Irina Matchavarini is a 2022 RJI Student Innovation Fellow partnered with the Chicago Reporter and Illinois Latino News in Chicago. The RJI Student Fellows will be sharing their product work throughout the summer in Innovation in Focus.
“We want to hear from our readers,” said Hugo Balta, Publisher of Illinois Latino Network, the online news outlet targeting the Latinx community in the state. The network had previously used forms to solicit opinions from readers, but had been inconsistent in the endeavor. Now it was time for a revival.
Soliciting reader feedback and adjusting the content accordingly is not a new idea. In fact, the pandemic prompted many news organizations to pay closer attention to the needs of the audiences. The Wall Street Journal launched “You Ask, We Answer” to address readers’ questions about the pandemic in short, clear and digestible paragraphs. The same approach was used to cover the 2020 elections.
The New York Times has been notably successful at compiling stories from readers’ letters – reporters had to choose the best bits from 16 000 reader contributions one time. But how do smaller newsrooms with more limited resources communicate with their audiences?
Our answer is surveys.
Illinois Latino News planned a series of stories on environmental justice: water affordability, food insecurity and air pollution. This is solutions journalism, aiming to inform the most affected communities in Chicago and each story is accompanied by a short survey encouraging the readers to share their feedback on the piece they are reading, as well as recommendations on what they’d like to read more of.
The goal of getting feedback from each survey is to inform the focus of subsequent articles and enrich future reporting. Illinois Latino Network started researching surveys, hoping to find the best approach to increase user engagement from passive commenting to active contribution.
One of various examples is especially helpful. Documented NY covers the immigration community in New York City, and their team incorporated a survey into their newsletter, soliciting opinions from their readers. They posed adjustable questions that are especially useful in designing a survey that could work for your newsroom:
- What communities do our subscribers belong to?
- What topics do our subscribers care about? How can we further their knowledge of the topics?
- What questions can we ask in the survey to make sure we are providing solutions our subscribers find relevant?
With the questions in mind, there are three major categories to incorporate in a short survey: audience’s needs, the benefit they got from current reporting and areas our outlet could improve.
Designing the first survey
While designing the first survey, Illinois Latino Network used the template from Connecticut Latino News – one of the partner newsrooms from the Latino News Network – where they have already started implementing reader surveys as part of their Advancing Democracy series about Hispanic-Latino participation in the electoral process.
The survey at the end of their article starts with demographic information, then asks questions specifically about the article and finally poses an open-ended question:
The survey gives readers a brief explanation of the purpose of our questions – to understand our audience, then dives into takeaways from the reader.
To refine the approach for readers, we moved questions about the story and the reporting process to the beginning of the survey, starting from from narrow influence, moving to the bigger goals:
- Impact of the story on an individual reader
- What the reader thinks is important for their community
We ask more about what the reader learned from the article.
Then we ask how that might affect a member of the community.
- What the reader wants to know about environmental justice
- Who the reader wants to see as our sources
- Open-ended question inviting the reader to share their opinion about the Chicago Reporter
We also look for ideas on what to cover next.
Finally, we give readers a chance to way in beyond the multiple choice selections on what they would want to read about from Illinois Latino News.
The second part of the survey is about demographic indicators of the reader, concluding by asking them to subscribe to the newsletter.
You can see the survey accompanying a story includes a publisher’s note prompting readers to spare a couple of minutes and answer questions. The story and the survey were also shared on social media, both on Illinois Latino News pages and on the personal Twitter accounts of the staff.
The story was published on July 25, 2022. Moving forward Illinois Latino News is eager to see what worked and what didn’t.
First of all they will look at the participation rate. If it’s low, it’s time to ask whether to opt for a shorter survey or a different layout. Since this is a pilot survey, the newsroom opted for a simple Google Forms layout, which is compatible with the Illinois Latino News site run on WordPress. But if asking for contributions is a permanent part of the newsroom’s workflow, we will have to find a more eye-catching and fun survey builder.
Illinois Latino News also hopes to determine demographic criteria of engaged readers. If a reader was kind enough to spend time on the survey, we want to know a little more about their background and preferences.
This article was edited by Kat Duncan and Mikaela Rodenbaugh.