In a discussion in the comments on a blog post this week, Dan Mitchell dismissed “reader engagement” as a “squishy phrase” with vague meaning and no true value. He called engagement an “overblown concept.”
I’m pretty sure I failed to convince Mitchell of the value of engagement. He has plenty of company in being dismissive of engagement as a buzzword without real value for news organizations. Many also confuse engagement with promotion (some of Mitchell’s points addressed web traffic).
But, as I’ve said for years, engagement is about doing better journalism:
Engagement/social media editor’s job: Lead newsroom to join, lead, enable, curate & listen to community conversation for better journalism.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) March 22, 2012
Krystal Knapp, publisher and founding editor of Planet Princeton, provided an excellent example. NBC News had proclaimed that Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman was in a “voluntary quarantine” following her return from covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
— Dr. Nancy Snyderman (@DrNancyNBCNEWS) October 3, 2014
Krystal reported that Snyderman, who lives in Princeton, had been seen out in public in the community. Jeff Edelstein, a columnist at the Trentonian, wrote about the situation and called it to my attention:
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) October 11, 2014
And she gave credit to her communty:
— Krystal Knapp (@krystalknapp) October 11, 2014
That’s why community engagement isn’t squishy and isn’t a buzzword. It’s an essential technique for getting and doing better stories.
Update: After I sent Krystal a link to this post, she added this in a Facebook message:
I agree 100% about community engagement. I measure success based on engagement. If I am not engaging readers in my community I am not doing my job, given that I am a community news site.