Part 1 | Explore: A step-by-step guide to using UX research for local news product development.

How to get started with your research—with tools that help you first get to know your audience and your competition.

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 in a series of posts outlining the Lenfest Lab’s step-by-step approach to UX research through the lens of our next project with The Philadelphia Inquirer about scaling reliable hyperlocal coverage.

One of the many new roles that exist in newsrooms today is a user experience designer. A UX designer is important because they help news organizations observe and investigate their reader’s needs and wants, and those insights often help strengthen the organization’s products and their business. In our lab, UX research takes the form of user interviews, surveys, ranking exercises, competitive analysis and more. We pick each research method to get the results we need to keep going with a new product idea.

Since local news is still experimenting with incorporating research into its product strategies, we’re sharing insights into how our research results became actionable for new product development, and didn’t end up sitting on a shelf.

We hope this post is useful and welcome your questions or feedback on how to improve. Reach out anytime @lenfestlab or send a note to [email protected]


Step 1: Explore — How?

The first step in our UX research process is to openly explore possibilities and user needs related to our idea. In this case we wanted to explore how a news organization could leverage automation and collaboration to offer consistent and reliable neighborhood news products.

The two research methods we used to get to know our audience and observe our competition were in-person interviews and competitive analysis.

1. In-person interviews

At the beginning of our project we were curious about the general habits of our intended audience: the residents of the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. We wanted to know more about what they do when they spend time in the neighborhood and also what news, information, events and public data they’re interested in. (More on how we picked Fishtown as our first neighborhood, here.) We also wanted to know how residents currently got information about their neighborhood and if they were satisfied.

With those curiosities in mind we drafted a 15 question survey to take into the neighborhood. The survey included questions about people’s age, how long they’d lived in Fishtown and got them to share feedback about their news habits and interests. The full survey is here and below are a few of our key questions.

We spent two days talking to residents in Fishtown parks, local shops and out on the street and ended up completing 17 in-person interviews.

Since our goal was to get 30 responses we worked with The Philadelphia Inquirer’s marketing team to email the survey to subscribers who lived in Fishtown. We quickly reached 30 responses and you can view the full analysis of those results in our second post in this series. [here.]

2. Competitive Analysis

In addition to getting to know our audience, we also wanted to look at neighborhood information resources already that already existed so we could start to map best practices for neighborhood news products.

The set of competitive products we looked at fell into four groups: hyperlocal newsletters, neighborhood print newspapers, hyperlocal websites and hyperlocal social media apps and sites.

Here is the full list:

Hyperlocal newsletters

Frisco MattersTagesspiegel LeuteFishtown Neighborhood AssociationNewsdayPatch Philadelphia, Fishnet

Print newspapers

Star News Philly

Hyperlocal websites

Fishtown Neighborhood AssociationPatch.comNorthpennnow.comJackson Heights Life

Social media apps/sites

Fishtown is AWESOME Facebook group, Citizen appNextdoor site and app

In the next post in the series we outline our second step: evaluating the results of our exploration exercises in order to refine the product idea and get started with early stage designs and development. Click below to read.

Part 2 | Evaluate: A step-by-step guide to UX research for local news product development.


The Lenfest Local Lab is a multidisciplinary product and user experience innovation team located in Philadelphia supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest with the goal of helping transform the news industry in the digital age to ensure high-quality local journalism remains a cornerstone of democracy.

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