August 1, 2018

About once a month, when reporter Molly Fleming is on an assignment, she hears "Oh, I hear you on the radio."

She is not a radio reporter.

But Fleming, who works for The Journal Record, a five-day-a-week business publication based in Oklahoma City, is on the radio a lot thanks to partnerships with public radio stations KGOU and KOSU. Those partnerships started three years ago.

“This partnership has been very successful on both sides,”  Fleming said in an email. “The radio stations get news content, and we get statewide recognition.”

So why does expanding your audience matter?

I think betternews.org says it best:

“Reaching audiences (and making it easy for audiences to discover you) should be an essential function of any news enterprise.”

This isn’t, really, a conversation about scale. It is about reaching new people with meaningful journalism, figuring out who you should be reaching and what you should be covering to reach them, and getting past the idea of ‘If we build it, they will come.”

Instead, it’s a way less snappy “Who isn’t coming, what should we build for them, then how do we reach them and let them know about it?”

Betternews has a primer, a planner and solid tactics for figuring this out. (That site is a resource from the American Press Institute and funded by the Knight Foundation, which also funds my coverage of local news.)

Before you dive into that, here are four ideas from local newsrooms worth studying and trying for yourself. Thanks to everyone who wrote in.

Let’s get started!

Form local partnerships:

Screenshot, KGOU

In addition to the partnership with the two NPR stations, The Journal Record also works with another local station, owned by Tyler Media, a local PBS station and a station in Tulsa, emailed Sarah Terry-Cobo, a senior reporter who covers energy and health care.

With KGOU, The Journal Record also records a five-minute spot on one or two stories that did well that week.

“It's a chance to go a bit deeper, or even add material that didn't make it into the story and works well for a consumer-focused audience,” Terry-Cobo said. “I try to add at least one new thing to that interview, so it's not just re-hashing the story that's already in print.”

That spot is the most labor-intensive, but it’s only once a week, Fleming said.

And the rest?

“It's probably more about extra coordination than work. We have the equipment in our office to record spots, so we don't have to go anywhere. At the end of the day, it does require a little extra brain power to write something more after you've written two stories,” Fleming said. “We switched to putting the stories in the Google Drive, rather than asking for requests, because it was hard to coordinate with one of the partners. Other than that, it's probably about 20 minutes extra work at the end of the day.”

The biggest benefit, she said, has been name-recognition for the niche publication.

“The general public may not know us, but these two radio stations — which combined cover nearly the entire state — take our name to the far corners.

Start specialized Facebook groups

Screenshot, Facebook

When she first started as a digital editor at The Columbus Dispatch, Michelle Everhart wanted to use the paper’s archives more as “new content,” she said in an email.

“We have so much useful, interesting and fun content sitting in our archives. Our librarians have done an amazing job over the years of marking important dates.”

The Dispatch has several niche Facebook groups, but Everhart’s favorite makes great use of those archives. It’s called “Remember when, Columbus?” and has just over 1,000 likes.

“Each week, we check our almanac for significant dates to see if there is something we can pull together. A story. A gallery. Maybe just one photo to share. A lot of times we already have something created and can use it again,” she said. “We've started organizing articles and photo galleries by subject and by date in a spreadsheet so if something comes up, we can easily find it.”

Events that took place in the last 10 to 50 years are the most popular, including a photo gallery on City Center Mall, which had more than 750,000 page views last year, Everhart said. They share photo galleries of prominent Ohioans, including John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

“We also have created reader engagement by asking people questions like their favorite restaurant that is no longer around,” Everhart said. “They ask us for photos of places and we dig them out and share. It’s been a really positive experience.”

Give people your number. No, seriously. 

Screenshot, Dallasnews.com

It’s been about a week since the Dallas Morning News launched Curious Texas Texts, which builds on Curious Texas, “where readers like you submit questions and our journalists track down answers,” engagement editor Hannah Wise explained in a post earlier this month.

With Curious Texas Texts, “I want to reach North Texans who may not have easy access to a computer or the internet other than on their phone,” engagement reporter Elvia Limón said in an email. “I hope this project helps us tap into communities who may not be familiar with our newspaper but have important stories to tell. This is all part of our efforts to increase trust and transparency between the Dallas Morning News and North Texans.”

The project is brand new, and so far most people have followed the prompts to learn more about Limón and her team. Now, she said, they can text back with questions or tips when they’re ready.

Limón and another reporter also plan to head out into the community, pass out flyers and tell people more about the project. Hopefully, she said, more texts will follow.

Be decent, get cross-promoted

Screenshot, robertfeder.com

“I’ve found that little drives new engagement for Chicago Public Square better than mentions in other news media — like mentions in media critic Robert Feder’s blog, my appearances on WBEZ and WGN Radio, or my hosting duties for the Wednesday Journal Conversations on-stage interviews,” said Charlie Meyerson in an email.

He gets that love for his newsletter, Chicago Public Square, thanks to a lifetime working in Chicago, which you probably can’t replicate in a few days. But his advice is worth following.

“Promotion doesn’t come naturally for journalists, but it’s indisputably helpful in reaching new audiences,” he said.

And for people new to the business?

“I recommend getting to know people you respect — early and often, even (and especially) when you have no agenda and nothing to promote. Coffees and lunches, offering friendly support to competitors in the field (sharing audio has long been a bonding gesture among radio reporters) — all those things can pay off in the fullness of time.

“That, and of course just doing good work — so your thoughts are valued and sought when other journalists are in the hunt for fresh perspective.”

Thanks to everyone for these great tips! Next week, we’re starting a new conversation on untapped revenue streams. I’m off work this week and next, so you’re getting this email through the magic of scheduling.

In the meantime, have you checked out Poynter’s other newsletters? Dave Beard writes our dynamic daily. Ren LaForme sends a great newsletter on digital tools every Monday. On Thursdays, the team at the International Fact-Checking Network offer a bite-sized look at the world of misinformation and efforts to battle it. Every other Thursday, Rachel Schallom brings tips and insights for women in journalism with The Cohort. And our PolitiFact partners are starting a newsletter on August 1. Sign up here.

See you next week!

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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