The year we ask the audience what it needs

“If the lesson to be learnt from the resurgence of journalism during the pandemic is that people do need journalism only on the condition that journalism proves relevant to their everyday lives, then the best way to meet this demand is to ask people what kind of information they need.”

The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of two fundamental assets: our healthcare systems and the access to verified and reliable information.

Research published by Statista shows that 44 percent of people worldwide said they’ve spent more time on social media during the pandemic, 45 percent have spent more time watching TV on broadcast channels, while 67 percent have spent more time following news coverage. On top of that, 2020 has seen a resurgence of trust in news sources, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

That’s all great, but it doesn’t mean we’ve solved the longstanding problem of rebuilding trust in news. I believe we’re still far from reaching that goal.

Here’s why I fear this might just be a temporary interlude.

We journalists always ask ourselves what are the most important stories for us to report on, but we spend far too little time asking our audiences what it is they want from us. The prejudice that journalists know best is deeply rooted and hard to kill.

The fact is, we don’t know best. This year, we have been, paradoxically, quite lucky: It wasn’t hard to recognize that a global pandemic was something people really wanted to know more about. News happened to be one of the most effective tools to navigate the complexity of the pandemic, and media outlets enjoyed their newly rediscovered key role in society. But let’s not fool ourselves: This honeymoon is not going to last, and we should get ready for what comes next.

Next year, will people need journalism as much as they do today? Data from the pre-pandemic world would suggest that they won’t: 32 percent of people in 2019 actively avoided the news, 28 percent felt worn out by the amount of news, and only 46 percent trusted the news they used themselves, according to the last two editions of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report.

During the pandemic, people have been seeking out journalism because they needed to. No big surprise there. But that doesn’t explain why today people trust journalism more than they did in 2019. One way of looking at it is that, in 2020, we actually gave people what they needed — which in turn resulted in a spike in trust. Ultimately, what the comparison between 2019 and 2020 may show is that if journalism responds to people’s needs, people will trust it more.

This year, the sense of isolation caused by lockdown has pushed a lot of people toward online communities to fill the void left by the lack of social interactions. As a consequence, those news outlets committed to both building a community around their news brands and engaging with such communities in a meaningful way have thrived over the past months. Although that isolation will eventually end, engaging with communities will still be the key to success in the post-pandemic world.

If the lesson to be learned from the resurgence of journalism during the pandemic is that people do need journalism — but only on the condition that journalism proves relevant to their everyday lives — then the best way to meet this demand is to ask people what kind of information they need.

At Will Media, an Italian social-first media startup where I lead the editorial team, engaging with and listening to our community is at the very core of our strategy.

Every day we ask our community what they care about and if there’s something they want to know more about the stories we bring to their attention. We always reply to comments and private messages, sometimes using those very messages as the starting point of a new piece of content. Every week, we publish a four-minute video in which we comment on people’s comments to our posts. We publish voice messages from community members who want to raise awareness on social issues they personally experience. We went live on Instagram to chat with members of our community about how they coped with lockdown. We even helped a university student conduct research for her dissertation by sharing a survey and then publishing a video in which we analyzed her findings with her.

By doing all these things, every day we learn something new about the members of our community, which is fundamental to building a strong and long-lasting editorial strategy. And it produces results: In the first year since launch, we have built a 600,000-strong community on Instagram, reached 14 million-plus interactions and 45 million-plus video views, and launched one of the most-listened-to daily podcasts in Italy.

As we head toward 2021 with plenty of work yet to be done, my hope is that more news outlets will join the growing list of organizations that are investing in community-oriented journalism. Let’s make 2021 the year we start to listen to our audiences’ needs. That’s the only way we have a real chance to consolidate and increase the level of trust in the news after the pandemic.

Francesco Zaffarano is editor-in-chief of Will Media.

The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of two fundamental assets: our healthcare systems and the access to verified and reliable information.

Research published by Statista shows that 44 percent of people worldwide said they’ve spent more time on social media during the pandemic, 45 percent have spent more time watching TV on broadcast channels, while 67 percent have spent more time following news coverage. On top of that, 2020 has seen a resurgence of trust in news sources, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

That’s all great, but it doesn’t mean we’ve solved the longstanding problem of rebuilding trust in news. I believe we’re still far from reaching that goal.

Here’s why I fear this might just be a temporary interlude.

We journalists always ask ourselves what are the most important stories for us to report on, but we spend far too little time asking our audiences what it is they want from us. The prejudice that journalists know best is deeply rooted and hard to kill.

The fact is, we don’t know best. This year, we have been, paradoxically, quite lucky: It wasn’t hard to recognize that a global pandemic was something people really wanted to know more about. News happened to be one of the most effective tools to navigate the complexity of the pandemic, and media outlets enjoyed their newly rediscovered key role in society. But let’s not fool ourselves: This honeymoon is not going to last, and we should get ready for what comes next.

Next year, will people need journalism as much as they do today? Data from the pre-pandemic world would suggest that they won’t: 32 percent of people in 2019 actively avoided the news, 28 percent felt worn out by the amount of news, and only 46 percent trusted the news they used themselves, according to the last two editions of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Digital News Report.

During the pandemic, people have been seeking out journalism because they needed to. No big surprise there. But that doesn’t explain why today people trust journalism more than they did in 2019. One way of looking at it is that, in 2020, we actually gave people what they needed — which in turn resulted in a spike in trust. Ultimately, what the comparison between 2019 and 2020 may show is that if journalism responds to people’s needs, people will trust it more.

This year, the sense of isolation caused by lockdown has pushed a lot of people toward online communities to fill the void left by the lack of social interactions. As a consequence, those news outlets committed to both building a community around their news brands and engaging with such communities in a meaningful way have thrived over the past months. Although that isolation will eventually end, engaging with communities will still be the key to success in the post-pandemic world.

If the lesson to be learned from the resurgence of journalism during the pandemic is that people do need journalism — but only on the condition that journalism proves relevant to their everyday lives — then the best way to meet this demand is to ask people what kind of information they need.

At Will Media, an Italian social-first media startup where I lead the editorial team, engaging with and listening to our community is at the very core of our strategy.

Every day we ask our community what they care about and if there’s something they want to know more about the stories we bring to their attention. We always reply to comments and private messages, sometimes using those very messages as the starting point of a new piece of content. Every week, we publish a four-minute video in which we comment on people’s comments to our posts. We publish voice messages from community members who want to raise awareness on social issues they personally experience. We went live on Instagram to chat with members of our community about how they coped with lockdown. We even helped a university student conduct research for her dissertation by sharing a survey and then publishing a video in which we analyzed her findings with her.

By doing all these things, every day we learn something new about the members of our community, which is fundamental to building a strong and long-lasting editorial strategy. And it produces results: In the first year since launch, we have built a 600,000-strong community on Instagram, reached 14 million-plus interactions and 45 million-plus video views, and launched one of the most-listened-to daily podcasts in Italy.

As we head toward 2021 with plenty of work yet to be done, my hope is that more news outlets will join the growing list of organizations that are investing in community-oriented journalism. Let’s make 2021 the year we start to listen to our audiences’ needs. That’s the only way we have a real chance to consolidate and increase the level of trust in the news after the pandemic.

Francesco Zaffarano is editor-in-chief of Will Media.

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Cory Haik   Be essential

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

J. Siguru Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Joshua P. Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Juleyka Lantigua   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Richard Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter