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Audience development course from the Knight Center gives students opportunity to work on special projects


Students from across the world learned from audience development expert Amanda Zamora about how to grow the audience for their work and gain greater participation from readers.

Course instructor Amanda Zamora (Courtesy)

Just over 300 students from 51 countries participated in the Knight Center’s last course, “Knowing your audience: Strategies for increasing the reach and engagement of your journalism.” After the U.S., the nations with the most participants were Brazil, Canada, Germany, Spain and Mexico.

Unlike the massive open online courses (MOOCs) frequently offered by the Knight Center, this Big Online Course (BOC) was more advanced and limited to a smaller number of participants for increased interaction with the instructor. All students who successfully fulfilled course requirements receive a certificate of completion.

The BOC taught students how to create audience maps, draft promotional plans and set both quantitative and qualitative goals. The was to “help journalists in various roles understand how to apply audience development strategies to their work — whether they are creating content, managing social platforms, or working on product design and development,” as Zamora explained upon the course launch.

The instructor, who leads audience growth and engagement at the nonprofit Texas Tribune, said she was honored to be part of a course in which students tackled challenging audience questions.

“My main hope for this course has been to create a space for those questions,” Zamora wrote in her final note to students. “As journalists, we are accustomed to working on deadline, to applying a set template or formula to the work that we do. The fun (and sometimes maddening) part about audience work is that it is the opposite of routine. Audience data can provide clarity about our reader/viewer/listener’s behavior, but just as humans evolve, so do our audiences. We are constantly learning about what our audience wants and needs, and how our relationship with them is mediated by changes in technology (think: the rise of mobile, platforms and algorithms).”

BOC student Kevin Anderson (Courtesy)

The course came at the right time for student Kevin Anderson, who recently started a new role at work that required more intelligence regarding audience development. Like many students, he also was able to develop a special project during the course.

“Serendipitously, I was in the process of launching a new newsletter, and it was really useful to be able to put these ideas into practice in real time and get feedback on our launch strategy and the newsletter itself,” Anderson, managing editor for digital media at ideastream, NPR and PBS for northeast Ohio in the U.S., told the Knight Center.

One of the things he’ll take away from the class is Zamora’s emphasis on user surveys, feedback she frequently provided on course assignments and forum posts.

Student Siyabonga Africa, program officer of the South Africa Media Innovation Program, has taken courses on the platform previously and used this class as an opportunity to develop a pop culture newsletter about streaming content for a client. At the same time, it aided in his own professional development.

“I really liked Amanda’s teaching style, which I’d like to adopt for workshops that I run: breaking the topic down into the big picture, the process and next steps,” Africa told the Knight Center. “The section on KPIs [key performance indicators] (especially data analytics) really stood out for me as I’m thinking of specializing in data analytics for news media as I progress in my career.”

BOC student Siyabonga Africa (Courtesy)

The course ended on Aug. 11, but students have been given a couple more weeks to finish activities. Discussions continue in forums and in the course Facebook page.

Another course, this time a MOOC in Portuguese, recently started on the Knight Center’s distance learning platform, journalismcourses.org. “Introduction to data journalism: How to interview data for investigative reports,” runs for five weeks and is led by instructors from Brazil’s School of Data.

To learn more about upcoming courses from the Knight Center, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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