You build trust by helping your readers

“Service journalism is a way to build bridges with even our fiercest critics by giving them the information they need to navigate daily life.”

We in local media are often a conduit between institutions and people — a position we should be leveraging to produce service journalism that helps our audiences navigate opaque and rapidly changing systems.

Whether it’s filing for unemployment, registering to vote, or getting a Covid test, our audiences run into lots of questions that government websites are often ill-equipped to explain: What is this? What does it mean for me? What do I need to do? This is doubly important for those for whom English is not their primary language.

When we in the media have to work hard to earn the audience’s trust, service journalism is a way to build bridges with even our fiercest critics by giving them the information they need to navigate daily life.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit northern Ohio in early spring, our team at Mahoning Matters poured their efforts into building resources on topics like ordering from local restaurants and educating kids at home, as well as updating a rolling FAQ. We took the same approach in compiling our voter guides for November’s election — including content on the issues and candidates on the ballot as well as the basics of how to register to vote.

When you only have two full-time reporters, it’s a gamble to put their efforts into list-building and question-answering — but it paid off. These resources and guides ranked among our most visited stories of the year, serving our regular readers and attracting new ones via social shares and search.

They aren’t the sexiest stories out there, but this sort of work is where much of local journalism’s impact has been felt this year, and we should expect to see that trend continue into 2021. We should be working now to determine which questions our communities have about the coronavirus vaccine distribution, economic recovery efforts, and changes coming to eviction moratoriums, schooling, and eldercare.

After a year where everything was confusing, and the goalposts were always moving, the best we can do as news organizations is to be useful and supportive to our communities. We all have healing to do.

Mandy Jenkins is general manager of The Compass Experiment at McClatchy and publisher of its two local news sites, Mahoning Matters and The Longmont Leader.

We in local media are often a conduit between institutions and people — a position we should be leveraging to produce service journalism that helps our audiences navigate opaque and rapidly changing systems.

Whether it’s filing for unemployment, registering to vote, or getting a Covid test, our audiences run into lots of questions that government websites are often ill-equipped to explain: What is this? What does it mean for me? What do I need to do? This is doubly important for those for whom English is not their primary language.

When we in the media have to work hard to earn the audience’s trust, service journalism is a way to build bridges with even our fiercest critics by giving them the information they need to navigate daily life.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit northern Ohio in early spring, our team at Mahoning Matters poured their efforts into building resources on topics like ordering from local restaurants and educating kids at home, as well as updating a rolling FAQ. We took the same approach in compiling our voter guides for November’s election — including content on the issues and candidates on the ballot as well as the basics of how to register to vote.

When you only have two full-time reporters, it’s a gamble to put their efforts into list-building and question-answering — but it paid off. These resources and guides ranked among our most visited stories of the year, serving our regular readers and attracting new ones via social shares and search.

They aren’t the sexiest stories out there, but this sort of work is where much of local journalism’s impact has been felt this year, and we should expect to see that trend continue into 2021. We should be working now to determine which questions our communities have about the coronavirus vaccine distribution, economic recovery efforts, and changes coming to eviction moratoriums, schooling, and eldercare.

After a year where everything was confusing, and the goalposts were always moving, the best we can do as news organizations is to be useful and supportive to our communities. We all have healing to do.

Mandy Jenkins is general manager of The Compass Experiment at McClatchy and publisher of its two local news sites, Mahoning Matters and The Longmont Leader.

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