The year of listening

“Our addiction to scale and its primary fuel, social media, have created the illusion of expanding reach while actually eroding what made us indispensable in the first place: our role as trusted guides to a rapidly changing world.”

This will be the year when newsrooms invest in listening.

For the past decade-plus, the mirage of digital sustainability has lured newsrooms deeper into the desert, devoting diminishing resources to chasing clicks.

andrew-haegNot only have the digital dimes not added up, but our addiction to scale and its primary fuel, social media, have created the illusion of expanding reach while actually eroding what made us indispensable in the first place: our role as trusted guides to a rapidly changing world.

To rebuild trust as the pillar of our brands, a few key newsrooms this year will make a journalistic and business argument for listening — even though it’s hard to measure cleanly on Chartbeat. They’ll do it because they know that building loyalty and trust requires tuning into the concerns and voices of the whole community.

“The thing about listening,” some bold newsroom leader will say, standing atop a desk addressing the newsroom, “about really listening, is that it’s not soft. It’s not a kind of nice thing to do when you have extra time. If you do it right, it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And make no mistake: The future of this newsroom, the future of our democracy even, depends on it.” A scrappy young up-and-comer will nudge her colleague: “Whaddya think?” she’ll say, with a conspiratorial smile.

Emboldened by election postmortems urging better listening, inspired by Spotlight, trained in new tools and techniques, and stoked to pioneer new forms of listening-first investigative journalism, the duo works deep into the night, tipped over Chinese takeout, bleary-eyed, adrenaline-fueled, writing as they go a new playbook comprised of equal parts data journalism, community outreach, crowdsourcing, and investigative journalism.

They print and post handmade signs in grocery stores and truck stops: “What should we know?” with a phone number to text or call. They FOIA 311 data, download 211 data from the United Way, use Splunk and IFTTT and other tools to trigger alerts when key community datasets are updated. They hold town hall forums, set open office hours at local coffee shops and diners, and form key partnerships with community organizations to invite underserved communities into the conversation. They build a community of hundreds who ask questions and vote on which ones get answered, get texts with updates on the newsgathering progress and ongoing opportunities to share their concerns and stories. The community feed that develops is rich, authentic, and often shockingly prescient.

A year later, the same editor who threw down the listening gauntlet will stand atop the same desk, addressing a breathless newsroom to announce that they’ve won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The official citation highlights the resourceful, community-driven approach that led the investigation, which “demonstrated the power of listening to ensure journalism serves the needs of the whole community, drawing out otherwise hidden information and experiences, and building reciprocal relationships of trust and loyalty.”

Other journalists, inspired, will adopt these tactics. The communities they build and engage will become seed stock for newsroom-wide engagement efforts. And these, in turn, will help their news outlets speak as a genuine proxy for the community — left, right and center — at a time when people need more than ever a voice they can trust — that feels like it’s theirs, really — amid a deluge of propaganda, made-up crap, and news passing as entertainment.

Andrew Haeg is CEO of GroundSource.

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

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

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

David Weigel   A test for online speech

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

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

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

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

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

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

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

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

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

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

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

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

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

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Trushar Barot   API or die

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis