Journalism is community

“Who is consuming our work? Is this audience different from who we would expect? Are there other people who would benefit from our work, and how do we reach them?”

2017 will be the year newsrooms find out who their audiences (actually) are.

geetika-rudraThe Internet is a complicated business tool. It can reduce millions of people to a singular identity, or amplify a single person’s unique voice to millions of people. An advertiser on Facebook can identify with great accuracy older males living in North America; a single vlogger can reach millions of faceless people on their YouTube channel. The two approaches to business development seem oppositional, but they’re actually two sides of the same coin: Successful business development models for online businesses cast a wide net, attracting a large number of people, and then figure out who those people are and what they care about. It’s this data that is monetized and constructs the backbone of online business models. The key to running a successful online business is being able to grow an audience to a mass scale while investing in learning about the same audience on a micro scale.

A newsroom that publishes its work on the Internet for profit is an online business. And here is where newsrooms enjoy the greatest advantage of all online businesses: Community is built in journalism’s DNA.

When we talk about developing business models and audiences, what we’re really talking about is building community. It’s in the reporter who lives in the same town she covers. It’s in the reporter who cultivates relationships with sources for many, many years. It’s in the production team that embeds itself with a military unit on the other side of the world. The common denominator is evident: Journalists working directly in their community, which serves as a place where journalism is both created and consumed.

The Internet has made this difficult. Journalists are farther than they have ever been from their communities. We cover events in places thousands of miles away, without ever leaving our desks. We interview sources we sometimes never meet in person. Sometimes we just paste together snippets of social media posted by people whose real identities we never confirm. Moreover, whatever we publish onto the Internet gets lost in the digital ether without ensuring that it reached not just a large enough audience, but the right audience.

All of this can be quickly labelled “bad journalism,” but these practices will not change unless the market pressures that enable them change.

So how do we get out of the disastrous state that journalism is in? As we near the end of 2016, it’s hard for me to not get bogged down in all the internal setbacks our industry has faced. We’ve failed to report on the concerns a significant number of Americans care about. These people now mistrust us, “the mainstream media,” and have turned to politicians and institutions that are not bound by truth but will very happily speak to them. We’ve failed to compete against information designed to get clicks, not to inform. Now the line between fake news and real news has been so badly blurred the average news consumer cannot tell the difference.

What do we do? We return to our community. Data analytics that have been mastered by companies like Facebook and Google will help us bridge the digital divide between journalists and the communities we serve. It’s imperative that when newsrooms partner with social media companies to distribute our work that we demand equal access to the data these companies collect on our audiences. It is also more important that newsrooms invest in creating in-house data teams designed to collect and analyze information that will help newsroom leaders answer the following questions:

  • Who is consuming our work?
  • Is this audience different from who we would expect?
  • Are there other people who would benefit from our work, and how do we reach them?
  • What issues and concerns do our audience need information about?
  • What is the best way we can present our work so audiences can easily consume and understand it?

This data is crucial for establishing the value of our audiences to potential advertisers and future sources of revenue. It is also crucial to ensuring that our work is accessible to the people who need it. And it is crucial to ensure that, as journalists, we are all doing our jobs. Journalism took a hard hit in 2016. Let’s return to our roots, and rebuild from the ground up.

Geetika Rudra is a data analyst at Dataminr.

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Trushar Barot   API or die

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe