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Journalism needs an audience to survive

Journalism is in the midst of an existential crisis: the profession has undergone decades of declines in readership, revenue and public trust, with no obvious end in sight.

Many in the industry believe that the best way for newsrooms to recover both revenue and public trust is to improve their relationship with their audiences.

News organizations once boasted huge profit margins, which left many feeling confident that they knew exactly what they needed to do in order to reach the public. As a result, journalists rarely sought feedback from their readers.

However, the advent of the internet brought huge drops in journalism revenue. Between 2000 and 2015, newspaper ad revenue in the U.S. fell, as an Atlantic article describes, “from about $60 billion to about $20 billion, wiping out the gains of the previous 50 years.”

As the news industry struggles to recapture this increasingly distant financial foothold, many within it are certain that the first step forward is to no longer take their audiences for granted. Instead, they have to be more deliberate about earning the audience’s loyalty.

Yet this newfound consensus within the industry has resulted in a lot of uncertainty: How, exactly, should journalists do this?

How should journalists reach their audience?

One goal, different methods

Newsroom strategies for better understanding and connecting with their readers, viewers and listeners differ from one organization to the next. These differences matter because journalism’s future, and the audience’s role in it, will depend in no small part on which of these strategies succeed.

Some rely on digital metrics to determine what their readers like and dislike, and use that information to give them more of the former and less of the latter. The news company BuzzFeed, for example, is legendary for its use of data to predict which of its stories will “go viral.”

Others rely on more qualitative information. City Bureau, a Chicago-based, nonprofit news organization, hosts weekly “public newsrooms” intended to “gather journalists and the public to discuss local issues and share resources and knowledge to foster better local reporting.”

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