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7

You don’t need fancy tools to listen

“Sometimes it can be as simple as acknowledging, internalizing, and thoughtfully responding to emails, Facebook messages, and tweets from readers and community members.”

“I’m a multimedia ninja” is how I used to describe myself and my journalism work. You want video? Done. You want an interactive timeline? Done. How about an illustrated scrollmation that triggers archival audio with some text in between the gif subheads, and then a submission box at the end where people can share their own stories about this topic, etc., etc., etc.?

No more. In 2020, we get less fancy. We’ll innovate less for the sake of creating new things and more on top of what’s already created. Let’s spend less time brainstorming and more time learning from our failures. In 2020, let’s throw the burden of stylish innovation out the window. I’m not just talking about digital presentation, products, or multimedia storytelling, either. I’m talking about how we fundamentally do our jobs — how we listen and engage with people and communities our journalism is in service to.

However you or your newsroom define engagement, there’s a widespread perception that the responsibility of doing journalism informed by community — engaged journalism, a.k.a. journalism — is a new, innovative idea. It is inherently neither. In 2018 and 2019, “listening” became a journalism buzzword, a superpower of community engagement skills with a new flurry of infrastructure, tools, and resources to help journalists maximize their full listening potential.

This is a healthy shift overall. But in 2020, let’s not forget that listening well doesn’t always require innovative tools or strategies. Sometimes it can be as simple as acknowledging, internalizing, and thoughtfully responding to emails, Facebook messages, and tweets from readers and community members. Did you respond to the reader who sent you a story idea, even if you weren’t interested in pursuing it? If we can’t listen to people who are already engaging with us on a basic level, how will we listen to people who aren’t yet — to the communities we’re pursuing new engagement with?

In 2018, a reader wrote to me with some advice: “The more you are there, the more you will find.” In 2020, with seemingly unlimited forms of innovation, let’s prioritize simply paying attention.

Logan Jaffe is the engagement reporter at ProPublica Illinois.

“I’m a multimedia ninja” is how I used to describe myself and my journalism work. You want video? Done. You want an interactive timeline? Done. How about an illustrated scrollmation that triggers archival audio with some text in between the gif subheads, and then a submission box at the end where people can share their own stories about this topic, etc., etc., etc.?

No more. In 2020, we get less fancy. We’ll innovate less for the sake of creating new things and more on top of what’s already created. Let’s spend less time brainstorming and more time learning from our failures. In 2020, let’s throw the burden of stylish innovation out the window. I’m not just talking about digital presentation, products, or multimedia storytelling, either. I’m talking about how we fundamentally do our jobs — how we listen and engage with people and communities our journalism is in service to.

However you or your newsroom define engagement, there’s a widespread perception that the responsibility of doing journalism informed by community — engaged journalism, a.k.a. journalism — is a new, innovative idea. It is inherently neither. In 2018 and 2019, “listening” became a journalism buzzword, a superpower of community engagement skills with a new flurry of infrastructure, tools, and resources to help journalists maximize their full listening potential.

This is a healthy shift overall. But in 2020, let’s not forget that listening well doesn’t always require innovative tools or strategies. Sometimes it can be as simple as acknowledging, internalizing, and thoughtfully responding to emails, Facebook messages, and tweets from readers and community members. Did you respond to the reader who sent you a story idea, even if you weren’t interested in pursuing it? If we can’t listen to people who are already engaging with us on a basic level, how will we listen to people who aren’t yet — to the communities we’re pursuing new engagement with?

In 2018, a reader wrote to me with some advice: “The more you are there, the more you will find.” In 2020, with seemingly unlimited forms of innovation, let’s prioritize simply paying attention.

Logan Jaffe is the engagement reporter at ProPublica Illinois.

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