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Interest in news is down. The time to find your audience has never been better.

September 29, 2023

By Sam Cholke

It’s not your fault. Maybe your news organization hasn’t heard that yet, but you certainly deserve to.

Interest in news is down dramatically for organizations across the board. The last five years have been such a whirlwind that it’s important to consider the enormous macro trends at play that are largely outside of any organization’s direct control.

INN offers a variety of audience engagement resources for organizations trying to make the most of this moment. But first, it’s worth taking a minute to acknowledge this period for what it is.

Browse a variety of audience engagement resources in INN’s database.

We’re coming out of one of the most important five years for news in probably our lifetime. If there’s any time news thrives, it’s when people urgently need reliable information about a dynamic issue.

People have been dealing with a lot over the past five years. COVID-19 made the news essential in many people’s lives. Former President Donald Trump raised the public interest in politics to such a dramatic degree that whole new sectors of the journalism industry were born. News organizations were buoyed by more than $14.4 billion spent on the 2020 election, an unprecedented amount to get Americans to think about and take political action.

It’s almost easy to forget that four of the five largest political protests in United States history were also in the last six years, including the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches, the March for Our Lives against gun violence and the largest, the George Floyd protests, with each estimated to have more than 1 million people participating in marches across the country.

It shouldn’t be surprising then to hear that in the wake of all these events, interest in the news declined rapidly. People didn’t get a break for more than five years. Those of us in the media industry should know that better than anyone because many of us didn’t either.

Disengagement hit COVID coverage first and then fatigue with political coverage set in. For over a year now, much of the industry has been coping with a 20% decline in their audience. Many organizations were stripped back to their core audience.

So how can we see this moment as an opportunity?

Go where people are organized around news. For a long time, social media forced news organizations to wade through a sea of political screeds and cat pictures to find people who really cared about the news. Much of that is stripped away now and there are much more defined spaces online where news organizations can be reasonably confident that people are there specifically for news.

INN has recognized these spaces for a while and has formed partnerships, most recently with Apple News, so that members of the INN Network can leverage these platforms to reach people who care about the news.

Know your audience and your relationship with them. If news organizations are stripped back to their core audience, it is the perfect time to come to grips with what defines that relationship. These are the people who have real feelings about your organization and stay with you after the crisis is over. It is more of these kinds of relationships that will help your organization weather the larger ups and downs of the news cycle.

This fall, INN is rolling out a newly designed audience survey template that incorporates the latest research into why people form relationships with news organizations. It’s free for all members, and INN is adding additional consulting services for members that need added capacity to best take advantage of this moment to do audience research.

Set aside resources to experiment. For the sake of the communities we serve, we should hope things don’t return to a period like the last five years where constant crises drive audiences to our work. Rather, let’s take the time to think creatively about engagement. Knowing the relationships you have with different constituencies is of limited value if your organization isn’t devoting resources to experiments to build more relationships.

From book publishing to buying billboards, some of the most successful INN members in this moment are the ones devoting resources to experiment with how they connect with their audiences.

News organizations have faced waves of crises for years now and it can be difficult to find footing again when the crisis ends. INN members are not alone in this moment, and INN’s audience team is available to help and make the connections.

This piece was first published on INNsights.

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