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Authentic connections are key to audience growth strategy

When I explained to others about why I got a journalism degree, I spoke of the fond memories of growing up with my grandfather who worked on television news for many years. The romantic story was that I was “wired” to be in communications. But secretly, I also liked the idea of telling a story then leaving it behind when the story was “put to bed.”

It was simple: You wake up and get a story assignment, and you complete it before you go home. Wake the next day, rinse, and repeat.

Journalists are taught to be fair, objective, and to present all sides of the story. We are taught to detach.

That detachment extends to the business side of journalism, too. Today when we talk about satisfying audiences, we naturally think of the reader or the consumer. In digital, we talk of “users” or “uniques.”

But what about the subjects? What about the very real people who are at the center of the stories we tell? They are an audience.

On the business side, we have been talking more and more about building relationships with all of our audiences. That’s something that is already fundamental to the journalism at the center of our organisations.

Recently my college roommate who writes for the San Antonio Express News wrote a story in which her source ultimately died on the job. I felt the grief in her amazing writing, and even if her readers don’t know her personally as I do, I’m certain they felt it, too.

It must be hard and it must be impossible to leave the job at the end of that particular day.

Even more recently, a reporter at The Dallas Morning News felt grief in a similarly personal way. After a mentally ill man randomly killed a jogger along a popular trail, our reporter interviewed the widow. The reporter earned her trust by explaining that her goal was to humanise the victim, to tell his story.

Sadly, the widow could not sustain her own grief and committed suicide. In her suicide note, the widow mentioned the reporter by name, offering details she expected to be used to tell her own story. You can read more about it here.

As I read both of the stories, I couldn’t help but notice how each reporter did her job. Well, more than her job, actually. Each touched the people they wrote about in such a way that it left a profound mark on their lives. And you cannot leave that behind at the office.

Those of us trying to build relationships that satisfy our other audiences should take note of how reporters like this do their jobs so well. They make it personal. When appropriate, they resist the urge to stay detached. They connect on a human level.

If that kind of connection is at the center of our audience-growth strategy, not only will we be aligned with smart business trends that underscore the importance of personalisation, but we will be aligned in a very real way with the work being done by our best journalists.

About Nicki Purcell

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