understand + engage
Most journalism starts with a concept of its content, a concept born of professional editorial judgment of what an audience needs to know, or should want to know, or would find interesting. Sometimes it’s instinct if it interests an editor, reporter or news director, then surely, the unstated reasoning goes, there’s a way to make readers, viewers, users, citizens be interested, too that determines content.
In an earlier and bigger world with limited media options, traditional news-and-information institutions network television and local newspapers defined and distributed mass information and also acted as a civic organizing adhesive. They were responsible for “common knowledge,” then a meaningful concept.
Judgment and instincts produced, and certainly will continue to be responsible for, important journalism that informs and shapes civic dialog, that fulfills an indispensable watchdog role, that educates, entertains, thrills and informs.
In the second 10 years of the 21st century, however, some publishers are changing the model. Those who flourish it doesn’t matter their medium will not create content first, find an audience second.
The successful paradigm will be an audience-focused approach some may call it “outside-in” that starts with a clear definition of audience, is followed by deep understanding of its interests and media use, and includes constant, direct engagement that keeps the audience closely and continuously involved in the process with feedback, content ideas and suggestions for course correction. The audience, in this model, participates throughout.
In 2009, the Medill School of Journalism was one of eight “incubators” for News21, a Carnegie-Knight initiative that values innovation as the ingredient critical to the future of news.
Medill’s News21 Fellows produced journalism that was important, interesting and fervently consumed by a specified audience: Recent college graduates living in major cities, the American-born sons and daughters of immigrants.
They created a dynamic, sustainable web site, shift ctrl + alt + enter life, that addressed the issues facing their audience as its members enter on-your-own adulthood, the issues most on their minds and the questions they will answer as they define their lives.
Medill’s audience-focused approach worked.
This web-based paper describes the process Medill used to develop its audience-focused News21 journalism, including some observations and lessons learned.
Also included are descriptions of Medill’s approach to audience; the News21 Fellows’ reporting assignments and top stories; the Carnegie-Knight initiative; and one Fellow’s deep engagement with her audience on the spirituality/religion/morality beat.
Throughout, there are links to stories, examples, short video clips and other information illustrating important points.