News outlets and community engagement: How to involve your audience

By: Whitney Carlson

Jan Mayer’s “Community engagement: A practical conversation for newsrooms” was full of great ideas for how to connect and interact with your audience and community. In this post, I will give examples and describe some ideas that really stuck out to me.

Mayer broke news engagement down into three categories: outreach, conversation and collaboration. It was interesting to see how these categories were applied to traditional news outlets.

The beginning of the reading cited a 2011 statistic from the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Apparently, nine out of 10 editors agree that their news content must be more social and interactive. However, the editors were not sure how to achieve that.

I think this idea is perfectly embodied by a discussion we had in class about different community-engagement methods used by news outlets. The Lincoln Journal Star, for example, asks for the opinions of its audience members on Facebook. We all agreed that asking the opinions for every news story can be inappropriate, especially if it’s a sensitive story. Like the reading said, there is no “one-size-fits-all” way for engagement. At least on Facebook, the Journal Star really fails at this idea.

It’s really about being seen as part of your community. News outlets are often seen as aloof and disconnect from society. In an effort to stay objective, journalists tend to stand in the corner and watch. What communities really want, however, is a news outlet that represents who the community is and what its values are.

Letting people know who you are is one way to be seen as part of the community. I loved the idea of having staff profiles and Q and As. I’m not sure I have ever seen that done in traditional news sources. Reporters and editors may have Twitter accounts with a short description of their likes and personality, but I cannot recall seeing it published on a news site. It would make the newsroom seem more accessible.

Another interesting point was making your social media posts easily shareable. Post pictures with many faces to optimize the amount of tagging and sharing. Use links to include relevant information. Make events and invite people online. It’s been shown that people are more likely to read stories with photos that show up on their timelines, so pick great photos that relate to your story.

This also means having relevant posts. We have talked in class about the news sources that do not differentiate between domestic and international news. It seems as though web site hits are more important than their readers’ time. Relevant photos are also important. I’ve seen news stories with crazy photos that have nothing to do with the actual article; they just want to grab your attention.

Lastly, make your newsroom accessible. Videos are popular, and I loved the idea of a “behind the scenes” look into the newsroom or production part. Be transparent with how you receive and report the news. Show people how their news is made, and it’ll make them appreciate it more.

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About Whitney Dawn Carlson

I'm a digital communications professional and a big fan of coffee, cats and gluten-free baked goods.
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