Developing memberful routines

When journalism responds to community needs and is created with community participation, that’s called engaged journalism. When done consistently, it progresses to true co-creation.

Although engaged journalism has become a mainstream practice, most organizations are still trying to make the leap from occasional projects to repeatable processes that build co-creation into the organizational culture. MPP emphasizes routines because – in a riff on the trope “what gets measured, gets done” – what becomes routine, becomes culture. 

Engaged journalism is not inherently one-off projects, but this is what it looks like in most places right now. That’s why this section will focus on memberful routines: workflows that connect audience members to journalism and the people producing it on a consistent basis. 

Memberful routines are a crucial part of your membership strategy. They contribute to the strength of a membership program by:

• Helping to grow the program, because engaged audience members are more likely to convert;
• Providing constant, informal feedback to the journalists that makes the journalism “stickier”; and
• Deepening the relationship a member has with the organization, making the member “stickier.”

Memberful routines also have financial value, either in revenue generated or in in-kind contributions. MPP has seen that these benefits extend to subscription and donation-based newsrooms who also establish memberful routines.

But if you want audience members to accept your invitations to participate, you have to create desirable opportunities to participate. These opportunities also need to be technically feasible and viable within existing resources. When all three needs are met, memberful routines – an innovation in how your journalism is produced – take root.  

MPP’s research team won’t dig deeply into how to do memberful projects, aka engaged journalism projects, because you can find that elsewhere. Instead, it will guide you through the process of identifying opportunities for participation that are desirable, feasible, and viable – so that they can be powerful and repeatable – and then help you deconstruct them so that they can be routinized.

Newsrooms that offer flexible pathways to participation are well poised to succeed at this. They often have a range of needs and make explicit “asks,” with flexible approaches to how, when, and to what degree members participate. This actually deepens loyalty. Seen this way, participation becomes part of a loyalty and retention strategy, and is well worth measuring as rigorously as we do someone’s journey from site visitor subscriber to paying member. As researcher JP Gomes told MPP, “It’s possible that participation measured in hours, rather than dollars, correlates with how connected people feel to an organization.”

Memberful routines don’t have to be directly connected to the production of journalism. Their purpose might be to create community around your journalism, as DoR does with its live journalism shows in Romania, KPCC does in Los Angeles with UnheardLA, and Radio Ambulante does with its listening clubs. Creative participation opportunities like these can be surprising and liberating for both the news organization and its audience members.

If you don’t know where to start, ask your members to fill out a survey. Volunteering to be a part of audience research is one of the simplest forms of participation you can offer to members. It’s valuable on its own, but it might also be the first step on a path to greater participation. You always need people to help you out by taking a survey or sitting for an interview. If someone asks you, “What can I do other than give money?” the easiest answer is usually “Tell us what you think about this” or “Fill out this survey.” 

If you’re new to the concept of engaged or memberful journalism, Gather’s introduction to the practice is a good place to start.  Below are six places where you can find guides, case studies, and examples of engaged journalism projects. 

Gather, an online community for engaged journalism that includes case studies and lightning chats
Better News, a collection of case studies and research from the American Press Institute 
The Engaged Journalism Accelerator, which includes case studies and guides 
• Hearken’s collection of case studies and guides
Engagement at KPCC, where Southern California Public Radio documents their engaged journalism work
• The Participatory Journalism Playbook, a field guide to listening to and reporting with communities 
If this section resonates with you, we encourage you to read Membership Puzzle Project’s August 2019 report “Making Journalism More Memberful.” (English, Spanish)