Listening well means keeping track of what you hear

Posted on April 03, 2012 by Janet Coats

For the last two years, I’ve been working on two projects that I’ve largely kept separate from each other – the Journalism Accelerator collaboration tool and the ongoing development of the Block by Block community of independent news publishers.

Since the fall, those two projects have started to bleed into each other in some really gratifying ways. What makes me happiest is that this has happened organically; there’s been no shotgun marriage just because these efforts are both part of the New Media Journalism Initiative.

The Journalism Accelerator has taken a growing interest in the issue of financial sustainability for all types of journalism, but it has given special focus to the challenges of independent news publishers. In turn, we’re focusing now on helping the JA itself thrive financially, bringing in some expert business coaching from Joe Michaud. Joe has been working with a group of independent publishers as part of our Super Camp mentoring program.

So it all comes full circle, as what we learn in one project feeds into the other.

Another way the two efforts have converged came in the person of Denise Cheng. I met Denise when The Patterson Foundation enabled the first Block by Block Community News Summit in 2010, when she was working for The Rapidian in Grand Rapids, Mich. Denise recently completed a stint working with the Journalism Accelerator team, and she shared what she learned in blog posting at both the JA site and the Block by Block site.

I commend Denise’s full post to you; her insights into community engagement have relevance that extend beyond journalism. I want to put my own spin onto the two key points she made, about documentation and the many ways of listening.

One of the values of the Journalism Accelerator is that JA leader Lisa Skube and her team document everything. The goal here isn’t building web site traffic; it is making meaning. The only way to make meaning from our virtual conversations is to document the connections that are being made, understand them and build upon them.

Denise talks about the value of customer relationship management systems, or CRMs. I admit I heard a lot about CRMs for advertising clients or subscribers during my days in the print newsroom, but I never thought about how that concept might apply to journalism.

I wish I had those days back. Watching the Journalism Accelerator has helped me see the power of tracking connections – I see how it can help you to develop a database of expertise and interest that can enrich your coverage. It is the truest kind of virtual match-making, as you start to see patterns: this person has a need, the other person has expertise, and you can serve as the connector.

It is a concept that has value not just for journalism, but for any organization that is trying to build community connection and enable action.

Digital tools let you track these relationships, but it is in seeing the patterns that the real power lies. As Denise points out, digital listening doesn’t mean just counting clicks or likes or tweets. It means sensing patterns. Increasingly, those patterns are personal and not institutional. Sensing the patterns of individual networks helps us see where conversations are happening, how debate is taking place, where consensus is emerging and where gaps continue to yawn.

When I worked as managing editor in Wichita, Kansas more than 15 years ago, we talked a lot about the power of listening and the role of the newspaper in enabling community conversation. Never have we had so many useful tools to help us do that, especially if we view social media as a listening network rather than just as a place to push promotional content.

Denise’s experience at the Journalism Accelerator helps point the way in thinking about how to do this effectively.

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.