Want to better serve your readers regarding COVID-19? Read these tips.

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by Aldana Vales, International Journalists’ Network

Reporting on the impact of COVID-19 in your community doesn’t just require listening to trusted medical sources. Hearing from your audience is also essential to better understand what content your readers need, want or find missing from existing coverage. By doing so, your news organization can better serve your community, fight anxiety and even help your outlet in the long term. 

Your newsroom should develop a plan to surface information needs from your community, audience engagement experts said during a recent webinar organized by Hearken.

Engaging your audience with your reporting is not easy, and it takes more than just asking your readers what they want to know about a certain topic. When there’s a crisis like today’s global pandemic, this becomes even more difficult. 

We’ve collected some of the most relevant tips for engaging your audience from Hearken’s online session below:

Organization is crucial

So, you started getting feedback from your audience. Now what? You have some responsibilities at hand. First, respond. Let people know you’ve heard them, even when you don’t have an answer right away. “You should commit to coming back,” said Thoreson.

As you proceed, make sure to organize and track submissions. Organization goes beyond sorting answers from your audience. It applies to your staff, too. Who will review the incoming responses? Who will oversee processes? Newsrooms should create logical staffing schedules, and build the infrastructure necessary to support shared reporting responsibilities, advised Ashley Alvarado, the director of community engagement at Southern California Public Radio.

When you aren’t reviewing feedback, carry out your reporting and continue to invite further response.

The business side

Your business team should join your efforts, too. If in a position to do so, your newsroom can offer advertising free of charge for content that serves a public need, said Ariel Zirulnick, the director of The Membership in News Fund at The Membership Puzzle Project

“Our business and creative teams offered newsletter ad spots free of charge to any hurricane preparation and recovery initiatives,” Zirulnick explained, referring to her experience at The New Tropic and what the organization learned after reporting on hurricane Irma in 2017

The business team can also let advertisers know what feedback your newsroom is receiving from the audience so that they can change the language of their ads accordingly.  

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