News Directors are accountable to the community they serve.
This can create tension because sometimes the needs of the “target radio audience” are separate from the needs of the general population. The resolution to this tension is in how you frame your coverage. You can still address your loyal listeners while presenting them information about other segments of the community. Even better, you can explain the connections between your given audience and their fellow residents.
To be fully accountable to the larger community, it is important to be accessible when members of the public have questions, complaints or information for you. (As news organizations increasingly try to put the user in the driver’s seat, community members may reasonably expect greater access than before.)
It is simple for a newsroom to list a phone number and publish an email address for public use. In small communities the task of answering inquiries might be shared among the news team. However, in larger communities with higher volumes of public contacts, you may need to train a designated person to deal with initial contacts. With training, that screener can handle the common inquiries and pass along to you (or the proper authority) those requiring higher-level response.
It also serves the department well to have a way of sorting public contacts according to their urgency, legitimacy and long-term importance. For example, calls conveying important, timely news should get through quickly. The same goes for corrections to stories. Other contacts may prove helpful as sources or contacts. Some contacts are neither urgent nor all-that important, but they are legitimate nonetheless. Those can be bundled and dealt with at a convenient time.
Newsrooms will need certain screens to avoid having staff time swamped by public requests. Web sites provide a great alternative to telephone contact. They can provide schedules, network and show contacts, frequently asked questions, and allow you a way to manage any anticipated flood of listener interest (say, during a special series or when asking for community input). Moreover, Web sites can provide interactive tools that allow residents to weigh in with comments, complaints, suggestions, etc.
Besides being responsive to public inquiries, your newsroom will want to be pro-active in the community in other ways.
It behooves any news station to find ways to cultivate community dialogue on issues of pressing concern. Talk shows are an effective tool for this. Some stations sponsor community forums, town hall meetings, or other special events (whether for broadcast or not). Newsrooms have a stake in these events and can help control for their news value and political neutrality.
It is also generally healthy to dispatch radio news “personalities” into the community for the sake of positive station relations. News Directors can encourage public appearances provided there is no compromise of journalistic integrity. A reporter speaking to students about the profession is a good example.
As discussed in How-To’s → Manage Long Term Editorial Planning, wherever the community is struggling (or undergoing anything extraordinary), you have a service opportunity. We recommend you indentify and prioritize the largest issues facing your community and deploy your resources to address those issues in a meaningful way.
Finally, if you have the time, take note of your many community contacts and keep a record in the station’s public file. Because a newsroom is a natural conduit for public engagement, by recording those contacts, you will have many occasions to show your public service commitment for development purposes and at license renewal time.