Philly Newsrooms Conduct User-Centered Meetings to Understand Readers’ Needs


The Philadelphia newsrooms held their first user-centered meeting, where journalists interviewed three guests, and organized their observations into attitudes, behaviors, motivations and goals to develop new story ideas. (Photo by Eric Ulken)

In order to stay innovative and relevant, newspapers are trying new ways to capture their audiences and search for gaps in the market. One of them is design thinking, a methodology that starts with understanding the audience based on answers to questions like: Do you know who your target audience is? What are their needs? What ecosystem do they live in?

Eric Ulken

In Philadelphia, the Inquirer, Daily News, and, conducted a design thinking experiment last year that helped the newsrooms better understand and address their audience’s needs. Working together on the project were Kim Fox, managing editor of audience development, Eric Ulken, former managing editor, digital operations (Ulken is now an independent consultant), and Patrick Kerkstra, managing editor of digital content.

According to Ulken, analytics weren’t telling the newsrooms enough about their core audience demographic. “We wanted to find out something that we could solve for them, and create new content that we weren’t doing.”

With that, they recruited three guests off social media to spend half a day with journalists, where they were interviewed about their daily habits like their morning routine. As a result, the newsroom learned who their target audience was, what the audiences needed, and what stories audiences would be interested and not interested in reading. From there, they created solutions until they matched the needs of the participants.

“Understanding the audience allows for discovering what the problems really are and how to use data and analysis to find solutions, rather than assuming what the issues are,” said Ulken.

Kim Fox

Fox stated that not only were they empowering the community, but all levels of the newsroom were involved in the decision-making process.

“Everyone was immersed in the step-by-step process of the consumer as they showed us what is important to them and engaged with them to better understand their frustrations with current products, and to get their thoughts on how things could be better,” she said.

Many story ideas came out of the meeting, and some ended up as actual stories. Reporter Stephanie Farr developed a “We the People” series, profiling ordinary Philadelphians, and reporter Tommy Rowan wrote several stories on the local history of old buildings.

Next up, creating a newsletter for women in the community, where they will again use the design thinking approach to learn more about the demographics in the area and what topics women want to read.

A Section, Philadelphia Inquirer


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