Carnival of Journalism: Designing for Audience Behavior – On and Off-line

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Slide from Vox.com presentation at 2016 NABJ/NAHJ Conference in Washington, D.C.
Slide from Vox.com presentation at 2016 NABJ/NAHJ Conference in Washington, D.C.

NOTE: This is my response to the inaugural prompt for version 5.0 of the Carnival of Journalism:

Designing for audience behavior… — Regardless of how we present our stories to our audiences — online, on-air, or in print — do we truly take them into consideration?

Journalists operate in an increasingly digital world and operate from that world view. I worry about our relying so much on the digital delivery of news we forget there are other ways to do so. As a result, I don’t know if people actually consider the topic of a story as they’re thinking through how and where they’ll present it to their community.

We focus on gathering facts to publish a long-form written account. This means photos, audio, and other “interactive” solutions get relegated to a list of “nice to have.”

Ask your online community how to increase engagement and visibility and they’ll focus on online answers. You’ll end up stratifying the community you’ve already built. Increased exposure may come, but slowly.

The work produced by South Side Weekly and City Bureau recently highlighted by Nieman Lab suggests non-traditional methods of delivery still work. They’re allowing for and encouraging “old-school audience behavior.” Text messages and live events are still useful, ways of connecting with the community. They shouldn’t be discarded completely from the toolbox.

Online, a first-person perspective of what a new bus route may look like from onboard may be more powerful than simply showing a before and after map. Organizations could consider using both sides of a postcard to highlight essential information about a long-form story instead of relying solely on social media to push the finished product.

Designing for the audience involves thinking through how and when they want to access the firehose of information. We work in a digital world now, enabling us to change headlines and ledes as needed. Spending a lot of time in coffee houses, community centers, and parks reminds me some may never choose to cross any bridge we create to the digital. Opportunities still exist to consider how we create a bridge to the digital.

A good friend of mine often talks about journalism “pushing someone to believe a point” rather than “pulling them into wanting to learn more.” It may be a result of an era where entertaining while informing provides access to the purse strings. It’s not a new development in the profession. The Hutchins Commission recommendations in 1947 could have pushed us in a much more reciprocal direction earlier had we let them. The published results were even referenced in the Knight Commission on Information Needs’s report in 2009. Part of our social responsibility as a profession involves determining how and if we’re using all the tools at our disposal.

If we truly want to design for the audiences we seek, we need to remember they may not be where we think they are.

FYI: If you’re interested in participating in the Carnival, visit its website to learn more and to learn when new prompts are available.


Also published on Medium.

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