By “memberful routines” we mean normal ways of operating that incorporate members and produce value for a news organization. A simple example of a memberful way of working is maintaining a database of members and their expertise that is routinely tapped to provide technical proofreading of articles and investigations. It might take time, but this routine also adds value.

The value is not only in the knowledgable reading that members can give, which might save an author from errors, but also in the added “stickiness” or loyalty that members feel when they are consulted like this. It’s one thing to be valued for the money you can give to a newsroom; it’s quite another to be appreciated for the knowledge you can bring to the table.

A second way to think about memberful routines is that they consolidate and regularize what you have learned by running projects or experiments with your members. A one time event that worked really well might evolve into a regular Tuesday night series. Instead of guessing what the costs and likely payoff will be, you know— because it’s become a routine. In this sense routines are like stored knowledge. They are a record of your experience in engaging your members.

Ashley: I bet you have some “stored knowledge” in KPCC’s routines that you could tell us about.

Thanks so much for getting us started, Ariel and Jay.

There are many ways in which KPCC/LAist has worked to develop “memberful routines” through an engaged journalism approach. You can see that in the community-centered storytelling series “Unheard LA,” which is entirely dependent on the experiences Angelenos choose to share; in the recent participatory photo project “Parenting, Unfiltered,” which invited a dozen parents from across the region to share their experiences as parents in their own words and photos; and in the work early childhood education reporter Mariana Dale does every day. Whenever I’m in conversation with journalists who want to learn how to do this work at the individual level, I point to an article she wrote on our Medium page: “5 ways I’m incorporating engagement into everyday reporting” (

Ashley, Mariana – all of these must have started as experimental pilots, right? What has allowed KPCC to make that leap from one-off projects to routines?

Great question, Ariel. KPCC has spent a number of years developing an engaged journalism team and approach that spans the newsroom. In the specific example of early childhood, which is a grant-supported beat, we spent several months conducting human-centered design research with the amazing Tran Ha. You can read about it here:

That work really made clear the opportunity to practice a high-touch, low-tech engagement approach that would allow for more meaningful engagement and reach of parents and caregivers of children 0–5. Because of that research, we were able to hire our first-ever beat-specific engagement producer: Stefanie Ritoper.

Since then, we’ve looked to human-centered design to inform our census coverage and are currently doing the work to develop a beat focused on college pathways.

Throughout all of this, we’re working to develop routines, teams, and clear measures of success. I hope that helps.

We’re big proponents of human-centered design here at MPP. I first learned of KPCC when I saw your Human Voter Guide project in 2016. You’ve had a couple more elections since then. Since we’re talking about routines, can you share what it looks like at KPCC when you apply a human-centered design approach to election coverage? Are you at the point where there’s a bit of a template for memberful election coverage?

I’m so glad that you brought up Human Voter Guide, which was started by Mary Plummer and Melanie Sill back in 2016. When you ask about the value of routines, this work stands out for me. It’s what allowed KPCC to first really build the muscle to answer questions at a 1-1 level.

You can read more about it here (

In four years, KPCC received and answered about 1,000 questions about the mechanics of voting. Because of the muscle we built doing that, we were able to start answering questions about wildfires burning in Southern California in a similar fashion, starting in 2017.

And when coronavirus questions began to pick up in March of this year, we really shifted toward a help desk approach. By that time, what had taken four years to do, we could now do in four weeks. To date, we’ve received and answered more than 4,000 questions about COVID-19.

Getting back to your question, Ariel, we are now much better positioned to engage community members throughout the election to answer their questions. In addition to our incredible politics reporter Libby Denkmann and her editor, Oscar Garza, we have an engagement producer, news apprentice, and interns focused on not only answering questions but looking for themes in those questions. We’re also inviting community members to let us know what they’d most like candidates to discuss while competing for votes.

Our company, Good Good Good, shares a lot of resources on how to get involved and take action. Our audience is brilliant and highly knowledgable — and I’m really excited to use our membership to allow for our community to directly share resources, nonprofits, and ideas.

When it comes to making this a routine, does it work best to make this a time-based interval? (Every Wednesday we ask for something?) Or could we make it responsive to what’s happening in the world? (See news stories about wildfires and know to visit Good Good Good?)

What I would say first is that it depends on what your team can commit to doing. More important than the interval—at least for us—was the ability to make sure we could close the loop. So often with engagement we’re actually making big asks. We need to honor what people share and, to the best of our ability, respond and let folks know we care. The Mariana post I shared earlier is a really good example of that. Where she asks a question, she makes sure to go back and provide a link a new story.

Hi! Giuliana here from KPCC’s engagement team. A few things come to mind about answering these thousands of questions that maybe haven’t been mentioned yet.

1. The most frequent response we get from askers is something like: Thank you for answering this, I didn’t think anyone would really take the time.
I can say that I reached out to many journalists for resources to answers through links in their stories and heard back from exactly none of them. So, lots of publications have “email me” links, but from what we heard from the community and from my personal experience, most don’t actually respond to them. Responding thoughtfully made a clear impact.

2. First we had to become experts on coronavirus, then we had to become experts on unemployment insurance, then we had to become experts on eviction rights, now it’s fire season so we’re having to become experts on all things fire. To Ashley’s point, some of us gravitated to certain subjects and we would push questions to the right person on the team, or look at past answers they had given to inform ours, this helped immensely with workflow. (My passion, housekeepers asking about the safety of their job; Caitlin Hernandez’s favorite, eviction rights.)

3. There has been a real emotional toll to reading questions from people who are scared about the unknowns of the virus, losing their job, how they’re going to feed their kids/pay their bills/safely do their job, if their house has burned down–the list goes on–that I don’t think was anticipated.
Spending 8 hours a day reading questions from people often at their lowest point, then trying to connect them to resources to help can be A LOT. The hardest day for me was a day when a question came in from a woman asking if we knew of any domestic violence shelters that would take her and her dog. I spent a couple hours calling shelters only to find that since the coronavirus had started, they were all full. Sadness on top of sadness. I finally found something for her far from where she lived and have no idea if she ever went or what happened. The questions we invest the most in often don’t write back to say thanks, or let us know the outcome of our outreach and we just have to hope they’re okay.
When the toll started becoming clear, we were encouraged to take breaks, to call counselors that were made available, or take mental health days. I think this is something everyone should keep in mind when doing outreach. Spreadsheets are great, workflow is great, all these terms are great, but it takes humans processing the information coming in from the community to put them in place.

Does running a newsroom as a non-profit entity BOOST membership engagement and signups because of the inherit empathy one has towards non-profits (and the extra perk of being tax deductible to members) versus a newsroom under a for-profit corporation structure?

A for-profit newsroom can do just as well as a nonprofit newsroom at engaging with members. It all comes down to prioritization. If you center your audience members needs in your decision making, the tax status of your organization becomes secondary (other than the fact that membership fees wouldn’t be tax deductible for a for-profit newsroom). Outside the U.S., nonprofit newsrooms are less common, and for-profit newsrooms have successfully cultivated vibrant membership programs, among them Malaysiakini in Malaysia, Paginá/12 in Argentina, and Daily Maverick in South Africa. And in the U.S. Berkeleyside was a for-profit newsroom for quite awhile while successfully implementing and growing their membership program. It all comes down to having a strong value proposition for your newsroom as a whole, and for your membership program – and that has little to do with your tax status.

We offer advice on that here: