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Jan. 23, 2018, 12:04 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.democracyfund.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Ricardo Bilton   |   January 23, 2018

For news organizations, the extended period of self-reflection after the 2016 election produced a handful of resolutions. One big one: the need to get better at listening to and engaging with audiences, not just producing for them.

The News Integrity Initiate, Democracy Fund, Lenfest Institute, and Knight Foundation want to help. The organizations have teamed up to create the Community Listening and Engagement Fund (CLEF), a new grant initiative created to help fund newsrooms interested in adopting tools that deepen engagement with readers both during the news gathering process and after publication. The grant will partially fund 50 to 75 newsrooms’ use of the tools over the next two years. (Apply here.)

At launch, CLEF will support just two tools, Hearken and GroundSource, both of which are designed to deepen newsrooms’ engagement with readers, albeit from different angles. Hearken, which already has around 100 newsrooms on board, has become a popular tool for newsrooms looking for audience input into what topics they should cover. GroundSource, meanwhile, is built around SMS texting, which newsrooms have used to have direct conversations with communities through SMS. Both tools cost around $8,500 a year, and CLEF will pay anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of licensing costs for grantees. CLEF’s creators expect to support more partners early next year.

CLEF’s creators said that the initiative’s goal is to help newsrooms produce more relevant and trusted coverage. That’s a key idea at a time when trust in news organizations continues to sag. In its 2017 survey, Pew Research found that just 20 percent of people said that they trusted the information they got from national news organizations “a lot,” and 52 percent said they trusted the news “some.” More recent research from Gallup found that most people say they can’t identify an objective news source.

Developing a deep connection with readers is “both a journalistic and a business imperative,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director of Lenfest, CLEF’s announcement. “Readers respond with their time, their trust, and their money to news organizations who listen best to them.”

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