Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

The best ways to build audience and relevance by listening to and engaging your community

People don’t just consume news today. They participate in it.

People have access to vast and varied information. They pursue news on their own time, and on their own terms, connecting with others who share and help satisfy their curiosity about their world.

This presents an opportunity for news publishers strained by shrinking resources and growing competition: Now more than ever, journalists can engage their audiences as contributors, advisors, advocates, collaborators and partners.

This study describes in detail how newsrooms and independent journalists can grow their readership, boost their relevance and find new sources of revenue by listening to and learning from their audiences.

This is about how journalists can genuinely collaborate with audiences to improve their work, not simply to promote it.

Reporters and editors can apply this knowledge to all phases of news production — including story selection, reporting, and distribution. These strategies also can help with the longer-term development of beats, sources, formats, and innovative news products. Over time, publishers embracing these strategies can strengthen their business and increase the impact of their work.

This report is part of the American Press Institute’s series of Strategy Studies, which offer detailed, practical strategic guidance about a critical issue that journalists and news organizations need to address.

For this study I talked with 25 news leaders and innovators to distill best practices in audience and community engagement. I consulted reporters and editors, managers and strategists, pioneers and leading thinkers in this field. These innovators work in many places: in legacy newspapers, digitally native outlets, radio and television stations, hyperlocal news outlets and technology startups. They serve national, local and hyperlocal audiences and have for-profit and nonprofit business models.

To be clear: This report is not a social media guide, a technical manual or a primer on marketing yourself or your stories. This is about how journalists can genuinely collaborate with audiences to improve their work, not simply to promote it. To the extent that certain technologies and promotional strategies help strengthen your work, we will address them. But this report was written with a point of view: Collaboration is not about what your audience can do for you, but what you can do with your audience.

To examine best practices, we’ll work through the basics of how to effectively interact with and tune in to the communities that can most strengthen your journalism. Then, we’ll look at a few ways newsrooms can build their capacity to engage their audiences.

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