What answers do journalists need from their audience?

The Customer Empathy Map, developed by XPLANE. Image credit: cleverism.com.

The media is rethinking journalism, and it’s encouraging to see that it’s not just one-way introspection. The public appears increasingly interested in the state of the media, just as it is an economic necessity for “the media” to better understand the public.

News organizations are seeking audience insights to shape the future of journalism. “Producing journalism” is how news organizations create value and is thus an activity that is central to their future. So it is encouraging that many influencers are focused on fundamental questions about the industry’s core product. (For just two examples of many, see Huffington Post editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen on defining “the essence of journalism,” and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen on rethinking convention and emphasizing “terms that make sense to users.”)

It is my belief that audience insights will shape the next wave of news products (not just formats, but the nature of coverage itself), which in turn will shape public discourse and the very world we inhabit. To preview that world, I am partnering with 747 Insights (thanks to the support of the McCormick Foundation) to interview a diverse group of millennials to understand: to consumers, what is “the news,” who is “the media,” and what role do they play in your life?

Before embarking on the research, I want to hear from you. What do you want to know? What would you ask millennials about their attitudes toward and perspectives on news and the media?

Below is my “wish list” of topics to explore in the interviews, with the goal of uncovering a range of opinions different from my own. My objective is to observe and begin to understand how consumers think and feel about the news, the media and its role in society. The goal is not to synthesize or affirm one view, but rather to collect and present a diverse set of views that I expect will be at times unexpected and conflicting. I’ve found the “customer empathy map” above to be a useful tool in generating questions, and I may return to it when I summarize findings in the coming weeks.

What’s your wish list? What would you add or emphasize? Please leave comments below or send me an email at whatsnewsanyway@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

(Note: The questions below focus primarily on attitudes, building off fantastic research on news consumption behaviors from organizations such as Pew and The Media Insight Project from the AP and the University of Chicago.)

What is “news?”

  • Of the information and content you encounter, what is news and what is not?
  • Where can you find news? (e.g., TV, websites, social media)
  • How is news different from other information or content? (e.g., what you see in your social media feeds, Google search results, Wikipedia, ads, press releases)
  • Are there different categories or degrees of news? (e.g., “just the facts” vs. opinion vs. analysis/explainers; breaking news vs. in-depth reporting; “hard” news vs. infotainment)
  • What characteristics does news have? (e.g., style, standards, topics, format)
  • If something is news, what do you expect from it? What does it depend on? (e.g., category of news, content topic, source, format)
  • What do you see in the news that is confusing or you don’t understand? (e.g., news vs. opinion, “sponsored content,” corrections, fact checks, conflicting quotes from two sources in one story)

What and who is the “the media?”

  • What does “the media” mean to you? What and who is “the media?”
  • What is the role of “the media” in society? How does it interact with other institutions, such as business and government? How should it?
  • What counts as a media organization? Who counts as a member of the media?
  • What media sources do you rely on, and for what? Which do you like, trust, or oppose? Why? What does it depend on?
  • Who do media organizations answer to? What’s important to them? How does that impact their content?
  • What is the difference between national and local sources? Which do you prefer, and why?

What is a journalist?

  • What are the different roles you see people play in the media? (e.g., reporter vs. columnist vs. blogger vs. TV personality vs. spokesperson)
  • What are the differences between them? Who do you rely on, like, trust, or oppose? Why?
  • What is a journalist’s job? What do you think they do all day? How do they decide what to cover? How and where do they get their information? What do you think is important to them?
  • What values do journalists seem to have? Which of these do you (dis)agree with, and why? What values should they strive to uphold?

What role do news, the media and journalists play in your life?

  • How does the news fit into your day? How, when, where and why do you encounter the news? Is consuming the news a habit?
  • Why do you consume news, relative to other types of information and content?
  • How do social media platforms impact the news you discover and consume? How does the news you discover on social media differ from news you find elsewhere?
  • What makes an individual piece of content worth your attention? What makes it valuable to you? What does it depend on (e.g., topic, format, your mood and context)?
  • How do you know a piece of content is accurate? How important is your level of trust in an article/source when deciding which content to consume or share?
  • What do you do with the news? When do you rely on the news or the media, relative to other types and sources of information and content? What else do you use to complete this “job?”
  • How does the news make you feel? How does it contribute to (or detract from) your identity, roles and relationships? (e.g., with your family, friends, community, work)
  • What don’t you like about the news you get or the media you see?
  • Of the content you consume regularly: For which do you/would you pay? What makes something worthy (or not) of your attention and your cash? (e.g., news, Netflix, Spotify, on-demand movies or TV)

So, what did I miss? What would you add or emphasize? Let me know with a comment or an email at whatsnewsanyway@gmail.com.

Matt Gamber is an experienced strategist and the former editor-in-chief of Notre Dame’s daily student newspaper. With the Boston Consulting Group, he has worked with technology and media companies to conduct consumer research and develop and launch new products. He is currently an MBA student at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.