In these days of multimedia journalism it is easy to forget that there are other ways of connecting with your readers other than via Twitter. Take newspapers for example. For years and years the format by which they interacted with readers and showed an engagement with their communities was via a letters page.
You know the drill – irate people writing in about an oh-so-biased comment piece, a complimentary old dear saying how much she loved the pictures on page 5 or some very smug gentleman with a curt correspondence about a spelling mistake in the nib on page 37. No matter what they were about, their publication and subsequent responses gave newspapers a chance to a) show they actually had people paying attention to what they were doing and b) that they listened to these people.
It is probably the most simple and traditional form of community management.
But we move into these turbulent days for journalism and things are different. Dwindling readership, social media and the fact that most of my generation haven’t written a letter since they asked Father Christmas for a Playstation in 1997 (I got mine; lucky boy) all mean that community management is a rather more complicated matter.
But there is one rather clever newspaper which is showing a real engagement with their readers. The i paper has received much critical acclaim of late and quite rightly so in my opinion. But I won’t get into their sleek design, quality writers and clever size – I will focus on just one column, with only a few words in it each day.
On the far side of page 3 you can find the ‘Letter from the editor’ where Simon Kelner has the chance to muse on the day’s paper and the decisions taken at the i HQ. But what is most important here is the level of interaction Kelner has with his readers.
Day after day, the editor takes the chance to quote the emails, texts and even letters (someone is still writing them then) he has received. Just last week he referenced the views of Ken Ashton from Prestatyn, Barbera Harrison from Mold and Edwin Bulley from Middlesex
On the face of it this may seem like lazy journalism, filling your space for editorial opinion with the views of others doesn’t exactly scream inspiration but what Kelner is doing is showing that the i is the paper of the people.
The fact that the big boss engages with the likes of Ken and Barbera and listens to the needs of his readers (Kelner regular cites the changes the paper has made following reader requests) is an indication to Joe Public, all of whom now have multi-platform voices, that if they want to be heard, i is the paper for them.
The fact that this column appears on page 3 rather than buried in a very text heavy space somewhere in between the business and ad section means that the readers are not only listened to and quoted, there are also put in the spotlight.
Considering it is done in the now archaic form of journalism which is print this little column is a belter in terms of community engagement.