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Cole Goins

332. How well are journalists really listening to their audience?

Reporters need to be good listeners. It’s a top job requirement: how can we tell good stories if we’re not listening closely to the people we interview?

But are reporters hearing everything that’s being said? And if so, what do they do with that information?

“We’re not good at expanding our field of listening and incorporating deeper tactics to really understand the information needs of our communities in a way that drives the strategy of what we cover, how we cover it and how we get that information out,” said Cole Goins, a journalist, facilitator and media consultant with the American Press Institute. “We do listen a lot but I don’t think we embed that into our strategy as deeply as we could.”

Journalism has long been a one-sided form of communication, with reporters determining what pieces of information to use based solely on their judgment. But in a time of diminished trust and accusations of making stuff up, taking into consideration what readers want to know about and what their concerns are could help address those issues while building trust and increasing transparency, he said.

“We’re talking about, with a deeper emphasis on listening, getting away from more extractive and more to a transactional nature, so we’re being more responsive to what people want to know and how we can think about journalism as more like a service,” Goins said.

This would require more interaction with readers, listeners, viewers, etc., but simply adding a monthly open house or roundtable discussion won’t cut it. Go to where your audience, your community, your readers are already gathering and join them there. Make the extra effort to meet them on their terms to help meet your goals, Goins suggested.

It’s an opportunity for the community to share their feedback, questions and suggestions, along with complaints and concerns, with reporters that can foster better relationships and, in turn, provide better coverage and improved trust, just by hearing readers’ thoughts.

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