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The year of iterative journalism

“Iterative journalism is empathetic journalism: It uses audience interviews, surveys, analysis of comments, and observation to learn what readers care about, not just how many of them there are.”

2019 will be the year of iterative journalism.

Rather than producing stories based solely on the reporter’s assumptions, iterative journalism starts by defining the audience’s information needs, taking into account why a given community engages with news in the first place.

This is human-centered reporting. Iterative journalism begins with people, but it looks beyond just demographic data to understand how individuals feel and what they need when seeking news. Knowing someone’s age, gender, and what article they just read might tell journalists something — but it doesn’t tell them how to approach a story in the way most relevant for members of a certain community.

Traditional approaches to audience engagement and content development lean on descriptive analysis of what happened. After publishing a story, newsrooms gauge the number of readers at different times during the day, as well as their core demographic information and how they navigate their products. This might validate journalists’ assumptions of why a story performed well (or not), but it doesn’t actually tell them why readers seek information and what they do with it. It’s important to be proactive in understanding the needs of our audience.

Iterative journalism is empathetic journalism: It uses audience interviews, surveys, analysis of comments, and observation to learn what readers care about, not just how many of them there are.

Grasping audience needs requires moving beyond traditional engagement data points. The goal is to anticipate the issues that truly matter to a reader and the context in which news can be most useful for the audience. Journalists now have the opportunity not only to interview their sources, but also to integrate their audiences into the journalistic process.

This type of human-centered journalism is not without pitfalls. Applying iterative thinking to journalism is a balancing act. Technology use and real-time audience feedback can help journalists discover which stories connect most with news consumers, but it shouldn’t come at the risk of damaging journalistic integrity, voice, or message. At the end of the day, iterative journalism aims to empower news organizations to align their output with consumers’ needs.

Francesco Marconi is head of R&D at The Wall Street Journal.

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