German news publisher Krautreporter has produced a resource to help other news organisations with audience engagement.
The publisher is a co-operative business, meaning it is owned collectively by the 12,000 paying members who have a real stake in the editorial strategy and business model.
In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, director of Krautreporter, Leon Fryszer, talked about some of the main findings from its Engaged Journalism Playbook, a guide to a reader-first reporting style funded by the European Journalism Center.
"It rethinks and restructures our engagement strategy," he explained. "We've done this for a while, but in day-to-day business it can get messy, so it's useful to take a step back and put our experience out there."
Engaged journalism typically takes an explanatory and long-form approach, which sounds like a time-intensive process. However, Krautreporter manages to make it work despite having a small, tight-knit team of around 26 people.
Rather than outsourcing community outreach to a dedicated engagement editor, all of the reporters actively use an engaged workflow within their stories. Here is how they pull it off.
Start with your readers
"Traditionally, the reader is exposed to the end-product of a long process. Engaged journalism very much starts with the reader and takes them along the generation of a piece to be published," said Fryszer.
"We write about what our members want to know about, not what we think they want to know about."
Election reporting, for example, could go to their readers for a specific topic they want to see covered. A good example of this elsewhere is the US-based Richland Source with its Talk The Vote project.
Bring readers into the process
Whether you are at the researching stage or arranging interviews, make sure you are asking the questions your readers want answers to.
Readers can also be valuable sources and can carry experience and expertise relevant to your story. Also embrace the idea of readers getting bylines.
"We have members writing content from time to time; we recently had an opinion piece about the SPT, one of the biggest political parties in Germany."
Surveys can be a useful tool to gauge good topics and angles to tackle. Playbook figures show that readers who complete surveys after a four-week period experience more sustained reading and remain members for longer.
But questions need to be relevant to readers and their participation hinges on their interest in the subject. An abstract topic may seem interesting to you, the news organisation, but has no relevance to readers. Therefore, a key lesson is to simplify the questions.
"We asked the question 'When did you not live up to your own moral standards?' We thought that was an interesting question in these times of talking about carbon dioxide emissions and not flying. But it turns out that it was of no interest, they couldn't relate to or didn't have a good answer to this question," he explained.
"Then we asked about the decline of church memberships in Germany, and we simply asked 'What's the reason you ended your membership?' and we got a lot of responses. It seems basic, but it relates to their tangible experiences, and possibly, grievances."
"Our authors communicate with readers and are present in the comments section - they don't disappear after the article is published," he continued.
It is a habit of many traditional news outlets to slap an article on the website and dive into their next story. Make sure time is afforded to elicit feedback and potential follow-up articles and angles.
Start with a single story
Local and national newsrooms might have a hard time shifting their practices upside-down to embark on engaged journalism, but Fryszer said parts of this process could be implemented one step at a time.
"Just ask your readers what you should be reporting on, what they like about you and what suggestions they have to improve your newsroom. This is about narrowing the distance between you and the reader," he said.
"Take one topic you are lost with and have done lots of reporting on, and ask your readers: 'What questions are we missing on this?' You can also ask for their experience and expertise, be transparent about what you've done and show the process of collaboration."
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