American Press Institute (API) Director of Program Operations and Partnerships, Kevin Loker’s work focuses on providing research and events that strengthen API’s programs and help API collaborate with other news organizations that want to improve journalism and their business.
What’s your mission at the American Press Institute?
API’s mission is to help newsrooms transform for an audience-centered future. We focus on four core areas: 1) helping publishers better understand their audiences—how they’re getting their information, what are their concerns and how to address them through our analytics platform, Metrics for News; 2) building reader revenue, which can only be accomplished by understanding your audience; 3) improving and innovating accountability journalism and 4) succeeding at organizational change. My work at API is to support those four program areas, including through organizing research, events and partnerships.
What brought you to the American Press Institute, and the news media industry in general?
I grew up in South Dakota, reading the paper. I was really interested in what was happening in the world and society, so I considered studying something government-related or journalism. I ended up majoring in Anthropology, which gave me an interest in epistemology, or how people know what they now, and meanwhile I was active at student media. I worked at the Online News Association (ONA) before coming to API in 2013, when it was going through its major reinvention. I am grateful to be in a place supporting media; one of the biggest sources where people learn about the world.
What have you been working on to help the news media industry?
My work is more in the research, events and partnerships that support API’s four programs. On the research side, I help with our research collaboration with AP-NORC at the University of Chicago, called The Media Insight Project, where we are searching for different insights into the American public and their attitudes and behaviors with news. I also organize events to bring people who are working on a specific issue together to discuss their challenges.
I have also been working for the last couple of years on a project on how to start more journalism from a place of listening. A couple of years ago, we organized examples of this sort of work and later we brought people together to discuss how they established and built ties in their community through this approach. We gathered all their lessons into a report to help newsrooms better connect with their audiences. Building on that, we also recently started a year-long Community Listening Fellowship, where we opened an application process for journalists and selected ten fellows to receive API’s help pursuing this project.
The partnership part of my job is basically helping API act as a good team player and collaborator. There are a lot of nonprofits and organizations that want to support journalism, and API can support and work in concert with them and help connect dots between news organizations and these groups that can help them. Formal collaborations can help support a strong journalism ecosystem, but I believe that informal collaborations are also necessary – we are all on the same team. We all want journalism to be better, and we don’t have to do it alone.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge that the news media industry is facing now?
I think that a lot of people feel divorced from the news and those who produce and report it. This has affected a lot of different things: the journalism that gets produced and who its serves, the ramifications of the news business model, among others. One concern is that, inevitably, there’s going to be a shift to reader revenue being more important, and if our audiences keep feeling disconnected from our work, who will support it financially?
What is the most promising opportunity for a publisher right now?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but I think that in-person work is among the most promising and important channels for a publisher now. It is a way of battling against the audience’s information overload online, and the disconnect they’ve been feeling from the news. It’s a scarce good and can establish or re-establish community ties.
What are you most excited about working on with the API for the rest of the year?
I’m excited about our work on reimagining opinion journalism. I think opinion sections could be a prime spot to strengthen ties with the community we want to serve, and really to further serve their needs. In today’s climate, there’s an opportunity to promote real online and in-person discussions, and to create a space where dialogue can open people’s minds to different views and perspectives. News organizations can take a leadership role in this regard, supporting their communities and standing out from the noise in the process.