WITF-LNP Media – News & Brews

Community engagement event at brewpub helps journalists connect with audiences

A fundamental tenet guiding local and regional news organizations is to provide valued, trusted coverage to the communities they serve. Thus, it is essential for these organizations to build and foster a strong rapport with the public. To do this, many media companies formulate community outreach initiatives. These events allow media staff to interact directly with their audience and receive feedback on the spot.

Two Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association members recently teamed up for one such event in Lititz, Lancaster County. WITF, a PBS television/radio affiliate in Harrisburg, and the WITF-owned LNP Media Group of Lancaster hosted News & Brews, a community engagement event at the Lititz Shirt Factory, a brewpub, art gallery and music venue in the borough.

According to Scott Blanchard, director of journalism at WITF, brewpubs make excellent backdrops for meet-and-greet sessions. “It’s a more relaxed atmosphere that’s good for the kinds of conversations we hope to have with people”, he said. “Our goal isn’t to interview people but to listen to what’s on their minds.”

WITF Director of Journalism Scott Blanchard listens to people during the News & Brews event at Lititz Shirt Factory on Oct. 19. (Photo: Tom Downing, WITF)

Reporters and editors from both news organizations met with about 50 preregistered guests in roundtable discussions. They listened to what the news consumers in their market liked about coverage, what they wanted more or less of and what was important to them.  In simple terms, participants became news editors for a night.

From the event held this past October, the editorial teams discovered key issues important to the Lititz community:

  • Uplifting news stories – News coverage on all levels (national, international, local) can be pretty heavy at times. Many participants of News & Brews are looking for more uplifting stories. For example, how are neighbors helping neighbors? Media consumers want reporters to uncover more of the invisible goodwill within the community with stories of empathy and compassion.
  • Investigative journalism – Attendees discussed the need for more investigative journalism, especially at local government levels. From school boards to county commissioners, the people want local officials held accountable for their actions. They trust local news organizations to play a critical role in those efforts.
  • Candidate forums – Concern for democracy was also top of mind. Besides investigative journalism, many guests encouraged LNP and WITF to host candidate forums. For the attendees, hearing a candidate’s stand on specific issues and seeing how they carry themselves in public are essential.

The News & Brews forum provided the editorial teams with actionable items each news organization can initiate in the upcoming election year, according to Blanchard. But it wasn’t just the topics developed by consensus that ruled the evening. On a granular level, through one-on-one discussions with attendees, these personal interactions developed more leads for reporters.

“We get great story ideas, both big and small, that we may not have known about”, Blanchard said. The point, he said, is not for journalists to ask attendees questions about what we think are stories. It’s to ask them what they want us to be reporting on.

For their part, staff at WITF and LNP walked away from the event with a greater understanding of their audience. Blanchard said one of WITF’s goals is to meet people “who don’t already listen to us or read us.” They’re seeing some new faces, and “people are eager to engage. They really appreciate being listened to. Our goal is to do journalism out of what we hear, then let the attendees know we’ve done a story and keep that connection going.”

For more information, click the links below for a recap of the most recent News & Brews events.

What we learned at News & Brews in Lititz | WITF

What our journalists learned at News & Brews in Lititz this week | Local News | lancasteronline.com