1. I. Introduction (15m)
  2. II. Choose Your Own Adventure (30m)
  3. III. Case Studies (50m)
  4. IV. Best Practices (35m)

Engagement Toolkit

Listen and Get to Know Your Community

Meet your community where they are

In order to engage your audience, you first have to get to know them. If you already have a great community conversation platform on your site, start by listening there. If the community you’re targeting isn’t online, a series of community events might be better. It doesn’t look the same for every project. Look at the community that you report on, find out what people there are interested in, and think intentionally about who you want to engage and the best way to do it.

Listen in multiple ways

It’s critical to understand what the community actually cares about; investing in that listening up front will yield more meaningful engagement later. In light of an upcoming transit referendum, David Plazas, Director of Engagement and Opinion of the Tennessean, rode the bus for an entire year to understand Nashville’s transit system and public opinions about it. He conducted research for six months before writing a single word for his series “Cost of Growth and Change,” listening to people talk and affirming that the cost of living and affordable housing were broadly relevant issues. Melodie Edwards read the local paper in Gilette, a community far from where she lives, to identify relevant hot-button issues before organizing her civil discourse event. The Detroit Free Press invested in intensive focus groups with parents and children before writing any stories in their solutions series on urban violence.

Relevant Case Studies:

Learn how your community likes to engage

Appreciating how people communicate with each other may provide insights into how you can best engage them. For example, The Minneapolis Star Tribune learned that Somalis have a strong tradition of oral storytelling, and to this day, many are in the habit of making phone calls to talk to someone about their problems. This gave the team insights into why stories posted on their website might not gain wide traction.

Relevant Case Studies:


“There’s a risk in overthinking this. Sometimes you just need to go out and listen.”

Andrew Rockway
The Jefferson Center/Your Voice Ohio

Tips from the Listening Post Collective

What are some strategies for listening to your community, creating stories that resonate, and fostering an ongoing conversation? The Listening Post Playbook is designed to help journalists, newsroom leaders, and community groups listen to and engage with their communities.

The playbook has strategies for listening to and engaging with your community, understanding the information needs of residents, creating two-way conversations with citizens around essential news and information, producing journalism that highlights a diverse range of voices and experiences, and collecting and analyzing project data that helps track trending topics and citizen engagement.

While it certainly can be a big lift to establish a relationship with a community, any newsroom can start by finding small ways to connect with citizens in the course of daily reporting. That can be as simple as considering how reporters phrase questions in a specific community. Think of the Listening Post Playbook as a starting point for your newsroom engagement efforts.

Best Practices

Assess Your Presence and Reach