Wick Communications

Reynolds wraps its survey

In Innovation on 4 Aug 2011 at 2:46 pm

The folks at the Reynolds Journalism Institute recently surveyed newspaper editors to gauge their level of engagement with the audience they purport to serve. In short, newspaper editors overwhelmingly say that engaging with the community – through social media and comments, for example – is very important. However, they cop to not putting much effort into it.

Joy Mayer, an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Missouri and herself a former editor, said that she interviewed more than 500 newspaper editors earlier this year. Elsewhere, she argues persuasively that we need to engage our community, that it’s not enough to simply deliver the news any more.

She defines engagement as encompassing three concepts: Outreach, conversation and collaboration. You may find that you are reaching out – through booths at local fairs, calls to area pastors, etc. – but not really seeking to enter the conversation with them, on Twitter or in your comments section, for instance.

Mayer found that:

  • 86 percent of editors say they are talking in the newsroom about how to make their product more social or participatory;
  • 72 percent said that community outreach is important or very important; …
  • 84 percent said that having a conversation with the community was important or very important;
  • 84 percent said they use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to interact with readers.

So everyone agrees it’s a good idea. So surely, we’re doing a good job with collaboration, conversation and outreach, right? Eh… not so much.

  • only 44 percent said they would increase involvement with their communities in the coming year;
  • only 55 percent bother to interact with those who post comments on their website, preferring to let that conversation drift without any steering by editors;
  • only 49 percent said they use social media to listen to what the community is saying beyond their own website.

I think there is a disconnect between what we say is important – using new tools to engage with community – and what we do with these new tools, which is not enough.

I’ll leave you with one more disconnect. Ninety percent of Reynolds responders said they receive Web analytics, many of them on a daily basis. Fewer than half said they use those reports to help craft editorial decisions. I have long been a part of the group that didn’t really know what to make of those reports and certainly resisted making editorial decisions aimed at moving the needle for the next Web report. As newspaper editors, we know we need to give readers what they need to know as well as what they want to know. But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek new tools to engage community in both ends of that spectrum.

It’s food for thought.


  1. I believe Patch.com uses Website traffic analysis to steer the ship based on reader patterns. For example, Inside Tucson Business ( http://www.insidetucsonbusiness.com ) just did an analysis and readers are voting with their mouse clicks indicating they are looking at data vs. editorial. They are looking at reports on liens, construction bids, bankruptcies, divorces, etc. by a factor of 5 to 1 vs editorial content. This information is resulting in a restructuring of the Website and possibly putting the data behind an online paywall.

    If we send a reporter to every town council meeting and 10 people are reading the report online (okay, 11 are reading it) – that should tell us something about our coverage priorities. Just my 2 cents.

  2. We found a completely new audience when we emphasized Facebook during the Monument Fire in June. Our “friends” list jumped from 300 to 3,000 in a matter of days when our sports reporter decided to jump into the middle of the coverage with frequent updates on the progress of the fire through Facebook. What we noticed was a different style of news is of greater interest in this social environment. Crime reporting seems popular everywhere – disasters, accidents or similar events always works. But don’t think you can convince your Facebook audience that there’s any interest in whether the city installs a 12-inch or a 16-inch water line – THAT doesn’t fly…!

  3. Thanks guys, I agree. But I’m not saying we should abandon the kind of government watchdog reporting that has been the bread and butter of newspapers for decades. For me, it’s a matter of covering these meetings correctly, in a way that engages readers and isn’t simply “By a 4-2 vote Tuesday the City Council agreed to install 16-inch water lines.” Instead, we need to look for the human consequences of government decisions. We should also be looking for opportunities to display relevant data, as Pete suggests.

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