Nine ways to grow a better relationship with your audience: Lessons from ASNE-APME 2014

By Jacob Caggiano

For the first time ever, The American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors joined forces for the ASNE-APME 2014 convention in Chicago. The sessions were all quite informative, though some were downright sobering. In addition to all the economic woes that journalism is up against, there were extraordinary issues raised about threats to the First Amendment in recent years.

Needless to say, there was a strong sense of enthusiasm and unity to take on these challenges.

Amongst the many helpful caveats that surfaced, the one which felt strongest was the desire and need to establish a better relationship with audiences to keep good journalism alive. That theme ran through many of the sessions.

Here are nine good ideas to that effect:Current_audience_realities_quadrant_cropped

ONE: Be aware of your ‘current audience realities’

Webbmedia Group CEO Amy Webb explained that your content can move further and better reach audiences if you consider how they perform in these four quadrants: The time of day, the activities they are doing when discovering content, their typical engagement behaviors (commenting, retweeting, etc), and the level of fulfillment you provide to their emotional and intellectual intelligence.

TWO: Use form factor to your advantage

According to data presented by Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute, a majority of Americans use five devices or technologies to get news in a given week, with the average American adult using four. Each medium has its own advantages and disadvantages and should be leveraged accordingly.

In addition to experimenting with different story lengths, Amy Webb mentioned new things to consider like the accelerometer in a smart phone to determine whether or not someone is jogging, in a hurry, or relaxing.

THREE: Forget demographic stereotypes

Rosenstiel broke some interesting assumptions during his presentation, telling everyone that most Americans of all ages are now cross-platform multi-source news consumers, with no preference based on race.

FOUR: Set the context for good discussion

At the featured session with Vox Media, I asked Chairman and CEO Jim Bankoff for ideas on improving online discussion. He pointed to the success of their first site,, which covers sports. SB Nation is actually a network of 308 blogs, each with their own web domain and set of fan based communities based on sports teams and categories.

“YouTube is community without context” he said. “Provide community with context and people will be more civil.”

FIVE: Human centered design

Put your users at the center, design for what it does not how it looks, and generate empathy. You can see the success of these concepts with the fantastic Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt piece created by the NPR Visuals team. Producer Kainaz Amaria gave some astonishing traffic numbers, with the average time on the site at 36 minutes for desktop users and 12 minutes for mobile users.

SIX: Specialize

Newspapers are no longer the general store. Rather than try and be the one stop shop for everything, you can focus on being really great at a certain topic that audiences will keep coming back for. The Chicago Tribune is experimenting with this approach with a newly launched feature on the city’s entrepreneurial scene called Blue Sky.

SEVEN: Get into user testing

At the interactive storytelling session, Kainaz Amaria of the NPR Visuals team talked about the important role that user testing plays in guiding their design and editorial decisions.

EIGHT: Inspire audience to care about journalism

ASNE announced the upcoming National Community and News Literacy Roundtables project at the conference, which is a pilot partnership with The News Literacy Project, the American Press Institute and MediaShift, designed to help people find and better understand reliable news.

Doing local outreach and building awareness around the news gathering process is a great opportunity to connect audiences with the information they use and help them support the creation of that good information.

Publicizing your challenges and roadblocks was also mentioned at the ‘High Price of Gathering the News’ session as a practical means to fight back against attempts by governments and industries to block reporter access to information.

NINE: Step up your community engagement

This is where the work of The Engagement Hub comes to bear. We held a session that was well received, and shares the success of three news pilots who made a committed effort to community engagement.

Please join our discussion group and share your own stories and ideas for better community engagement.

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