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Focus Groups Guide

Focus Groups Guide

Conducting Focus Groups to Understand Local News Audiences

By Jessica Crowell and Kathleen McCollough

Prepared for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, with funding from Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund

As newsrooms reinvent their business model, design new products and services, and invest in community engagement efforts, it is critical that they listen deeply to their communities. Focus groups are one model of listening that can be very effective in gathering feedback from a cross section of people who represent different voices and stakeholders in your area.

This guide is designed to give newsrooms a simple, step-by-step process to host focus groups with local residents. It is based on the work of Phil Napoli, Jessica Crowell, and Kathleen McCollough at the Rutgers University News Measures Research Project at the Media + The Public Interest Initiative. The research was funded by grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Knight Foundation, and Democracy Fund.

The Rutgers team hosted six focus groups in three very different communities across New Jersey, bringing together between eight to 12 residents to talk about their news habits, needs, and concerns. The focus groups were transcribed, and themes, patterns, and community priorities were identified in each of the three cities.

Those reports were given to local newsrooms that worked with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s director of Journalism and Sustainability to develop new revenue products and business strategies based on the needs and desires identified by local residents. Some newsrooms also used feedback from the community to assess editorial priorities and resource allocation.

The participating newsrooms reported back that frank, direct feedback from local residents was invaluable. In many cases, the feedback gave newsrooms the confidence to test new ideas and take risks that otherwise might have seemed like blind experiments. We believe that these kinds of focus groups can be important tools for newsrooms to listen to their communities, and we hope that this guide provides journalists with the tools they need to host such discussions.

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