Developing Special Projects: Think 'Audience First'

Jun 17, 2014

In planning your next special project, think about your audience before you begin. In the PRNDI session "Thinking Audience for Your Next Big Thing," NPR Digital Service's Kim Perry and Eric Athas shared their 'user story' model and how two stations are already putting it into practice. 

KCUR and Vermont's VPR are using the model to attack the issues of a divided city and a state's drug problem. 

KCUR's focus on the stigma surrounding the eastern part of Kansas City has resulted in a community engagement team and a Tumblr page specific to the area. Donna Vestal, the station's Director of Content Strategy, says this has helped the reporters realize the stories they want to do may not be what their audience wants to hear.

VPR is utilizing the 'user story' model for an investigative piece on the state's heroin crisis. They're reaching a new audience through fliers. The station is also encouraging addicts and their friends and families to share photos through email and record their stories through a phone call. It's untraditional, but it's not possible to reach everyone through social media. 

Once you've identified the problems your audience wants solved, the next step is to decide how to solve them. Athas says, "Each user story doesn't result in one story, but how to attack it." 

You can reach that 'new group' by utilizing NPR Digital Service's 'user story' model: "As a [role] I want to [desire/goal] so that [benefit]." This can be translated to: "What is the thing you're creating, who are the people who want it and what will they do with it?" 

Reaching that new group is only possible when you're specific about the audience you're going for. Athas says, ask yourself, "Who's your audience? What do they need? How can you meet their needs? And, how are you going to reach them?" Athas warns that it'll be easy to slip into the common pitfalls of project planning like assuming you know what your audience needs to know. But, you can avoid assumptions by validating your user stories. Talk to people and listen to the community. Then go from there.