Engaged journalism scales

“Engaged journalism needs to be integral to how we report the news, not a side effort we roll out on occasion.”

We simply can’t set an editorial agenda without the input of the people we are trying to serve. We need to understand that producing a map of food pantries can be as impactful as an investigation. And we can’t assume the journalism we produce will find its way into the hands of the people most in need of the information.

In 2021, news organizations with public service missions must examine how many of their resources go towards serving “the public” and rapidly reallocate. I say that based on experience and evidence that engaging our audience directly is also a path to building more sustainable news operations.

At KPCC and LAist, we’ve answered more than 6,200 questions from readers since the pandemic began. At first, they asked how safe it was to travel and whether to postpone family events. Then someone asked us how to safely bury a loved one. Now we are being asked how to make ends meet; from accessing unemployment benefits and free food to avoiding eviction.

The questions mirror the progression of the virus and its effects on Angelenos. They have forced us to rethink what our public radio station’s value proposition is to our region.

Many public news media organizations have variations of engaged journalism projects. But this approach must be rapidly scaled across the country if we are to truly deliver on our mission. Engaged journalism needs to be integral to how we report the news, not a side effort we roll out on occasion.

Technology now allows us to speed up this process. By applying natural language processing (AI) to the thousands of questions we received we were able to detect patterns. The questions served as a road map for our reporting and a tool for residents trying to navigate a region that’s been ravaged by COVID 19.

This approach is also good for business. More than 50 percent of the people we’ve responded to have signed up for our daily newsletter, a direct funnel to membership.

As technology advances, and community level information needs soar, there is an opportunity for us to redefine public service journalism in the information age. We must seize it in 2021.

Kristen Muller is chief content officer of Southern California Public Radio.

We simply can’t set an editorial agenda without the input of the people we are trying to serve. We need to understand that producing a map of food pantries can be as impactful as an investigation. And we can’t assume the journalism we produce will find its way into the hands of the people most in need of the information.

In 2021, news organizations with public service missions must examine how many of their resources go towards serving “the public” and rapidly reallocate. I say that based on experience and evidence that engaging our audience directly is also a path to building more sustainable news operations.

At KPCC and LAist, we’ve answered more than 6,200 questions from readers since the pandemic began. At first, they asked how safe it was to travel and whether to postpone family events. Then someone asked us how to safely bury a loved one. Now we are being asked how to make ends meet; from accessing unemployment benefits and free food to avoiding eviction.

The questions mirror the progression of the virus and its effects on Angelenos. They have forced us to rethink what our public radio station’s value proposition is to our region.

Many public news media organizations have variations of engaged journalism projects. But this approach must be rapidly scaled across the country if we are to truly deliver on our mission. Engaged journalism needs to be integral to how we report the news, not a side effort we roll out on occasion.

Technology now allows us to speed up this process. By applying natural language processing (AI) to the thousands of questions we received we were able to detect patterns. The questions served as a road map for our reporting and a tool for residents trying to navigate a region that’s been ravaged by COVID 19.

This approach is also good for business. More than 50 percent of the people we’ve responded to have signed up for our daily newsletter, a direct funnel to membership.

As technology advances, and community level information needs soar, there is an opportunity for us to redefine public service journalism in the information age. We must seize it in 2021.

Kristen Muller is chief content officer of Southern California Public Radio.

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