Moving forward to engagement, Part 4


Reporting is the bread-and-butter of the journalistic process. Here are a few fresh tips the vested reporter can use to inject easy bits of modern engagement within the tried-and-true:


  • Ask outside the newsroom. While you’re formulating which questions to ask, consult with members of the community what they most want to know about the issue. This can be done publicly on social media or privately. Most importantly, do this in the place where community members most affected by the topic already are. This will build interest for your work and pre-story reader/listener/viewer buy-in.
    • Don’t worry if the story falls through or takes a different turn. People are used to being asked their opinions and know things change. If anyone asks, be honest about your process and simply say, “I wanted to tell the story as well as I could and as truthfully as I could. That’s why I went a different direction.” Transparency is key and refreshing in an era when people are increasingly distrustful of the media. This is an opportunity to show them the human thought process behind your work.
    • If you’re using Twitter to consult the community, here are a couple of sample tweet formats for this type of engagement: “I’m interviewing an underwater basket weaver Tuesday. What do you want to know?” or “Live in Neighborhoodtown? What questions do you have about the new school?”
      • Remember to keep these short. You’ll want folks to have plenty of room to reply.
      • Think about the nature of the topic. Is it something people will likely respond to in public or private? If it’s a delicate or potentially embarrassing topic, provide an email address for responses or set up a Google form they can fill out.
      • As with any responses you get, these are starting points. Verify them as you would any other source.

While reporting

  • Share as you go. Interview someone? If appropriate, take a photo of the subject, share a quote if you had a great interview and say, “Stay tuned for the rest of the story soon.” Be sure to let the person know that you’re posting the photo and quote and use their social media handles while sharing.
    • Sample for Twitter, Facebook or Instagram: (With photo attached) “Artist @KelseyProud says ‘Underwater basket weaving changed my life.’ Full interview soon on @newsorghandle.”
    • If you’re working on a big project, be sure to include the hashtag you’ve designated for it, if applicable.

After reporting

  • Share that story. Why do the story at all if no one sees, hears or reads it? Remember those people you talked to for initial questions or those you identified as most affected by the topic? This is your chance to let them know about your work in the biggest way.
    • Share it on social media. Don’t feel boxed in by using just the headline and a link. Pull your best facts, quotes and statements to share. Why would someone care about this story? Use that. And ask that question for great headlines, too.
      • Share your story more than once, but space it out by a few hours or so.
      • Consider the tone of the story and subject matter. Think of what people will be doing when interacting with your work. Will they be out at a bar? Relaxing at home? Traveling to work? Share your story during the time and day of the week they’re most likely to be receptive to your topic or story. Don’t know these specifics? Ask members of the communities around the topic.
      • Remember to share your story where the people who are most affected by the topic of your story are talking to each other. This could mean online or in person, if possible.
    • Use your legacy medium (if you have one like print, TV, or radio) to cross-promote as appropriate.
      • Be specific in these cross promotions. For example, say “For great photos of the underwater basket weaving studio, visit our website,” or “To learn how to make a basic basket, visit our website.”  Do not say,  “For more with artist Kelsey Proud visit our website.” You want to see those photos, right? Or learn how to make a basket? Of course you do. What does “for more” mean? Not much.
  • Stay open to new leads and connections
    • It’s often during these sharing sessions that more questions can lead to more stories from the community. Be on the lookout for these opportunities and seize them.
  • Use social media for testing
    • This is a fun time to try different things and see what works. Try some A/B testing of different tweets from the same story and then measure your results in quantitative and qualitative ways (more on that below). What works best? Does targeting individuals about a story work better than sending out a general tweet or posting? Find out what works best for your news organization on different stories.
  • Metrics for success:
    • When judging the success of a story, numbers aren’t the only metric but they’re the easiest to use. The best assessment of success should include both quantitative and qualitative measurements and observations.
      • For quantitative analysis, use the metrics tools native to the social networks you used to share your stories. If these tools are not available or don’t exist, you may have to decide what the most important numerical metric is for the platform and the story. Discuss this as a team.
      • For qualitative analysis, things get a little more interesting. Did the story get shared by influencers in a community? That’s a plus. Was it shared by people who were directly affected by it? Also a plus.
      • For more on qualitative and quantitative engagement metrics, and picking metrics that are best for you, see Joy Mayer’s work on “The Engagement Metric.” It includes practical tips and exercises for different types of journalistic projects and approaches and is arguably the most comprehensive guide on the subject to date. To duplicate it here would short change you, so check it out.

Most importantly, remember to share what you learn with your team, including reporters and editors. This can help your organization make smarter choices about story selection and presentation down the road. Demonstrating the success of a story can even help your organization’s bottom line. No matter your role, remember to use what you learn — and return to it. Keep sharing successes and be accountable, and stop producing things that don’t work. You’re not only accountable to yourselves, but to your community, which benefits when you keep pushing to serve them better. Change is not always easy, but it’s almost always worth it.

Keep the momentum: Resources, print outs and more

Here are additional resources for executing the framework for engagement and helping your newsrooms have related conversations.

Kelsey Proud  
Institutional fellowship project lead


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