Former AP Top Editor Advises Journalists to Engage with Readers, Investigate and Collaborate

The following is one of several articles recapping NEFAC’s 2017 New England First Amendment Institute. Full coverage of the program can be found here.

By Jesse Goodman


Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor and senior vice president of The Associated Press, said today’s journalists need to reach out to their readers through investigative reporting and news collaborations.

“Have you been in a conversation, maybe over a beer or at a panel, where the question of regaining the trust of your audience has been brought up?” Carroll asked those attending the seventh annual New England First Amendment Institute.

The New England First Amendment Coalition provided the institute to 25 journalists from Oct. 29-31 at Northeastern University in Boston.

“Journalists talk all the time; it’s what we do for a living. But the audience we love to talk to is ourselves. People think we’re out of touch,” Carroll said.

Carroll followed up that comment with more questions for the audience relating to the relationship between a publication and its readers. When she asked whether the journalists in the audience thought that they were reaching out enough to their own audiences, they responded with a resounding no.

Carroll focused on the need for better investigative journalism and the need for more collaboration and partnerships between news organizations. She said she thinks investigative journalism in local communities is one of the most effective ways to reach out and connect better with audiences. She used as an example the work done by a newspaper in Illinois:

Residents were frustrated that their state legislature had not approved a budget, and that lawmakers weren’t working together to fix it. As a result of the budget impasse, more than 130,000 students lost financial aid for that year. News stories about the impact it was having didn’t motivate the governor to work toward breaking the budget impasse. But the Illinois newspaper persisted, running editorials demonstrating how angry residents were. A budget finally was approved, although it took more than a year.

“Great work might not move the needle by itself,” Carroll said. Coverage must continue past the initial story to be effective, she added.

Carroll ended her speech by posing three challenges she said all newsrooms and journalists should take on:

  • Vow to do investigative work aimed at audience engagement, which will make for better stories and help tell readers what you’re doing for them.
  • Bring a questioning nature to every story, no matter what it is.
  • Take a leadership role in the newsroom to help change what’s broken and to build on what’s working.

Carroll began her career as a police reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She now works to help endangered journalists and to advocate for press freedom globally as chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Before stepping down from AP in December 2016, she was responsible for its news coverage in more than 100 countries. Carroll also served on the Pulitzer Prize Board of Directors from 2003 to 2012.

Jesse Goodman is a journalism student at Northeastern University.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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