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DISCUSSION | What do audiences want?

Once upon a time, audiences simply took what they were given. You might have read a daily newspaper or tuned in to watch the evening news, but you couldn’t talk back to the presenters or question the news agenda. Now audiences have a huge amount of choice – and growing power to challenge journalists and publishers.

In a panel discussion chaired by Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Rachel Oldroyd (@Raoldroyd), Ofcom’s Alison Preston and two independent UK publishers took to the Trust in Journalism Conference 2019 stage to discuss emerging trends in audience behaviour and to describe how they are each seeking to transform the relationship between journalism and its audiences.

Alison Preston, Head of Research of Ofcom’s Making Sense of Media, started by sharing some of their most recent findings:

"Pretty much half of people are saying that they now use social media for news. And almost half of 16-24s are getting their online news from social media (…) while 1 in 3 young people only use the internet for news nowadays."

Alison then focused on the importance of improving media literacy and the work Ofcom is doing in this area throught the Making Sense of Media project:

"In terms of media literacy, we want the public to be duly aware and savvy; we can’t expect them to be engaged and active news consumers all the time, but we need them to have a wider understanding of the provenance of news and of information more generally."

Moving into the panel discussion, Rachel Oldroyd started by addressing the changing role of the audience:

“We have to stop thinking about the audience as the thing that pays for us to do our work; we need to think about audience as our community and about engaging in that.”

Polly Curtis (@pollycurtis), partner and editor at Tortoise, shared insights about their model for community engagement:

"We’ve created something called a 'think-ins' (...) in which which an editor gathers a group of people to try and better understand a subject, to try and pool the knowledge and experience in that room. We hold four 'think ins' a week in our newsroom and all over the country around the kinds of journalistic strands we are reporting on. We gather our members and experts, local people, as many people as possible, to have a conversation about that news story or that theme that we are trying to understand better.’

Following Polly, Adam Cantwell-Corn (@AdamC_Corn), co-founder of the community led media co-op Bristol Cable, spoke about heir approach to audience engagement:

"We do a lot of events and we do media training to take journalism off the page, off the website and into our communities so we can have those conversations on a wider level (...) We invite our members to engage in those key ethical and strategic questions like what advertising should we take; members help craft our advertising charter and how should we prioritise our resources?’

Adam also spoke about the importance of building trust and loyalty with their members:

"Through listening to our members we try to generate trust, we try to generate revenue and we generate loyalty; and that is basically the most important metric that we have and how we generate and maintain that relationship that moves beyond the passive and transactional into something that is more intimate and engaged."

Polly Curtis echoed the importance of listening to your audience:

"The bit I think we really underestimate in news and how we understand the world is the fact that this happens in conversations, coming back to that idea that we are broadcasters, broadcasting down from a high and broadcasting a version of the truth, actually that then goes through a million filters of conversation, ideas that coalesce in a million different communities around the country...

"What if we started our journalism in that place? What if we started by listening?’

The extracts above are part of the session 'You can't please all the people: What do audiences want?', part of the Trust in Journalism Conference 2019 programme which took place on 14 November 2019.


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