December 28, 2015

I was at the public library last week picking up some books when I saw a giant display in the window. It was called Library Bingo and it had categories for books people might pick up at their local library: non-fiction, mystery, travel, etc. It also had suggested activities for people: rate your favorite book in the catalog, find new titles in the catalog, create a list of your favorite books, and so on.

The idea for Chapel Hill’s library Bingo is pretty simple: I’m supposed to track my reading over the first two months of the year and see if I can form a Bingo based on the material I’ve read. But I’m also supposed to read new things in different categories and perhaps participate in library activities that I haven’t before — so that I can form a Bingo.

Chapel Hill's library BINGO. (Screen shot/Chapel Hill Public Library)

Chapel Hill’s library Bingo. (Screen shot/Chapel Hill Public Library)

When I saw this display, I first thought “How clever. What a smart way to incentivize people to step outside of their comfort zone.” My next thought was how a news organization could create something similar — and how enjoyable it might be for readers to track their own passive and active kinds of engagement with the news.

They could, for instance, mark how many international stories or sports stories they’ve read, along with more active engagement, such as sharing a story on social or creating a list of stories about a particular topic. And they could be led into reading new material or trying different activities in order to complete their own ‘local news organization’ Bingo card.

When I think about what news organizations could do in 2016, I think of creating material like that Bingo card — activities that are intimate, fun and help solidify an audience’s relationship with an organization that go beyond engagement over social or at events.

Imagine, for instance, asking for your audience’s help in telling the story of every single person sitting on a bench in a large park at a certain time. It’s a project that can’t be completed by one or even ten reporters. But a news organization could certainly organize that kind of storytelling activity. Sign people up. Send out questions and a map. Collect responses. Edit. Publish. Promote. Repeat.

It reminds me of the group activities that Improv Everywhere organizes in New York. Or the kinds of projects that Hit Record, the crowdsourcing production company, takes on. They just created a crowdsourced coloring book featuring images from the National Park Service. They routinely share what people have made in more formalized ways after editing the material and determining what makes the cut. Is that news? Not based on the topics they choose. Is it fun? Yes. Do people feel like they’re part of a larger community? Yes. Could a news organization do that? I don’t see why not.

Back to the Bingo card. It’s not necessary for the audience to collect this material entirely on their own. Organizations could help, algorithmically and otherwise. I would love to see a list of stories that none of my friends on social media have seen in their feed yet, or read a story that seems like one entirely outside of my demographic. This isn’t necessarily something I could know on my own — an organization would have to help me with a list of possible stories to peruse for the day.

I can see a homepage that looks more like a Bingo card based on my previous reading habits. “It looks like you read 4 international stories this week, Melody,” says the homepage. “Here’s another one. But here’s one from the sports section that you might like, too, because four of your Twitter followers clicked on it. And here’s one that people in Texas seemed to like, but no one in your friend circles has read yet.”

Is this creepy? Intimate? Hard to say. But certainly more personal, and may lead to me reading more stories outside of my comfort zone.

I say all of this because social platforms are more likely to show people stories that stay well within their comfort zones, in part because people are more likely to click on those types of stories. (For more, read this excellent write-up of a Facebook-based study.)

Is it part of a news organization’s role to point out that platforms do this? Should it be? Could we create more civically-engaged people by asking them to read the news as if it were a Bingo card? For example:

  • Read a story that takes a different political point of view than the one you occupy
  • Read a news story from a different country
  • If you mainly read the news, listen to the news or watch the news for a day. Report on the differences.
  • If you read the news, watch the news on YouTube.
  • Go an entire day without any news.
  • Share a news story with a neighbor.
  • Think about the earliest news memory you have.

And so on. My suspicion is that this will lead to a deeper engagement with news…and a fuller understanding of the place news occupies in our lives.

This is something I plan to look at more in depth over the next year. My new year’s resolution is to pretend — for the next year — that I’m living in different places around the globe. Which means I’m going to read and listen to and experience the news from those places. I’ll be presenting the news from those places and interviewing people who will help us collectively understand the news from those places. My hope is that we gain new perspectives and think about news outside of our own neighborhoods or cities or even countries.

I’m going to start with Vermont. In the next few weeks, we’ll learn about what news matters there and how people in Vermont get their news. If you live there (or know someone who does) please let me know. My email is

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Mel leads audience growth and development for the Wikimedia Foundation and frequently works with journalism organizations on projects related to audience development, engagement, and analytics.…
Melody Kramer

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