Look Ahead: Hearken Develops Open Notebook, a New Tool for Pre-Publication Audience Engagement

For readers without a clear idea of the journalistic process, understanding how a reporter develops a story may seem a bit puzzling.

In order to help reporters be more transparent while also earning the trust of their readership, Hearken is developing a new tool for pre-publication audience engagement.

With Open Notebook, journalists can document and share what’s happening as they report, allowing those interested to follow along and contribute. The tool provides a place for reporting materials such as notes, photos and interview audio to be sent as an email update to people who have subscribed.

In these updates, referred to as “dispatches,” reporters can also include a call-to-action to the audience with responses saved directly into the Open Notebook system. Whether it is a request to send in photos or an inquiry regarding suggestions for interviews on a story, a reporter will be able to have audience input at their fingertips every time they send a dispatch.

A journalist could encourage people to subscribe to their notebook about a particular story by sharing a link on social media.

Julia Haslanger

According to Julia Haslanger, Hearken engagement consultant, the team hasn’t set a target date yet for when the tool will be formally released.

“We’re still having a few partner journalists test out Open Notebook and let us know what works and what doesn’t for them not just technically but also in terms of workflow and getting buy-in from editors and audience members,” she said. “Because Hearken isn’t solely a tech company, it’s important to us that this be easy to integrate into a journalist’s life, and be able to make the case for why it’s worth the effort to share updates with your audience along the way.”

But development on Open Notebook started more than a year ago. The first phase of the project began when members of the Hearken team reached out to partner newsrooms and inquired about what kind of tool they could see themselves using to keep readers engaged during the reporting process.

Haslanger said they were inspired in part by some newspaper reporters who have experimented in this space, particularly David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post. While reporting on the charitable donations of Donald Trump’s foundation, Fahrenthold regularly tweeted updates to his followers. Ideally, Open Notebook would be utilized best for stories reported out over an extended period of time.

“He showed how reporting transparently and actually engaging in conversation with readers during the reporting process can both improve the journalism and build an audience,” Haslanger said. “We haven’t had any newspaper partners test it out yet, but we’re hoping to get one or two using it soon.”

For more information, visit opennotebook.co.

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