Last week, we attended the News Product Alliance (NPA) Summit along with more than 400 news professionals from around the world. All the sessions were packed with valuable insights, research, and resources to bring back to our newsrooms. We’ve summarized three major takeaways about understanding, serving, and engaging your readers:
How do I gather useful audience data?
As a news startup, there are many data-gathering opportunities — but what data should publishers prioritize first?
In the opening keynote, Loretta Chao, vice president of strategy and startups at the American Journalism Project, recommends using interviews, focus groups and text messaging. Ask potential readers: “What information will get you through the week?” Then create personas around different consumption habits and needs. In-person conversations are the best way to reach underserved communities, she says. But it’s also important to maintain an ongoing back-and-forth with your readers, to ensure you are continuing to meet their needs.
Be intentional about how you phrase your questions, say Reilly Kneedler and Kristy Roschke, facilitators of the 101 Questions to Ask Your Audience session. “If you were a reporter for the day, what’s the first story you’d cover?” would get you much richer answers than “What do you think of our content?”In this session, participants brainstormed questions about fundraising, demographics and media consumption habits. Reilly and Kristy will curate these questions into a master list available on the NPA Resource Library, which all newsrooms can use in audience surveys and other research.
Once you’ve generated a larger email list, use that data to understand how to make inroads into new communities. Paul Cheung, CEO of the Center for Public Integrity, recommends asking: “What is the logical audience we can serve less? More? Who is the next logical audience that is not too far out of reach for us?” Once this new audience has been identified, figure out what your newsroom can do to capture them. Consider doubling down on your existing journalism or creating a new product centered around your existing work that could be relevant to this audience. Don’t be afraid of asking for help, either: Create a tailored pitch and provide it to supporters, funders, or readers with connections to your target audience.
How do I serve my readers and keep funders happy?
The perennial question! If you rely on grants as a revenue source, it can feel like you’re being pulled in different directions. Paul and Loretta touched on this tension in the opening keynote.
As journalists, we have to be intentional about writing for the communities we serve. We need to think about what is most interesting and useful to our readers, not to our peers or the experts we interview. Often, your funders have aligned interests and their audiences they ultimately serve may overlap with yours. Understanding how your funders invest in solutions can hint at the kind of journalism that will be most useful and effective for your readers.
Based on these adjacent audiences’ interests, consider creating a news product that provides the information they desire, or shift your editorial priorities to align with your readers’ needs.
When it comes to funders and readers, it’s not either/or. It’s about finding overlaps and opportunities to move closer to both organizations’ visions.
How do we combat news fatigue?
There’s a disconnect between our audiences and the journalism we produce, says Annemarie Dooling and Sam Ragland, facilitators of the Awe and Information session.
“News is the biggest driver of compassion fatigue,” explains Annemarie. If the goal of news is to encourage readers to consider new perspectives and make informed decisions, we need to optimize for “awe.”
Awe encourages us to re-evaluate our beliefs in light of new information, share our experiences, and be more open to new ideas, says Annemarie. There are six factors of awe:
- Self-diminishment (of the ego)
- Perceived vastness
- Accommodation (the process by which people reevaluate their ideas or beliefs in the light of new experiences or information)
- Physical sensations and internal consistency (that feeling of calmness because you know your place)
By breaking down awe into its individual components, you can help your community experience it daily. In the session, participants brainstormed how they could create awe for their readers. Some ideas that surfaced include providing alternative methods of consumption (e.g. data visualization, Instagram stories) to facilitate accommodation, and hosting or attending community events to generate a sense of connectedness.
You can do this, too! In your own newsroom, consider what type of work in which you can use each factor of awe and the actions or feelings you want to elicit from your audience. From there, consider how you can make incremental changes to inspire awe.
Our team is plugged into the latest events and industry research so we can better serve our publishers. When you join the Indiegraf network, you can lean on our staff and fellow publishers for support to grow your newsroom.