Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) successfully concluded a dynamic four-day online training in audience-engaged journalism on December 8.
The training, which started in October and spanned several sessions, brought together 30 journalists from Balkan and Visegrad countries. Facilitated by Ariana Tobin, ProPublica’s engagement editor, in collaboration with Balkan Insight journalists and mentors, the program was designed to enhance engagement journalism skills for participants representing ten selected media outlets.
These media outlets, recipients of BIRN’s Audience Engaged Journalism Grants, were: Mjedisi.al (Albania), Elbasanion (Albania), Samizdat (Czech Republic), Koha (North Macedonia), Zoomer (Serbia), Radio Zos (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Radio Kiss (Serbia), Enigma Newspaper (Kosovo), Fokus (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Zenit (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
The training aimed to bring innovation into newsrooms, foster community engagement and facilitate the development of investigative stories using BIRN’s audience-engaged tool. This digital platform, purpose-built for audience engagement, formed a core part of the program. Crucially, the audience-engaged tool serves as a guide for journalists to receive valuable information offered by their audiences, allowing them to include the public in their reporting and crowdsource data for investigative stories.
Throughout the course, Tobin posed fundamental questions for journalists who want to create engagement stories, emphasising considerations such as community impact, stakeholder identification, outreach strategies, potential collaborators, content planning, and sustaining audience engagement. The participants, guided by experienced Balkan Insight trainers, acquired practical skills in creating audience callouts and interpreting results using the audience-engaged tool.
The training emphasised the importance of audience research, effective callout design and promotion, data verification, and the creation of compelling final products. More than a technical skill, engagement journalism revolves around building trust and fostering two-way communication between journalists and the communities they serve.
Audience Engaged Journalism Grants are part of the Media Innovation Europe (MIE) project, funded by the European Commission. The programme is run by the International Press Institute, the Thomson Foundation, the Media Development Foundation and BIRN and is intended to empower media outlets as they navigate the digital transition, giving them journalistic tools and skills in diverse products and business structures. In the course of a two-year programme, BIRN has organised two training sessions for journalists as part of the Audience-Engaged Grants programme.