I shuttered my own news startup. Here’s what journalism should learn from my experience. (page 8)

Insight: Adopt cycles of engagement

What engagement is not: People screaming in the comments or the journalist adding a “what do you think?” tagline on a finished story. Or a like on social media.

What is engagement: Conversations with the reader – a natural back and forth between audience and news publication. Much like a conversation, it’s ongoing, taking turns talking and listening.

Reader-driven editorial practices can add in cycles of engagement to ongoing community issues, from local climate change action to local elections. 

How Converging Topics used engagement to connect

With Converging Topics, Raleigh Convergence used surveys and virtual events to listen and have readers set the agenda for coverage. Added cycles for input helped readers continue to guide the conversation. 

The first topic was on local climate change and sustainability; the second topic was lighter, on exploring locally over the summer. 

The conversation started with a Typeform with questions, like this one for climate change and sustainability:

Screenshot of Raleigh Convergence climate change reader survey
Raleigh Convergence used Typeform to let readers drive coverage.
  • How much do you know about climate change locally (1-10?)
  • What are you most curious about?
  • What is your connection to climate change, and the local plan if you know about it?
  • What do you want to learn more about? (Options included history and development, effect on BIPOC communities, native plants, innovation, sustainability efforts such as composting)
  • What nuance is missing from the climate change conversation too often?
  • Is there a person or organization you think we should contact for coverage?
  • Is there something you wish we’d asked but didn’t?

Reader feedback directly affected the focus of stories and planned events:

  • The local climate change plan overview focused more on impact to BIPOC communities
  • It informed the creation of a composting live virtual event 
  • Learning that many readers didn’t know about local action for climate change, creating a roundup of actionable climate change events/activities. 

Wake County voter guide as a reflective resource

The Wake County voter guide for 2020 was the third highest read story of all time at RaleighConvergence.com, and it received heavy search traffic. 

We began by asking people what they wanted to know about voting, beginning when people started thinking about mail-in voting

Input was collected through a survey, natively on Instagram, using the newsletter and with some Google Trends research. It created a more relevant guide entirely of audience questions. 

Rather than publishing once, it was a living document with new questions added as they arrived. Those questions were shared as they came in, linking back to the guide with the full set of questions. 

Listening can inform reader revenue products: Raleigh Convergence individual memberships launched in January 2021 – but few people opted in at the beginning. 

While I’d used surveys to inform the program, it wasn’t enough. So I sent a targeted email to engaged newsletter subscribers and asked them for virtual coffee (and later sent a coffee gift certificate to a local shop). 

After interviewing 22 people over Zoom about their habits and Raleigh Convergence’s value, I created new messaging, different perks and price point levels around the insights developed from those conversations. 

A two-newsletter series, one for the general newsletter list and a follow-up to the most engaged audience, asked people to join. The series converted more than double the number of people who joined at launch. 

"I shuttered my own news startup. Here’s what journalism should learn from my experience." table of contents

  1. I shuttered my own news startup. Here’s what journalism should learn from my experience.
  2. What sustainability looked like for me, and when it changed:
  3. Closing Raleigh Convergence
  4. Operational lessons for the industry
  5. Insight: Events are journalism
  6. Insight: Let community members into your journalism
  7. Insight: Rethink the news article as the best way to deliver journalism
  8. Insight: Adopt cycles of engagement