The Media Management & Economics Division, along with the Electronic News Division, is hosting a theme session on news engagement at the AEJMC conference in Montreal. We are showcasing the session, titled “Engaging the Audience: How News Organizations Are Coming Out of the Newsroom and Finding New Ways to Connect,” In this post the featured panelist is Jake Batsell.Batsell pic1

Jake Batsell is spending the 2013-14 academic year at The Texas Tribune in Austin as part of a Knight Foundation fellowship to research best practices in the business of digital news. Batsell is an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University’s Division of Journalism in Dallas, where he teaches digital journalism and media entrepreneurship. He conducts research on audience engagement, media convergence and emerging mobile platforms. He previously worked as a staff writer for The Seattle Times and The Dallas Morning News.

 

Q: You have a new book, Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences, coming out soon that examines how news organizations in several cities are experimenting with new avenues to connect with the audience. What else can tell you us about the book?

Engaged Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2015) explores the changing relationship between news organizations and the audiences they serve. I visited more than two dozen traditional and startup news outlets across the United States and United Kingdom, conducting more than 100 interviews from Seattle to London to New York to Austin to Kalamazoo, Michigan, from mid-2012 to late 2013.

During those visits, I encountered a variety of audience engagement strategies that were driven by five common principles:

  • Connecting with audiences in person;
  • Digitally interacting with audiences;
  • Serving niche audiences defined by topic and geography;
  • Empowering audiences to navigate their own, interactive news experience;
  • Measuring effectiveness and capturing value.

My hope is that, together, these guiding principles can provide a framework as the news industry looks to develop strategies for practicing effective, sustainable journalistic engagement. I am on the professional/creative tenure track at Southern Methodist University, so my work aims to be relevant and accessible to journalists, academics and students alike. Engaged Journalism is part of the Columbia Journalism Review Books series, so the target audience is the same type of person who reads CJR.

Q: What was most surprising to you as you visited newsrooms and talked with journalists and their audiences?

I was surprised to meet so many journalists of all ages and backgrounds who described how connecting with their audiences had reinvigorated their careers and made their work feel more relevant. During my career as a newspaper reporter, I sometimes considered my readers to be a nuisance, although I later came to understand the value of engaging the community I covered. As I began my book research, I expected that many of the journalists I interviewed would be exhausted and overwhelmed at having to endlessly do “more with less.” Some journalists I met absolutely did fit that profile, but more people than I expected told me that adopting an audience-focused mindset had made their jobs more satisfying and infused their work with a greater sense of purpose.

Q: What’s something you wish you could have included in the book but couldn’t fit in?

All of the latest developments in 2014! To say the least, it is challenging to write a book about such a fast-changing topic. As I write this, the Chicago Sun-Times just announced that it is temporarily suspending comments on its news articles, which I would have loved to include in the book. Unfortunately, production deadlines won’t allow that. Still, I believe the book’s overall themes are perennial enough to provide a useful framework for the next several years — at least until news starts to be delivered via personal holograms and Amazon drones.

Q: You’re also coming to the end of your yearlong tenure as a fellow at the Texas Tribune. What have you learned there about news engagement?

The Texas Tribune has rightfully earned an outpouring of national recognition for its journalistic and business-side innovations. But it still has a long way to go in growing a more inclusive statewide audience that reaches beyond well-connected Austin politicos. The Tribune fully realizes this, and is in the midst of a four-phase audience research initiative headed by my fellow Tribune fellow (and recently promoted publisher) Tim Griggs. The fact that the Tribune — which has been labeled a “runaway success” by one industry publication — is still trying to figure out its audience strategy underscores just how complicated and all-consuming the engagement puzzle can be.

Q: What’s next for you as you prepare to head back to being an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University?

First of all, I can’t wait to get back in the classroom and share everything I’ve learned with my students. I also look forward to resuming my role as an adviser to SMU’s digital student media operation. Beyond that, I foresee a lot of travel and writing in late 2014 and early 2015 to promote the book and share my findings from the Knight/Tribune fellowship.

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