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Organise, structure, present: Effective ways of working with information for investigative journalists


Organise, structure, present: Effective ways of working with information for investigative journalists

Picture of Meenal Thakur
Meenal Thakur — Project Manager
April 29, 2021

Lessons learned on compiling and presenting information from our Investigative Journalism for Europe fund expert calls.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the media industry hard, forcing us to rethink and reinvent the ways we practice journalism. From travel restrictions impacting ground reporting to newsrooms struggling to remain financially sustainable, not to mention the quest to keep tired audiences engaged — the challenges are many. However, this has also been a time when newsrooms and freelancers have shown immense resilience and innovation.

At the EJC, we organised two bootcamps for our grantees of the third cohort of the European Development Journalism Grants programme in September 2020. The two-day virtual event served as a platform for the eight Europe-based newsrooms to discuss their challenges of coping with reporting and engaging with audiences.

Here’s what we learned during those days.

What do your readers want? Don’t assume, ask!

Let’s face it, we have been surrounded by negative news since the onset of the pandemic, and audiences are getting weary of it. While it is important to report on issues related to COVID-19, how can we make sure that people continue to be engaged in the rather complex, but necessary, information landscape?

Our trainers Patricia Torres and Bilal Randeree from the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) advise newsrooms to study new media consumption habits. They gave our grantees a step by step guide on how to research new news consumption habits, listen to their audiences and build a community to generate revenue.

Here are their recommendations.

  • Research what the audience is looking for beyond COVID-19 information.
  • Strengthen the SEO capacity of your news outlet.
  • Your audience will immediately recognise the value you provide, if all the decisions you make are centred around providing value to your community.
  • About 20% of your audience are brand lovers. Focus on them, understand their habits as these people will stay on your website and use it as a resource of information.
  • Only 3% of brand lovers actually participate as your true community, and actually consider converting to subscription or membership. These people are your ambassadors — they engage with your content and share it actively on social media.
  • Exchange emails with the brand lovers and see what subjects they like the most. This reality number is what you should work on.
  • Webinars and podcasts with experts are a good way to engage with audiences and can even be used to generate revenue via sponsored content.
  • Membership is the buzzword during COVID-19, but this can always change. Membership models need a lot more engagement to work and the incentive has to be more than monetary. What is the added value for audiences in it?

Sounds overwhelming? No need to panic! Newsrooms can also respond to the trust deficit and decreasing the interest of audiences by adopting new approaches to reporting. Here’s one way:

Is your audience tired of news? Make them a part of it.

Why do people avoid news and what newsrooms need to know about solutions journalism (SoJo)?

People are increasingly finding news draining because they feel it is too negative and they feel helpless about it. Solutions journalism is an approach to help to reconnect them, by not only informing people but also giving them hope. It is about “information that helps audiences make right decisions,” say Nina Fasciaux, Manager Europe, Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) and Carolyn Robinson, Deputy Director of Programs, SJN, who participated as trainers at our bootcamp.

A rigorous, evidence-based approach, solutions journalism (or SoJo) focuses on reporting on responses to social problems and discusses their limitations. SoJo engages communities by asking them about their most pressing issues, letting the audience define the problem or, in some cases, even the solution. And ultimately, it is going back to the community to discuss solutions.

How can you use SoJo to tell engaging stories?

Here’s a summary of Nina Fasciaux’ and Carolyn Robinson’s tips.

  • Do not hero worship, but include characters to talk about systemic changes in your reporting.
  • SoJo is not a theory of what can or should be done, instead, it is something that is already in process.
  • SoJo is not a magic bullet. Tone down the rhetoric instead: do not overstate the solution, since it cannot be a solution for everyone.
  • A new grant, a proposed legislation, a task force or a coalition coming together to work on something is not a solution story. As there is no evidence, it is just the beginning of a solutions story.
  • SoJo strengthens accountability by taking away excuses for inaction and focuses on what works and what is being done.
Screenshots from our trainers’ presentation at the bootcamp
Screenshots from our trainers’ presentation at the bootcamp

Solutions journalism during COVID-19: Best practices

Our trainers shared some examples of news organisations that have been using SoJo to improve their reporting by involving their communities. Mediacités, an independent online journal dedicated to local investigations in France, and Kxan, a television station in Texas, are two good examples. Mediacites received 175 suggestions, 21 pitches and 12 stories when they asked their community about COVID-19 or non-COVID-19 stories and local responses to them. Similarly, Kxan did a series on the challenges faced by youth in the education system and found out from their community that the underlying problem was actually the deteriorating mental health of young people. They reported on what was working in Texas and also in New York, leading them to win more than six national awards for their reporting.

To sum things up: Using strategic listening approaches and solutions journalism can help to keep tired communities engaged while the COVID-19 news cycle rolls on. Even more importantly, engaging with their community will help journalists build a more long-term relationship with readers, which will eventually outlive the pandemic.

Don’t miss our grantees’ reporting projects to see how they’ve used these tips in practice!


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