Journalism doubles down on user needs

“If we continue to study just the tiny portion of a person’s day that they spend consuming journalism, we will miss innumerable opportunities to weave ourselves into people’s lives.”

In the last couple years, user needs became one of The Next Big Things in journalism. Lots of researchers and consultants talked about them on Twitter (RIP) and the journalism conference circuit. Some very useful reports were published. Some newsrooms even applied the practice successfully. Terms like “Update me” and “Keep me on trend” were used so often that they no longer needed to be explained every time.

This has been a very positive development! Anything that gets newsrooms to make editorial decisions in a more audience-centric, data-informed manner is a win.

But we’re tinkering on the margins. The user needs framework currently copy and pasted from newsroom to newsroom focuses just on people’s news consumption habits. If we continue to study just the tiny portion of a person’s day that they spend consuming journalism, we will miss innumerable opportunities to weave ourselves into people’s lives.

In 2023, we will become deeply curious about our audience members. We’ll research not just how and why people read and listen to our journalism, but how they spend their days, what they’re trying to accomplish, and what kind of information they are seeking, either knowingly or unknowingly.

In the human-centered design field, this is the difference between studying people’s explicit and implicit needs.

Then we will double down on producing journalism that provides that. Fortunately, the knowledge of how to do this already exists. It builds on more than a decade of practice with change management and analytics.

We will tag stories by these needs and study their performance. We’ll use that information to audit our story mix, identifying the areas where we’re under indexing and rebalancing until the distribution across the needs is right-sized. We’ll analyze referral paths by user need so that we can apply the right distribution strategy to each story. (Smartocto, an editorial analytics company, has published an excellent playbook on this.)

This likely means some tough conversations in 2023 about information people need versus the information we’re used to providing. It also means challenging ourselves to go beyond traditional assignments (“Here’s what two experts say about what just happened”) and instead routinely planning for longer-term coverage that considers different user needs in how those stories are framed.

For KPCC/LAist, it will mean helping Angelenos discover pockets of Los Angeles that pique their curiosity, helping them connect with others who reflect and validate their experiences, helping them navigate complex and confusing systems to get what they need to survive and thrive, and helping them affect change.

What will it mean for your newsroom?

Ariel Zirulnick is senior editor for community engagement at Southern California Public Radio.

In the last couple years, user needs became one of The Next Big Things in journalism. Lots of researchers and consultants talked about them on Twitter (RIP) and the journalism conference circuit. Some very useful reports were published. Some newsrooms even applied the practice successfully. Terms like “Update me” and “Keep me on trend” were used so often that they no longer needed to be explained every time.

This has been a very positive development! Anything that gets newsrooms to make editorial decisions in a more audience-centric, data-informed manner is a win.

But we’re tinkering on the margins. The user needs framework currently copy and pasted from newsroom to newsroom focuses just on people’s news consumption habits. If we continue to study just the tiny portion of a person’s day that they spend consuming journalism, we will miss innumerable opportunities to weave ourselves into people’s lives.

In 2023, we will become deeply curious about our audience members. We’ll research not just how and why people read and listen to our journalism, but how they spend their days, what they’re trying to accomplish, and what kind of information they are seeking, either knowingly or unknowingly.

In the human-centered design field, this is the difference between studying people’s explicit and implicit needs.

Then we will double down on producing journalism that provides that. Fortunately, the knowledge of how to do this already exists. It builds on more than a decade of practice with change management and analytics.

We will tag stories by these needs and study their performance. We’ll use that information to audit our story mix, identifying the areas where we’re under indexing and rebalancing until the distribution across the needs is right-sized. We’ll analyze referral paths by user need so that we can apply the right distribution strategy to each story. (Smartocto, an editorial analytics company, has published an excellent playbook on this.)

This likely means some tough conversations in 2023 about information people need versus the information we’re used to providing. It also means challenging ourselves to go beyond traditional assignments (“Here’s what two experts say about what just happened”) and instead routinely planning for longer-term coverage that considers different user needs in how those stories are framed.

For KPCC/LAist, it will mean helping Angelenos discover pockets of Los Angeles that pique their curiosity, helping them connect with others who reflect and validate their experiences, helping them navigate complex and confusing systems to get what they need to survive and thrive, and helping them affect change.

What will it mean for your newsroom?

Ariel Zirulnick is senior editor for community engagement at Southern California Public Radio.

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

An Xiao Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough