visual graphics can attract attention to your reporting project. For example, Polish media outlet Outriders have used comic strips to tell stories of how residents living in marginalised areas have created networks to face challenges posed by Covid-19 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Not only has it made the story visually compelling, but the use of animation also protects the identity of the vulnerable communities.
  • Creating an interactive game is another engaging way of reporting. For example, Tetris: The Positive Rate Game from Outriders uses a quiz format to report on the strategies Rwanda used to prevent the spread of Covid-19. By playing the quiz readers get information about the solution to the problem while getting background information on how and under what circumstances did the solution work.
A screenshot of Tetris: The Positive Rate Game
A screenshot of Tetris: The Positive Rate Game
  • With decreasing audience attention spans, summarising content by using, for example, Twitter threads, GIFs, audiograms, newsletters, postcards and Instagram posts can be a good way to promote your stories on social media. For example, Outriders sends its subscribers digital Power Postcards from an inspiring community, town or city that is making an effort to fight climate change.

2. Imagine — and research — your audiences

It’s no secret that researching your audience will help you to engage it. From understanding their needs to practical behavioural details like peak reading times and preferred social media platforms — the more you know, the better you can hit different demographics and avoid under-indexing certain communities.

“It’s about stories and not just data, it’s about bringing the audience, not just traffic,” trainer and Global Senior Director of Audience Development, Social Media and Analytics at Vogue, Sarah Marshall, said, emphasising the difference between quality and quantity.

Talking about ways of conducting research to find audience needs, Sarah told us about 5000 surveys that were conducted in 2019 by Vogue’s audience research team that resulted in identifying six audience needs.

People want to be:

  • Updated
  • Inspired
  • Educated
  • Made more responsible
  • Diverted (away from their lives)
  • Connected (with like-minded people online)

Based on the research of their own reporting, Vogue found out that “update me stories” had the lowest average readership while “inspire me” stories had the highest average readership. That said, these needs vary in different markets, for instance, people in France prioritise being diverted as compared to the UK and Russia where audiences want to be made responsible and inspired respectively.

What’s important to keep in mind is that these needs — primary, secondary, and tertiary — have changed, especially due to the pandemic. People have become more altruistic, caring less about themselves and more about the ones around them. Thus, newsrooms need to produce stories that cater to these needs and help people become more socially conscious. Responding to the audience’s needs also prepares newsrooms to better strategise the kind of impact they want to create with their reporting.

3. Capture and showcase the impact

Impact Measurement Matrix by AKAS
Impact Measurement Matrix by AKAS

What does impact mean for newsrooms? In its simplest definition, it means causing change. The ability of journalism is to bring real social change. However, there is an increasing disconnect between the actual impact created by news stories and the audience perception of this impact. Explaining why this disconnect exists, our bootcamp trainer and founder of AKAS, Richard Addy, said, “we are not telling the story of the impact and the difference created well enough.”

So how can newsrooms systematically capture the impact of the work they are doing?

Below is an impact framework developed by AKAS which is being widely used to measure the success of stories:

1. Strategic input: The most important questions you discuss with your team are: What do you want to change? How much? Who is the audience you are doing it for and is it possible to measure it?

2. Content: Content is key, but what’s important is how well you are capturing what you are doing. Record the stories you do, categorise your stories- gender, conflict, solutions journalism etc. Track the number of social media posts regularly and engage with people commenting on your posts.

3. Short-term outcome: The reach where you track web, social media, newsletter and other engagement performance. Each social media has its own tools to measure metrics in addition to sophisticated tools like Chartbeat, Talkwalker, Pulsar and Impact Architect’s Impact Tracker.

4. Audience impact: Has your audience changed its opinion about a topic you reported on and has become more knowledgeable? To get information about this, make sure to collect audience feedback regularly and consider surveying audiences and subscribers directly. Tools as simple as Survey Monkey and Google Trends can be used here.

5. Influencers impact: Have you managed to reach influencers, other media or got an award for your story? Influencers can include NGOs, international organisations, charities, policy makers, corporates, academics or even other media and activists. Choose which of these parties you would like to engage with. Tools like Pulsar, Impact Tracker, Ahrefs search the web to see whether other institutions are linking to your work.

6. Decision-makers impact: Are there new policies being implemented or are companies changing their approaches due to your reporting? Track those changes. Use the same tools you would use for measuring influencers impact to know which decision maker is linking or engaging with your content.

7. Impact learning: Is there something you, as a newsroom, have learned? Have a facilitated discussion with your team on how your journalism can reach places it hasn’t reached before.

8. Strategic impact: Can you use the above learning to create a strategic impact? How has your brand been enhanced? Did you have a goal of increasing revenue or generating subscribers? Has that been achieved?

Newsrooms can choose to use simple tools like spreadsheets or more advanced solutions like the Impact Tracker. However, what’s most important is the discipline of capturing what change they want to bring in. Therefore, regularly monitoring all aspects of measuring impact is key.

With all the tips above, newsrooms need to be ambitious and innovative in reaching their audiences and for setting targets to achieve the desired impact. The more ambitious they are, the more they will achieve.

For further resources on community engagement, check out these insightful and inspirational reports from organisations and people experimenting with engaged journalism in Europe. These case studies have been compiled as part of the Engaged Journalism Accelerator, a programme run by the European Journalism Centre that delivered grant funding, coaching, mentoring, resources and events to support engaged journalism in European news organisations.


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