Elevating Engagement Through Design

After reading the Elevate Engagement Manifesto, I was inspired to share my own thoughts and actions for engaging with readers through not only journalism, but also design.

A recent brainstorming session for a non-profit’s website redesign

Editor’s note: This post is a response to the Elevate Engagement Manifesto and is published here as part of Gather, a project + platform to support community-minded journalists and other engagement professionals.

Much of my career has been focused on telling stories — whether those were customer testimonials from my first job at Republic Wireless, or elevating community journalism through my roles at McClatchy Innovation and Issue NC. My mission as a designer and journalist is to not only improve the experience of reading, writing and publishing news, but to also spark conversation and share voices that aren’t always heard.

I strive to address these missions in my work:

We need to actively seek different viewpoints.

The interviews I’ve learned from the most have been with people who disagree with me. I was inspired by a Poynter article that discusses the changing role of objectivity in journalism. Objectivity is important, but it’s also important to show our biases as journalists — and humans. Having an open conversation, saying you disagree but want to learn more, is a way to build trust with your community and deepen your understanding of these complex issues. For me, finding these viewpoints, challenging my own bias, and sharing a diversity of voices is so important in community journalism.

My approach:

This was a huge motivation for co-founding Issue NC with Liz Moomey in November 2016. We realized people in our community were isolated from other viewpoints and didn’t discuss national issues with each other. We felt there was a large piece of national political coverage missing — the local piece — and we were motivated to start these conversations in Raleigh, N.C. For our first story, we created a public Google form that asked people about what motivates them and the issues that matter most to them. We were blown away by the robust responses and conversations that came out of this first story. Since then, we’ve covered feminism, environmental issues and patriotism, all starting with an open community survey.

How can design elevate these voices?

If our content and strategy need to change, then the design should too. I’ve been exploring ways UX/UI, multimedia, infographics, etc. can enhance a new perspective, spark more reader engagement, and build community. That’s the next step in digital/visual journalism that I’m really excited for.

My approach:

I started exploring these solutions as a senior in NC State University’s graphic design program. For my capstone project, I designed COVER, a concept for an interactive online news platform that gathers and displays reader sentiment at critical points in the article. Readers could answer questions throughout the article, like or comment on individual paragraphs, and read related social posts. COVER overlays these interactions — using graphs, icons and pathways — on the article to provide a holistic view of reader engagement.

It’s exciting to see products like NYT Reader Center, Hearken and the Guardian’s article surveys include interactive elements that directly address and elevate readers’ questions, insights and criticisms. Now, how can that same design start a conversation about the news and allow readers to talk to one another?

A few ideas come to mind:

  • In-context comments, where readers can add their opinion within the article rather than at the end.
  • Make content blocks more sharable or card-based so readers can send specific quotes, paragraphs or graphics
  • Include a recording of the interview to connect readers with the voice of reporters and others in the community.

We need to experiment.

As pointed out in this week’s Local Edition, encouraging failure presents a big culture shift for traditional journalism, where you had one shot at making it perfect or else all your mistakes were forever in print. In the digital age, we should be pushing the boundaries. I truly believe media companies and journalists can, and should, be the next big innovators in storytelling solely because we’re SO close to the people we’re serving. We just have to listen to what they want.

My approach:

At McClatchy Innovation, we facilitate several design thinking sessions a year across our company’s 29 newspaper markets. We teach a user-focused product development process and encourage people to fail fast. McClatchy owns newspapers across the country — from Sacramento, to DC, to Boise, to Kansas City. I love having the opportunity to improve newspapers at the local level through our design sprints. Often, our biggest accomplishment is instilling a mindset of experimentation at each market and it’s exciting to be leaders in that culture shift.

Why this matters:

A community-driven approach is more than just a content strategy or feature set. When journalism begins and thrives at the community level, it creates a more engaged and informed public by allowing readers to take part in the creation and focus of your story, rather than interacting through only clicks and shares. Journalism is more meaningful and powerful when it places national events in the context of local stories and experiences—when it bridges the gap from ‘breaking news’ to ‘what does this mean for me.’ Highlighting this impact is how we, as journalists, can build community and trust through our work. This is my ultimate goal and mission at McClatchy and Issue NC.

Thank you for the opportunity to continue this conversation around engagement journalism. If you’d like to reach out to discuss these ideas further, you can reach me at chelsanne14@gmail.com or @chelsanne23.