Design Thinking @ Journalism

As suggested by Jennifer Brandel from Hearken and with regard to Janosch Troehler, public-powered journalism is an innovative way of engaging with the audience by applying design thinking.

Development of journalism

Traditional media has developed steadily from print only over radio stations to all day television. Journalists nevertheless have always done a more or less similar job. They decided what story is worth reporting about, gathered information and presented them to a broader public. Of course, the purpose of the traditional media is also to watch and control people in power and validate facts.

Since the digital revolution has started in the 1990s, the established media has faced several new challenges. With a globally connected world, much information can be found on the web for free. Social media provides news for many people and the newspapers lose a lot of their readers. There is still a difference between traditional media and new media forms found on the internet which is the editorial process. Many business models have changed, but regardless weather a traditional media house relies on subscription models or advertising, the goal is the same: to produce relevant stories to the users.

Engage the audience from the start

To find out what the audience wants to consume, metrics like clicks, views or shares of published products can be analyzed. Yet, with this method editors do not see if there are topics that the audience would want to learn more about which are not already covered. In order to widen the perspective, journalists can apply the mindset of design thinking to their everyday work.

In design thinking everything starts with empathizing with the user. For journalists, this can be a great starting point of a new story. By engaging the audience, they can ask for questions the users have in mind or topics that might concern people. It is an opportunity to learn more about the users interests and to get new ideas from outside the editorial office.

Once many questions made their way to the office, it is time to cluster questions and prioritize a few over the many. This process refers to the define phase of design thinking. Editorial experience and historical data on which subjects do well can be a part of coming to a great leading question. To really engage with the audience, the choice of what story is going to be covered can be given to them via a voting system.

Now that it is assured that the right story gets reported, the next steps are about reporting it the right way. In the ideating phase the journalists do what they are best at. They do research about what has previously been reported on the topic, gather new information and find experts to talk to. Of course, one part of this process is also to get in touch with the person who initially asked the question and to learn more about how it impacts this person’s life.

The gathered information is then put together to one piece and the first prototypes of the product result. They can differ in the format like a written article, a podcast or a video and are presented among others to the person initially wondering about the topic. Valuable feedback or even further input often comes from that.

In the last phase, testing, the finished product is published. If there are variations of it, e.g., different headlines, instead of arguing about the better fitting one among fellow journalists, it can simply be tested live. So even in the end, the users still have an influence on a couple of details that shape the story to the perfectly relevant product.

Lessons learned

Design thinking is a mindset that puts the people in the focus. Its agility allows that audience engagement can be beneficial at every stage of the process and every single action taken improves the relevance. With feedback given during the creation, people feel more included and heard and the final product becomes a better one.

In conclusion, design thinking when applied to journalism can help both the media and the people using it. Journalists get more and diverse ideas and interesting insights to their audience, while users profit from relevant stories in which they can state their point of view. I believe that the power of listening can strengthen local communities and democracy in general.

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