Case Study 2: Design as Audience Engagement

Audience engagement, or audience development, are terms frequently mentioned in contemporary newsrooms. For the purposes of this paper, I take these to mean attempts by news organizations to build deeper, more interactive relationships with their readers—a move inextricably linked with the paradigm shift to a user-centric model. News organizations are no longer hubs of information to which people come; instead, organizations now seek to get their work out to readers and to interact with them more deeply. To do this effectively, they have to know the audience in a new way, including their habits, their behavior, their likes, and dislikes. As the media ecosystem becomes even more competitive, news outlets are fighting with every other kind of media for people’s attention. This means that the pressure to anticipate the audience’s needs and desires is intense—and increasingly seen as not just a business imperative but as part of the editorial mission. The idea of audience engagement is more than just a marketing ploy; it’s the acknowledgment of a shift in power dynamics. Once people can determine when and where to engage—and can be makers as well as consumers—a new, more collaborative kind of relationship between news organizations and their audiences is required. In fall 2014, Alex McCallum of The New York Times, then assistant managing editor for outreach (a new title at the time), began embedding quantitative and qualitative audience researchers in The Times’s newsrooms to work directly with editors and reporters. Emily Goligoski was the first embedded design researcher. This was a straightforward implementation of the design principle that dictates starting with knowing who you’re designing for and why.

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