Ask your readers to help build your products

“My job, and the job of any community manager, is to facilitate the creation of content that solves a problem our readers have, not just reports on it.”

For between 15 and 20 hours a week, I moderate misinformation in the comments section of Wall Street Journal articles. Based on the things I read there, I believe our current levels of discord and misinformation could be significantly reduced if people felt their experiences were more accurately reflected in the journalism they are consuming.

Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but I don’t think so. Here’s why: At its core, journalism is a service, a product. Products depend on users to thrive. Having users believe in a product requires evolving two-way communication into a community that directly influences a product’s development.

Community is a tentpole of service journalism. Even if an editorial product shifts, it should still serve the needs of its corresponding community. In fact, newsrooms should lean on community members (subscribers, readers, followers, etc.) to help guide them where they go next. Similar to tech companies, newsroom community managers should consistently facilitate two-way communication between external stakeholders and internal members of the newsroom to turn feedback into action.

We did this with WSJ Noted., a digital magazine targeting 18- to 34-year-olds that launched in July. With the support of a fellow audience interaction producer, Taylor Nakagawa, I led the rebranding of a LinkedIn group that had previously been the “WSJ Young Professionals” group. It is now called The WSJ Noted. Adviser Network. This virtual meeting place for college students and young professionals is supported by a 200-person adviser network. These advisers were invited to help influence Journal coverage.

The majority of the advisers’ coverage ideas have been born from questions they and their peers want answered. For example, they questioned how to navigate sexual contact and sexual health on campus amidst Covid-19. This question became a two-part story in Noted’s back-to-school issue. Deborah Acosta reported on the lack of guidance colleges were giving students and produced an accompanying guide on “How to Have Safe Sex During the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

Since July, the LinkedIn group has grown to more than 47,000 members and the adviser network has helped influence Noted.’s decision to pivot to career and management focused guides.

My job, and the job of any community manager, is to facilitate the creation of content that solves a problem our readers have, not just reports on it. The strength of a good community manager lies in being part of the community, not just governing it.

That brings me to one last question: If tech products can consistently serve their users this way, why can’t journalism? The answer is simple enough. Newsrooms should commit to having community managers who can close the feedback loop between a community’s needs and the corresponding service journalism.

Nico Gendron is an audience interaction producer for The Wall Street Journal.

For between 15 and 20 hours a week, I moderate misinformation in the comments section of Wall Street Journal articles. Based on the things I read there, I believe our current levels of discord and misinformation could be significantly reduced if people felt their experiences were more accurately reflected in the journalism they are consuming.

Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but I don’t think so. Here’s why: At its core, journalism is a service, a product. Products depend on users to thrive. Having users believe in a product requires evolving two-way communication into a community that directly influences a product’s development.

Community is a tentpole of service journalism. Even if an editorial product shifts, it should still serve the needs of its corresponding community. In fact, newsrooms should lean on community members (subscribers, readers, followers, etc.) to help guide them where they go next. Similar to tech companies, newsroom community managers should consistently facilitate two-way communication between external stakeholders and internal members of the newsroom to turn feedback into action.

We did this with WSJ Noted., a digital magazine targeting 18- to 34-year-olds that launched in July. With the support of a fellow audience interaction producer, Taylor Nakagawa, I led the rebranding of a LinkedIn group that had previously been the “WSJ Young Professionals” group. It is now called The WSJ Noted. Adviser Network. This virtual meeting place for college students and young professionals is supported by a 200-person adviser network. These advisers were invited to help influence Journal coverage.

The majority of the advisers’ coverage ideas have been born from questions they and their peers want answered. For example, they questioned how to navigate sexual contact and sexual health on campus amidst Covid-19. This question became a two-part story in Noted’s back-to-school issue. Deborah Acosta reported on the lack of guidance colleges were giving students and produced an accompanying guide on “How to Have Safe Sex During the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

Since July, the LinkedIn group has grown to more than 47,000 members and the adviser network has helped influence Noted.’s decision to pivot to career and management focused guides.

My job, and the job of any community manager, is to facilitate the creation of content that solves a problem our readers have, not just reports on it. The strength of a good community manager lies in being part of the community, not just governing it.

That brings me to one last question: If tech products can consistently serve their users this way, why can’t journalism? The answer is simple enough. Newsrooms should commit to having community managers who can close the feedback loop between a community’s needs and the corresponding service journalism.

Nico Gendron is an audience interaction producer for The Wall Street Journal.

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