Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

How journalists can get (and keep) an audience

March 3, 2022

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Audiences these days are fickle. I’m talking about digital audiences, not the type that sits in a theater or concert. They are choosy and particular because their time, energy, and focus are valuable. It’s their currency. They and they alone choose when and if they want to become a part of a particular journalist’s audience. In the same vein, they can choose when to disengage and jump off your bandwagon.

What’s your brand and why do you need an audience?

Branding is important today. That’s why journalists should consider themselves a brand. Many journalists are no longer tied to big-name media corporations or network-owned newsrooms, with their built-in audiences. Instead, branching out on their own, covering local beats on smaller websites or sharing their reporting on podcasts and social media. By establishing yourself as a brand you can start to build your audience. But an audience doesn’t come easily.

And you do need an audience. These are the people who will champion and follow your work, providing you with the credibility needed for your reporting to be taken seriously.

A recent example is journalist Mandy Matkin, who in her spare time started a podcast called The Murdaugh Murders based on her reporting for Fitsnews. Almost three years ago, Matkin began chipping away at multiple murder and fraud investigations involving a high-profile family in South Carolina. Her persistent reporting on this explosive story led to one of the key player’s arrests, and dozens of other criminal charges. The story was even the subject of a recent 20/20 episode, with Matkin sitting in one of the experts chairs offering her reporting expertise on the case. She has amassed a huge following on multiple platforms due to her dogged reporting and consistent engagement with her weekly podcast audience.  

What do you stand for?

So how do you get an audience? The first step is defining who you are and what kind of audience you would like to attract. You need to stand for something. You want to define your brand and follow a set of principles that you promise to stand by as a journalist. Ask yourself what kind of journalism you want to focus on and what you want to be known for. That way you can help establish yourself within a particular area of expertise. Would you like to be a trusted source in long-term in-depth investigative pieces –a tech whisperer with an ear to the ground in Silicon Valley – or do you want to be known as the journalist who gets high-profile CEOs to open up? Understanding your niche can help you define your target audience.  

A loyal and engaged audience can help journalists solidify their reputation in the industry and help them get to the next level in their careers. What newsroom wouldn’t want to hire a journalist with a tried and true, built-in audience ready to consume content on their platforms?

Do you have a website yet?

Some consumers will take their time deciding whether they want to be a part of your audience. Many will Google you to see what kind of reporting work you’ve done in the past, read more of your pieces, and learn a little more about you. An official website gives you the opportunity to present yourself exactly as you would like to come across. It’s a first-hand account of you and your work, approved by you. Think of it as your home base where you can list your work, skills, and accomplishments. By being transparent, viewers then have the “official” information they need to either follow you and your work or not. 

The platform you choose as your home base can vary. It could be an official website, a personal blog, a Twitter page, or a SubStack. In fact, if you’re a journalist, freelance, or in a newsroom, you should probably consider buying a domain name sooner rather than later. You can even establish an LLC in your name to convey professionality and make your writing and reporting more official. Having your own home base is important so your audience knows where they can always find you and send you tips no matter what platform you write for.

Keeping an audience

Okay, so you’re slowly acquiring an audience. What now? How do you keep them engaged? Keep in mind that people become your audience or a fan of your work because they felt a connection to your brand or voice at some point. They appreciated your work. Audiences will continue to happily express their passion for your work if you keep them engaged and stay true to your brand. Your audience will depend on you to “deliver the goods.” 

Staying consistent is key and consider providing some sort of access to your life and work that will make your followers feel special as if they belong to an elite VIP group. 

A great example of this is the couple behind Sailing Uma. Fans follow Dan and Kika as they navigate around the world. Despite being on a boat in the middle of nowhere, the couple lets followers come along on their nautical journey, providing constant engagement while keeping them apprised of their adventures. The fans reciprocate by watching their videos on YouTube and offering monetary support via Patreon. 

Audiences are no longer passive, they actively participate

Get familiar with your proprietary audiences. They are a renewable source of energy that any journalist can develop and cultivate throughout the years. They provide you with critical energy. These are the people you can come to rely on to be both champions and reliable amplifiers of your work. You can count on them to help you share your content. Your job now is to take care of this loyal group of people who will amplify you and your brand’s message for as long as they choose to remain a part of your audience. Engagement is absolutely key here. Since audiences are no longer one-sided, it’s important for you to make your audience feel heard. Respond to comments and kudos they may give you, give their observations a thumbs up, let them know you’re actively listening and engaged with their interactions on your platforms. This exchange has the potential to turn a one-time reader into a longtime fan. 

It’s a two-way street so you should keep a dialogue open with your followers about what they want to see from you, any projects you’re working on and any setbacks you may have experienced.

Metrics that matter

Lastly, numbers are a great way to measure your success with audiences. Has your readership changed over time? Do you have more Twitter or Instagram followers? How many people are reading your articles? What are the demographics of your readers? Journalists should get familiar with these analytics so they can read the numbers themselves and know who their audience actually is. While those metrics are tangible ways to measure your growth, remember that engagement with your audience is what truly matters. So, take note of how many people are sharing your stories or mentioning you in their tweets.   

Google Analytics is a universal platform for digging into your analytics. Most hosting sites like Square also provide their own analytics tools. Every social media platform including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provides easy ways to check your numbers.  

Knowing these metrics can also help journalists during the hiring and pitch process because they prove to editors that they have a readership to bring with them and that that readership is engaged. Make it part of your routine to know your own metrics so you can let publications know that you have more to offer than excellent journalism skills.

Overall, understanding yourself as a brand, who your audience is, and how they are engaging with you can not only help your writing and your career but strengthen public trust in journalists. Reporters and the news industry, in general, are constantly attacked, accused of producing so-called “fake news.” People want to rely on people, whom they trust to report the news. Audiences want to count on someone they deem dependable. It’s journalists’ responsibility to not only earn that trust but also deliver quality work in order to sustain it, giving journalism a much-needed credibility boost.

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