The first Tuesday in October is News Engagement Day, an annual event created by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication to encourage engagement with news and “promote understanding about the principles and processes of journalism in a democratic society.”
Journalists seeking to engage their audiences – their younger, increasingly diverse audiences – face a tough challenge.
In a recent op ed, the publisher of The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, described “a worldwide assault on journalists and journalism,” and the United States’ abandoning its role in protecting press freedom. Journalists today, in fact, face a sustained campaign to delegitimize their work.
Fact checkers are facing an uphill battle against disinformation. News fatigue is growing as more news consumers simply tune out. News audiences are declining across age brackets. Fewer than 15% have paid for local news in the last year. And the “outrage news” model isn’t helping get audiences engaged.
News Engagement Day is traditionally about encouraging the public, particularly young people, to engage with news. This year, we encourage newsrooms to think about their role in encouraging engagement with news and educating audiences on the journalism profession’s principles.
Local broadcasters are best positioned to fill this role. Local TV news is still the first source of news for more people each day than any other medium, and it remains the most trusted.
But as TV viewership changes, newsrooms must adapt where and how they deliver news to reach broader audiences.
According to our annual research, the majority of TV newsrooms are working toward a “digital first” strategy. Those that aren’t yet should start now. NBC’s owned stations, for example, are tapping into video-hungry online audiences with a new YouTube-based channel, LX.
Storytelling formats and processes need to change, too.
First, think of news consumers not just as passive audiences but as active participants in the news process. Listening and leveraging the power of audience curiosity can have Murrow Award-winning results.
Next, local news must dig deeper than the traditional investigative format, which can leave audiences more aware of problems, but also frustrated and disengaged. Telling the whole story by incorporating reporting on responses to your community’s problems offers more opportunity for engagement.
Finally, local newsrooms must work more actively to earn trust by pulling back the curtain on the reporting process, saying not just what you know, but how you know. According to a new report published in the Columbia Journalism Review, “the more people know about the media, the better they are able to identify and resist online disinformation efforts.”
The better people understand journalism, and the better local news serves their needs, the more engaged audiences will be with news and, ultimately, with their communities.