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January 31, 2018

Newsrooms should strengthen relationships among community members, report recommends

Photo by Abrinsky/CC

Photo by Abrinsky/CC

By Jessica Mahone, Democracy Fund Public Square Research Associate

Conversations between academic research and local newsrooms are often siloed. Interesting and useful findings from research are trapped in long papers that those in local newsrooms may not know about or have time to sift through. This series, Research Roundup, highlights some key findings from recent research and what they could mean for those working in local news.

This month on Research Roundup, we’re featuring research on engagement in TV newsrooms, engagement with marginalized communities in solutions journalism reporting, and how citizen journalists view sources and relationship building.

Collaborate and Listen

In honor of the News Integrity Initiative’s “The Year of Listening” and the announcement of the Community Listening and Engagement Fund (learn how to apply here), we’re featuring research on engaging marginalized communities and how TV newsrooms approach engagement through interactive digital content. The articles featured below are behind a paywall but can often be accessed by contacting the authors directly.

(Important note for those that want more specific details —  some identifying information, such as the names of news organizations or locations, are not specified in the papers due to practices to ensure that peer review processes remain blind. The goal is to ensure that reviewers cannot identify authors and will instead judge works based on their quality, rather than who the authors are.)

A Community Responds to Stigmatized Coverage  

Engaging Stigmatized Communities Through Solutions Journalism: Residents of South Los Angeles Respond, Journalism, Andrea Wenzel, Daniela Gerson, Evelyn Moreno, Minhee Son, Breanna Morrison Hawkins

A version of this paper is also available from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. (Full disclosure: Daniela Gerson is a senior fellow for Democracy Fund.)

Solutions journalism is a form of reporting that blends in-depth exploration of social problems with reporting on potential solutions to those problems, with a goal of moving people from being informed about issues to being engaged in addressing them.  In a series of focus groups with African American and LatinX community members from South Los Angeles, the authors find general dissatisfaction with negative reporting about their community and a positive response to a solutions journalism report about turning abandoned lots in their community into parks. Building on this, the authors found:

  • Many community members said that the story about converting abandoned lots to parks inspired them to look for ways to volunteer in support of the initiative.
  • Although community members were generally supportive of the idea of solutions journalism, some worried that focusing on specific solutions might result in coverage that ignores detailed exploration of the roots of problems.

The article itself offers some recommendations for newsrooms that are interested in exploring solutions journalism. Among these, the authors suggest:

  1. Focus not only on strengthening relationships between the newsroom and the community but also relationships among stakeholders in the community.
  2. Avoid choosing “characters” in stories because while this practice may attract attention to a story, it often reproduces negative stereotypes about the community.

For more information about incorporating engagement into your newsroom through solutions journalism, check out the work of the Solutions Journalism Network, especially their Learning Lab for producing solutions journalism stories and their Solutions Story Tracker for examples of solutions journalism articles.


Using Social Media and User-Generated Content for Engagement in Local TV News

Experimenting with Interaction: TV News Efforts to Invite Audiences into the Broadcast and Their Effects, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Brittany Pieper McElroy

TV newsrooms are increasingly using digital content to interact with audiences before, during, and after newscasts. Through interviews with 12 employees from three different TV newsrooms, the author finds that incorporating audience engagement in content production is a balancing act. Employees have to juggle bringing in new audience members while not alienating traditional viewers. The author specifically found:

  • Experimenting with digital and social media content online is rarely cost-intensive, and often, the biggest expense is employees’ time. Practices that can be built into reporters’ regular routines tend to work best.
  • Interactive content that tells more of the story and builds on original reporting is more effective than interactive content for the sake of interaction. Content that exists solely for the purpose of interaction tends to drive away traditional audience members.

One of the things emphasized in the paper was that not all interaction is valuable. Topics like politics often increase engagement, but it is often in the form of negative comments. Additionally, care should be taken about incorporating interactive content into news routines. Some specific guidelines that emerged from this study include:

  1. Newsrooms should be thoughtful about how user-generated content is incorporated into news content. In this paper, one newsroom experimented with weather reports filmed by audience members on their phones. They found that these did not generate positive engagement when aired as part of broadcasts. Newsrooms should not assume that something which plays well with digital audiences will resonate with broadcast audiences.
  2. Daily interactive features, such as webcasts, tend to perform well with those who don’t regularly view TV news broadcasts, but do not tend to play as well with the audience as a whole. This is particularly important for retaining traditional audience members and keeping them engaged with interactive features.

McElroy notes that user-generated content such as videos and social media posts has been one area of interactivity that has grown more prevalent in news content, particularly for breaking news. As a result, the role of media as gatekeepers to information is changing. However, news media still have a role to play in acting as primary gatekeepers, and user-generated content still should be vetted and verified for accuracy and authenticity before a news organization uses it in reporting. Nieman Reports has a comprehensive guide to understanding and vetting user-generated content. For more on how TV stations are engaging audiences see this post on one year of innovation at TEGNA.

Do you have a project or paper that the audience of the Local News Lab would be interested in? Is there something that you want to know more about from local news related-research? Let us know at localnewslab@democracyfund.org.

Mahone, Jessica Headshot 165px_200pxJessica Mahone is the Research Associate for the Public Square program at Democracy Fund. Previously, she was a researcher with the News Measures Research Project at Duke University and a temporary Research Associate in journalism at Pew Research Center. Her research interests are varied but center around local news, civic engagement, and diversity in media.