Fittest loser
Article posted: 10/11/2013 6:31 AM

Engagement journalism: Interacting in new ways

M. Eileen Brown, assistant vice president for strategic marketing and innovation, introduces speakers at an Affordable Care Act discussion in Schaumburg.

M. Eileen Brown, assistant vice president for strategic marketing and innovation, introduces speakers at an Affordable Care Act discussion in Schaumburg.

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By Daily Herald Report

Editor's note: This article is part of a special series celebrating National Newspaper Week Oct. 6-12. The Week was designated in 1940 as a way to recognize the importance of newspapers to their communities.

Editors at the Daily Herald call the concept "engagement journalism," a new form of interaction with the public that earned the newspaper the Illinois AP News Innovator of the Year Award this year.

The concept is designed to connect the staff to readers with an intimacy traditional news coverage can't match, helping reporters to get a better understanding of readers and helping subscribers to get a better sense of the paper.

On top of that, Editor John Lampinen said, the approach produces great stories while doing good in the community.

Here are some of the interactive stories and events that have typified the concept:

•The first "Suburban Chicago's Got Talent" competition drew more than 250 local entertainment acts to try out, sold out three shows at the Metropolis Theatre in Arlington Heights and generated 250,000 votes in the online fan balloting.

•The Daily Herald's "Cook of the Week" Challenge has twice filled the Schaumburg Hyatt with subscribers and more than a dozen sponsors for the live cook-off between competing local cooks.

•Earlier this year, when the paper announced its "Pension Forum" in collaboration with Reboot Illinois, there were so many requests for tickets the first day that the event had to be moved to a larger venue, and even then not everyone could be accommodated. More than 5,600 watched the livestream video of the community conversation.

•In five years sponsoring the "Fittest Loser," the Daily Herald has received more than 1,000 applications to participate and the 21 contestants have lost a total of 1,120 pounds. This year, 25 park district teams of five were added to compete in the community challenge.

•Last year's "Get Your Summer On" competition and its business sponsors awarded a $22,000 backyard makeover for a suburban family whose house had burned in an electrical fire.

•When editors asked the community to offer nominations for a new series titled "The Suburbs' Top Teachers," they were inundated with more than 100 emails.

•More than 1,000 athletes and their parents turned out for the paper's inaugural "Prep Sports Excellence" tribute in Hoffman Estates.

"The Daily Herald has always had a special relationship with its readers," said M. Eileen Brown, assistant vice president for strategic marketing and innovation. "We are all part of the same community, and our readers feel we are accessible to them in a way they don't feel with the metros. These events are a natural extension of building our relationship with them."

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