Tag Archives: audience engagement

Solving Readers’ Problems, Building Audience: The Fafsa Challenge

The process is daunting. Your newsroom can help.

The Chicago City clerk does it: Fafsa Preparation Assistance. A West Virginia foundation does it: College Goal Sunday. Kentucky did it in 19 towns: Sun., Jan. 29, College Goal Sunday.

A newspaper might run an announcement about a workshop, in Muskegon MI, Reading PA or Knoxville TN.

Why not organize a College Financial Aid workshop in your community? You could organize a virtual workshop, soliciting questions on Facebook, Twitter, through your email newsletter and on your website and providing answers from local experts. With a little more work, you could also organize a real-life workshop.

You may be publshing editorials, op-eds and letters about the rising costs of college, a trend Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic labled a “surge of tuition rates and student debt that, for many Americans, is threatening to turn higher education into an unaffordable luxury.”

A reader-focused media company can do more than that.

Some editors may be asking: is this our job — to help families pay for college? Think of a related question: is it our job to provide a resource where members of our community can find information they need to solve their most pressing problems?

Newsrooms deepen community engagement by providing a platform for community voices, by providing information that leads to solutions for community problems and by convening like-minded groups to exchange news and ideas. Would a workshop fit that mission?

In Torrington CT and Winnipeg, Manitoba, newsrooms are opening their doors, inviting the community into the room. The Nonprofit Journalism Hub recently examined these two initiatives in an article: News Cafes and Open Newsrooms.

The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe wants to find a way to reconnect with a younger demographic as well as become more transparent and accessible to the public. The Register Citizen Open Newsroom Cafe wants to help the community become more involved in the journalism process and let the public use the open newsroom space as a community center for gatherings, discussions, and educational opportunities.

Connect to younger people? Provide educational opportunities? Strengthen communities? What better way than to help families new to the process learn to conquer the daunting forms involved in paying for college.

The basic steps for either a virtual or real-life workshop include: announce the event, find a local expert, announce the event, provide a resource box of links in print and online, announce the event, tell families what they have to provide (a W-2, other financial information), announce the event.

For the offline workshop, you need a room, a way to make sure coffee and snacks are available, a person who will be responsible for stocking the room with paper, pens, pencils, and, if possible, an available copying machine and scanner.

In either case, the project is also a way to generate plenty of content — frequently asked questions, profiles of local experts, list of deadlines, process graphic, success stories of families that have reaped the benefit of completing the application, videos.

Keep a list of all the names, contact information and what your newsroom learned. In 11 and a half months, it will make it easier to do all over again.

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Filed under Hyper-local, Social networking, Uncategorized, User-generated content