Engaging readers with real-life connections

What s your favorite area restaurant    news herald.com
Headline: What's your favorite area restaurant?
Outlet: News-Herald
Journalist: Cheryl Sadler

From the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio, we have a duo of great community engagement stories. In both, the newsroom was able to reach readers where they lived. The first set of encounters was digital; the second, real-world.

Crafting a post just a few dozen words long, community engagement editor Cheryl Sadler didn’t have to spend a lot of time working on her prompt for readers: “How is the food scene in Northeast Ohio? Which area restaurant is your favorite?” But the simple question inspired 76 reader comments, with suggestions ranging from Texas Roadhouse to fine Italian dining to a variety of cafes and pizza parlors.

Sadler came up with the idea as a way to make the News-Herald’s annual “progress” editions more accessible to readers. The News-Herald’s progress editions highlight how the community moved forward in various areas, like business, education, and healthcare, so it’s a major newsroom concern to make sure the content is reflective of readers opinions and also something they’ll actually want to read.

“People actually shared their favorite restaurants,” explained Tricia Ambrose, executive editor of the paper. “Other users even came back to review and ‘like’ those comments. We’ll have nice page of reader comments to feature when the next section comes out.”

Sadler is already brainstorming questions to complement the remaining progress editions — from the best places to live to the best way to stay active, her questions will help fill out a more complete picture of life in northeast Ohio. And readers aren’t limited to submitting responses by website comment alone… there’s also an email dropbox that they can use and a Google Voice number for voicemails.

The second engagement success story from the News-Herald is of a kind only possible in local journalism. In combination with social media promotion of his #nhswag bag, John Kampf has been visiting high school sporting events to give away T-shirts. We hear that on Wednesday night he gave away his entire stash the minute he walked in the door! And sports journalists, take note… According to Ambrose, Kamp’s popularity on Twitter really took off this summer when he got a smartphone and began tweeting from games.

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