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TODD SMITH — What readers want in news


As we launch into 2020, it’s a great time to check the presses on what readers seek in the news media.

A recent study by The Center for Media Engagement aimed to get the scoop on what readers don’t understand about the news process and how newsrooms can build trust with their audiences.

For this study, The Center for Media Engagement asked a diverse group of participants in five focus groups to give feedback on a series of news stories. The improvements fell into four main categories.

Dig deeper into stories

“Digging deeper” is perhaps an overused news phrase, but it gets to the core of what readers are looking for in a story. Participants in our focus groups often felt the stories presented to them in this study seemed unfinished or superficial. Many readers wanted the reporting to go beyond the basic elements of the story.

To address this concern, it’s recommended newsrooms take a critical look at their reporting and make sure it attempts to fully explore all aspects of the story. This might include explaining background information, providing context beyond the facts of the latest update, and taking an investigative approach whenever possible.

Explain terminology

This is a concern all reporters are aware of, but addressing it thoroughly requires taking a step back and thinking about whether the average reader would have a full understanding of all the terms in a story. This applies to journalistic terms and procedures that are part of your everyday vocabulary but not entirely familiar to your audience. It also extends to the industries discussed in your story.

To help with this concern, newsrooms should consider detailing the processes and procedures associated with the story in addition to avoiding industry jargon.

Explain source choices

Readers don’t have an inside look at your reporting process. They don’t know why you ended up with certain interviews and not others, who declined to speak, or who did not answer your request for an interview. Participants in these focus groups frequently questioned reporters’ decisions to include or exclude specific voices. At times, they felt the people quoted in the story seemed irrelevant while more critical voices were left out. This was an issue reader often associated with a perceived imbalance in the reporting.

It’s important for newsrooms to include a variety of voices in the story, and, perhaps more importantly, explain why certain voices were chosen and why others were left out or unavailable.

Guard against bias

Questions about bias centered on the journalists’ motivations, possible affiliation with the subject of the story, and overall angle.

One way to guard against perceived bias is for newsrooms to provide a statement of independence that makes it clear there is no relationship with story sources. You could also clarify key information about how and why the story was reported upfront or in a box within the story. The Center covered the benefits of providing a box that explains your process in a previous study.

Bottom line for newsrooms

Readers will always have questions, and there are countless ways newsrooms can go about addressing concerns. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few key improvements The Center recommends:

  • Provide more context in stories, give background information, and link to previous coverage.
  • Explain key terminology and government or police processes.
  • Include a wide range of relevant sources and thoroughly explain source choices.
  • Provide a statement of independence, stating lack of relationship with sources.
  • Place key information up-front or in a box within the story.

Google Assistant Passes 500 Million Users

Google Assistant is now used by 500 million monthly active users, and the search engine giant recently previewed features for 2020 like a new voice that reads articles and web pages aloud to users with a more natural and humanlike voice.

Sometime this year, saying “Hey Google, read it” or “Hey Google, read this page” will trigger the assistant to read or translate text from an article or webpage into 42 languages.

Longform reading will begin with articles and websites but may expand to reading your emails in the future, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Google wants more TV manufacturers to install microphones for far-field voice recognition in order to make TV’s speakers function the same way a smart speaker works today, responding to voice commands to play music, check the weather or ask a question. Google Nest smart displays often share visual content in response to questions, but Google Assistant on televisions will function the same way, and only turn on the television if you say you want to watch TV or video content, according to VentureBeat.


Golden Mic: Harold Burson was a PR Legend Who Shaped the Industry

Harold Burson, cofounder of global agency powerhouse Burson-Marsteller (now BCW) who died last Friday in Memphis, Tenn., was an icon in the public relations industry.

He was 98, and still worked three days a week until late last year.

Burson cofounded Burson-Marsteller in New York in 1953, and the agency grew to become a global force with a deep roster of international clients.

A Memphis native, Burson attended the University of Mississippi, then joined the U.S. Army where he worked as a reporter for the American Forces Network, writing scripts for radio broadcasts on the Nuremberg trials, notably the proceedings against Hermann Göring. After his stint with the Army, Burson moved to New York and cofounded the firm with Bill Marsteller in 1953.

They built it into an industry powerhouse with $4.4 million in revenue by 1969 and then $64 million, with 2,500 employees in 50 offices, nearly two decades later. In 1979, Burson sold the firm to ad agency Young & Rubicam, which was in turn bought by WPP in 2000. He stepped down as Burson’s CEO in 1988. Burson-Marsteller merged with Cohn & Wolfe into BCW in early 2018. 

Burson – a senior counselor and confidante to CEOs and companies the world over, including the U.S. Postal Service, Coca-Cola and Pan Am – kept a packed schedule of meetings until his death.

He hobnobbed with powerful figures around the globe during his career. He enjoyed good relationships with U.S. presidents including Ronald Reagan – with whom he used to have monthly lunches – Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as the late former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Burson was passionate about mentoring young professionals at his agency and beyond — as well as the more seasoned executives who sought his counsel regularly. His invitations for one-on-one lunches were eagerly sought by all. Even though he rocketed to the word stage, living in New York and traveling the world, he never lost his proud Southern drawl and charm!

Burson will always be remembered as the PR man with the Midas touch!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn  http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.


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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.