By jesikah maria ross and Maia Laperle
In October 2018, Stephon Clark was killed by police while standing in his grandmother’s backyard in Meadowview (a neighborhood in South Sacramento). Immediately following this, jesikah maria ross and other staff at Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio found themselves witnessing a storm of international news media parachuting into a community they serve. After hearing the frustrations of Meadowview residents, who felt that their community was being misrepresented by the media, CapRadio made a commitment to wait until other news organizations left and then to spend a year using engaged journalism practices to cover Meadowview beyond this tragedy with Making Meadowview. This engagement consisted of several Lunch & Listens, a Community Fair, and a History Festival. Finally, the project culminated in a podcast and a Podcast Wrap-Up Party.
Organization Background: CapRadio is the NPR affiliate based in Sacramento. They serve California’s Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and Western Nevada. CapRadio is uniquely known for the way they are able to conduct participatory journalism within the system of a public radio newsroom. They are largely supported through memberships and one-time contributions.
Here’s How it Happened
Starting Out: As CapRadio began this process, what Meadowview residents told them over and over was that they were tired of talking about issues and reflecting on them. They knew the issues, and they’d done plenty of reflecting and dialoguing already. What they wanted for their community was to actually lift up what’s working. They wanted for people to see beyond the crime and poverty and gangs, which had taken over the narrative of their community and to see Meadowview for what it is: an incredibly culturally diverse, close-knit, working community.
Lunch & Listens: To begin, they researched and created a list of respected people and organizations within the Meadowview community to help organize and plan for Lunch & Listen events. Through these events, they were able to connect with purpose-aligned community leaders, such as Angela Novotny, the principal of John Sloat Elementary, located on the Western side of Meadowview.
Community Fair: After meeting with representatives from schools in the Meadowview community, they were able to identify the most effective ways to engage with families. Taking advantage of a time when many families were already present at one school’s Family Night, they put together a Community Fair, where reporters hosted a meal with Meadowview-related conversation starters followed by several activities.
History Festival: After learning from participants at the Community Fair that there was no visual record of Meadowview, CapRadio realized they had another opportunity to bring people in the community together, by having a festival where participants could work together to tell its history.
Podcast and Podcast Wrap-Up Party: They met about half of the people who became part of their podcast The View From Here: Making Meadowview at either the Lunch and Listens, the Community Fair, or the History Festival. CapRadio and Meadowview residents were able to conclude the project by highlighting the strengths of the community through individual stories in the podcast and a community-wide celebration at the Wrap-Up Party.
Project Goals: Following best practices in engaged journalism, CapRadio developed the project goals through intentional and sustained interactions with Meadowview residents. In other words, their goals were open-ended to begin with and evolved along with the community’s expressed interests and needs. However, from the start, they had 3 main goals:
- Be transparent about their motivation and process.
- Have residents help shape the editorial direction from the start.
- Create a structure for continued collaboration.
Project Resources: At the start of the project, the team consisted of one full-time staff member and one intern working 10 hours per week. CapRadio initially received a $4,000 grant from The Listening Post Collective, which was used for the Lunch & Listens, Community Fair, and History Festival, as well as video documentation. Apart from the monetary contribution, The Listening Post Collective provided valuable guidance and on-the-ground staffing support for the Community Fair.
The Listening Post Collective funded a community cartographer, Molly Roy, for the History Festival. They also ended up contributing additional money towards a fellowship for a skilled engagement practitioner, Olivia Henry, who was able to work 10 hours per week helping to maintain networks of communication and support the Podcast Wrap-Up Party.
Tools & Technology: CapRadio used neighborhood maps at two of their events as a tool for starting conversations. Maps also provide a visual to focus and reflect on, taking away the pressure of interview questions.
Impact: CapRadio’s The View From Here: Making Meadowview podcast had 52,000 downloads within the first 5 months after its release in October 2019. The Podcast Wrap-Up Party, CapRadio’s final event in this year-long engaged documentary project, had nearly 250 participants, 25 community-hosted resource tables, two panels featuring community leaders and youth, and five international dance performances by local kids. According to participants:
- 93 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed that they learned about community resources and how to access them.
- 88 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed that they met new neighbors and community leaders.
- 96 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed that they learned something new about Meadowview.
- 86 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed that they feel more connected to the Meadowview neighborhood.
- 86 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed that they are motivated to address challenges facing Meadowview.
Here’s What Worked
1. Provide feedback loops
CapRadio was able to collect and share the information they learned from community members at events, as well as reporters’ takeaways. They listened to community members and responded by tailoring the entire project to community interests and concerns.
2. Partner with Schools
Instead of asking community members to come to them at an unfamiliar location, CapRadio was able to rely on the connections they had built and the goals they had in common with local school leaders to provide extra value to an already established event: John Sloat Elementary’s Family Night.
By partnering with a school, they were able to gain valuable insight into the best ways to engage local families, and the school staff offered to encourage families to participate while they were already present in the space for Family Night classroom visits.
3. Use maps as storytelling devices
By using neighborhood maps as a tool for starting conversations, residents are able to share their lived experiences and stories in the area they live in.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Have a full-time engaged journalism team
jesikah maria ross was the only full time staffer dedicated to this project. Initially she was supported by an intern working 10 hours per week. Because interns are students, their main priority needs to be school, and while they can help support much of the work, they are also there to learn. Interns can make important contributions to the work being done, but being a mentor to interns is an additional job.
Before the Podcast Wrap-Up party, CapRadio was able to get funding for an experienced fellow, Olivia Henry, who was also working only 10 hours per week. Having another full-time or even part-time staff dedicated to this project throughout the year would have been very helpful.
2. Plan ahead for uncontrollable circumstances
CapRadio ran into two unexpected hurdles that affected the turnouts of their Community Fair and History Festival. On the night of the Community Fair there was a “Pineapple Express” torrential downpour which kept many community members from leaving home. They still had about 80 people show up and participate, but they were preparing for a much larger turnout.
Then, two weeks before their History Festival, the district attorney came out with a long-awaited verdict in the Stephon Clark trial. Their ruling and the way they framed their verdict that police were found not guilty in the murder of Stephon Clark relaunched waves of protests throughout the community. CapRadio made the decision to limit promotion of the History Festival out of sensitivity to the community. After weeks of protesting and limited promotion of the Festival, it ended up with a much lower than expected turnout.
3. Engagement-aligned newsroom leaders
A shift in leadership left The View From Here team working harder to promote engaged journalism, and struggling to make progress toward their goals. Luckily, they had a well-established engagement program and staffer. However, in a different newsroom, this could have been a devastating blow to the project.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
- Blog posts: The Listening Post Collective offered to let CapRadio produce a series of Lessons Learned Blogs rather than a traditional grant report for their funding. jesikah maria ross says that this was a game-changer in her ability to share about what she was doing, and that if it hadn’t been a requirement to do this, she likely wouldn’t have been able to make time for it.
- Documentary unit: CapRadio uses their documentary unit to conduct engaged journalism, so that they can benefit from the long form project style and take the time necessary for relationship building, listening, and learning.
To learn more, feel free to reach out to jesikah on twitter, or check out the following blog posts and video chronicling the project: