Trusting News is sharing best practices for engaging audiences and building trust. The series is connected to the launch of their Trust Kits

Ask for audience input (and act on it!) 

Here’s a question we love to ask journalists: How do you know what your community thinks of your work? Photo of Mollie Muchna

As journalists, we often feel like we’re getting lots of feedback. Whether through inboxes or comment sections, on the surface, it seems like we’re hearing A LOT from people in our communities. 

But a lot of that feedback isn’t particularly helpful, right? Much of it is snarky remarks or accusations that are all too easy to write off or disregard. This week we want to talk about good faith reflections on how well your local news is serving your community. Are you getting enough of that kind of feedback? Are you really understanding whether your community finds your work useful, and if they think you’re covering them in a thoughtful, accurate, inclusive way? 

If journalists want to provide the best possible public service to our communities, we have to start regularly asking for our audience’s input (in an authentic, meaningful way). Then we have to use what we hear to shape our coverage. 

— Mollie Muchna, Trusting News Project Manager

WHERE TO START 

Want to start gathering audience feedback to better shape your coverage? Here are some steps for getting started. 

  • Figure out which questions to ask. Think about what sort of input would be most helpful to hear from your audience. Perhaps you have questions for a specific part of the community you’re trying to  serve better, or maybe you’re curious about a specific topic (like, how does your community feel about the way you’ve been covering the local school district.) Be sure to root your ask for feedback in curiosity about learning how to make your coverage better meet the needs of your community. 
  • Reach out to your audience. You can insert questions for your audience in any communication you have with them — maybe it’s during an on-air segment, in a social post, in a newsletter, in italics at the top or bottom of a story, in a box next to a story. You have options! Other strategies include crafting a community survey to better understand people’s frustration and confusion around news coverage or conducting one-on-one interviews with people in your community to better understand their perspectives about the news. (We have guidance on how you can do those here.) 
  • Act on the feedback you hear. It’s great to ask for input and gather ideas from community members. But, asking and then doing nothing is not great. Instead, make a plan for how you’ll act upon the input you hear. Put a journalist or a team in charge of collecting feedback and sharing back with the newsroom. Look for overarching themes, and track any changes your newsroom makes. Most importantly: Follow up with your audience. Thank them for their ideas and tell them if you make any changes based on their thoughts. 

DIG DEEPER

  • We have a Trust Kit to help: Our new training tool, Trust Kits, offers guidance and strategies for journalists trying to work to build trust. We just published a Trust Kit all about how journalists can thoughtfully ask for (and act upon) audience input. Check it out here.
  • Make sure your language isn’t self-serving. Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News, wrote about how requesting feedback and invitations for audience participation can be self-serving and limiting. She suggests journalists stop asking for “feedback” and “story ideas” and offers some alternative invitations and language.    
  • Consider an engagement ring. Hearken has a great model for engagement they refer to as an “engagement ring” or “listening loop.” It guides news organizations through how they can incorporate user feedback and curiosity through every step of the reporting process. This case study highlights how it worked at a local station, KXLY.  
  • Collect audience research. The Membership Guide’s audience handbook is a comprehensive, smart look at how news organizations can conduct audience research. We think these tips about conducting a community survey and hosting interviews and focus groups might be helpful to any local newsroom (whether you’re using a membership model or not!) 

WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING

  • The Seattle Times put out a request for reader questions about how they do investigative journalism. They ended up receiving dozens of questions and compiled them into an FAQ about the investigative team. They continue to link back to this FAQ when publishing investigative stories online and sharing them on social media.

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