By Kayleigh Barber,
Penn State University

Engaging audiences is key, advised Emily Ramshaw, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune and Jennifer Brandel, CEO and co-founder of Hearken.

Both sat down with moderator Monica Guzman, recipient of the 2016 Nieman Fellowship, and discussed how to achieve engagement with audiences that pay off in the short and long run.

Both have seen successes as well as failures when working to engage their readers in the work they’ve been publishing. ‘The impact we are going for is engagement,” Ramshaw said of The Texas Tribune.

Brandel described a system of mutual respect and a partnership of understanding. One side should be able to influence the other in a mutually beneficial cycle.

“Our goal at the end of the day is to build a robust community of engaged Texans,” Ramshaw said, continuing that proper engagement will result with “turning our readers into more engaged users of our site. And then from donors into evangelists of the product.”

Brandel said it’s not true reader engagement if you are not taking reader’s opinions into account.

They pointed out that it is not difficult or necessarily high-tech to crowd source and listen to what readers want. Journalists have to be able to receive feedback and work with their editors to incorporate it back into their work.

In order to encourage more community engagement, the panel suggested going beyond discussion-based events and adding in more entertainment elements.

Ramshaw said that events that require an attendance fee could act as both an engagement strategy and a financial revenue strategy, citing The Texas Tribune’s festival as an example. She said that the three-day festival of speakers raises nearly $1 million.

Brandel suggested even a simple newsletter or email chain can draw community interest. Additionally, comment sections on publications should be reconsidered. While there is the chance that readers can leave rude or unhelpful comments, that’s not always the case. Brandel suggested the program called Civil Comments, where it requires users to only use constructive criticism to comment. Implementing user engagement models in local newsrooms creates a bond between the readers and the publications allowing for a prosperous and reliable media source, she said.