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Nov. 28, 2016, 9:43 a.m.
Audience & Social

With its first community reporter, The Texas Tribune is turning Texans themselves into its next big beat

The reporter will be charged with forging relationships with readers and using their feedback to help drive The Texas Tribune’s coverage.

One of the most common criticisms leveled at the political press after the election is that reporters fundamentally failed to listen to the concerns of the people they write for. This (goes the thinking) may explain why so many were caught off-guard by the groundswell of support for president-elect Donald Trump, who appealed to a wide cross-section of voters despite his obvious, well-reported flaws.

At the Texas Tribune, the desire to better listen and respond to the voices of readers has birthed the creation of a new beat on the site: Texans themselves. The Tribune said last week that it plans to hire its first “community reporter,” who will be charged with forging relationships with readers and using their feedback to help drive the Texas Tribune’s coverage. The site is looking to crowdfund $25,000 to partially cover the salary of the position.

While The Texas Tribune planned to create the role before the election, the election “helped us realize that our audience could play an important role in helping us make it happen,” said Amanda Zamora, its chief audience officer.

“We are already regularly convening our audience with elected officials and other decision makers at events all across Texas,” she said. “This reporter is going to build on this to ask communities online and across the state,’What stories should we be telling? What do you know? Can you help us?’ The goal is for them to unearth great stories and new voices, expanding our audience along the way.”

Zamora said that the job will be modeled after the work she did at ProPublica, where reader input regularly helped drive coverage on stories about political ad spending, Agent Orange, and patient harm. The Texas Tribune has already put calls out to readers for stories about immigration and college tuition costs, both of which are key concerns for Texas residents. While many of the stories produced by the community reporter will be standard reported pieces, The Texas Tribune hopes to cover its big topics with explainers and community Q&A sessions as well. Zamora said that she expects that the community reporter will get story ideas both from direct callouts and from following community conversations as they happen organically online.

It’s an approach very much in vogue as of late. WBEZ’s Curious City, a project built with the mission of letting local readers choose reporting topics, in 2015 helped birth Hearken, a startup that’s extended that community feedback idea to organizations such as Brick City Live, New Brunswick Today, and NJTV.

“In a way, it’s fitting that our audience is helping us realize a new role in our newsroom aimed explicitly at prioritizing their voices and concerns,” Zamora said.

Photo of Texas cake by 19melissa68 used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 28, 2016, 9:43 a.m.
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