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Oct. 29, 2010, 10 a.m.

How does audience engagement work in the newsroom?

So…how’s that Twitter thing working out for you? I’m sure American Public Media will be less glib than that when asking journalists how audience engagement works for them.

APM’s Public Insight Network is surveying journalists about their methods of reaching out to readers, but perhaps more importantly, asking them if they think it’s doing them any good.

The survey was launched last week and the Public Insight Network is hoping to poll the most connected journalists they can find this weekend at the Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C. (Though anyone can take the survey online.) They plan to produce a white paper with the findings and potentially find new partners for the expanding network.

I emailed Andrew Haeg, editor of the Public Insight Network, to ask why they want to examine engagement now and why tap ONA. “ONA has become the go-to conference for journalists searching for new ways to create distinctive content that cuts through the noise of the Internet, and audience engagement has emerged as a major piece of any news operation’s efforts to stand out online,” Haeg wrote.

In their zeal to get involved in social media, Haeg said news outlets have taken a “shoot first, ask questions later’ kind of approach. Now that more journalists have audience engagement experience under their belt, we’re curious to find out how efforts are measuring up.”

This seems to jibe with recent signs that more newspapers, magazines and other news outlets are past the introduction phase with social media, as well as the fact that both Twitter and Facebook have people dedicated to working with news organizations. At the same time a number of media start-ups, including TBD, the Honolulu Civil Beat, and Voice of San Diego have made audience engagement a priority from launch.

The insight network’s open-ended survey asks basic questions about journalists’ familiarity and comfort using Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to reach out to readers. The big question appears to be whether audience engagement is important and a worthwhile use of time. Haeg said they also want to find out what the expectations are when it comes to online outreach and how journalists gauge success in engagement.

“Is it primarily a way to drive traffic?” Haeg asked. “Does it afford journalist the chance to gather new information, get in touch with sources they otherwise couldn’t have, and seek out new stories? Does it feel like a lot of busy work that’s not adding up to much?”

In particular, the question of “what is engagement” may be of interest to future-of-news watchers becoming skeptical of what the word means in relation to news. Is it just using Twitter and Facebook, is it talking to readers in comments, is it publishing user-created content? In looking at what mainstream media outlets are successful in social media engagement, ReadWriteWeb based its recent findings on Postrank’s analysis, which studies RSS feed items and tallies comments, bookmarks, Diggs, and mentions on Twitter. Over at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Joy Mayer is taking the long view on engagement, examining how various news outlets define the term.

Haeg said they plan to release the white paper after ONA and ask respondents to test out new engagement tools the insight network creates.

POSTED     Oct. 29, 2010, 10 a.m.
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