by SOJC students Lucy Neubeck and Ty Reinbold
In 2019, Justin Glanville noticed that the voices missing from many conversations and debates about the effectiveness of public housing were those of its residents. Glanville discovered that for those voices, rebuilding and implementing programs designed to lift communities out of poverty, doesn’t always equal more opportunity or a better quality of life. This takeaway stuck with Glanville. When he heard that the local housing authority was planning to rebuild Woodhill Homes in Cleveland, Ohio, he jumped at the idea of covering the process and the impact it would have on the community. This culminated in a 2-year commitment to Woodhill Homes, where Glanville used engaged journalism methods to cover and broadcast the voices within the community.
Organization Background: Ideastream Public Media is a non-profit organization that owns and operates the major public broadcasting stations in Cleveland, Ohio. Their mission is to be a “trusted and dynamic multimedia source for illuminating the world around us.”
Project Goals: Stipulated within the grant, the goal of the project was to increase awareness and understanding of Woodhill, create feelings of empowerment and “voice” among its residents, and create social connections between residents and the greater Cleveland area. Outputs and deliverables were identified and achieved, including Glanville’s personal goal to put “people before problems,” choosing to focus on resident’s own stories, instead of framing them first around a predetermined problem within the community.
- Increase awareness and understanding of Woodhill Homes among the general public – This was one of the deliverables stipulated within the grant, and the podcast was the output on the deliverable. There was also a survey given to the community at large in addition to the podcast, where individuals could give opinions on increased feelings of empowerment and “voice” among Woodhill residents.
- Increase social connections both among residents, and between residents and the region at large – Glanville’s consistent presence at community events garnered more engagement among community members surrounding the lived experiences of residents. Conversations were started at events and Glanville saw increased attendance at some of the events.
- By centering each podcast episode around resident’s stories and experiences living at Woodhill Homes, each resident was able to have their own voice amplified, to be heard by people living both within and outside the community.
- A two-year, $100,000 grant from Saint Luke’s Foundation
- Resources and expenses devoted toward the project was around $250,000 over two years.
- Reporter/Producer Justin Glanville worked on the project part-time through the first 21 months and full-time through the final three months of podcast production.
- News Director Annie Wu and Digital News Editor Gayle Putrich for story edits
- Executive Editor Mike McIntyre for podcast edits
- Audience Engagement Producer Laura Fillbach led evaluation.
- The marketing team created a social media campaign to promote the project.
Tools & Technology:
- The marketing team created a social media campaign to promote the project
- Ideastream content management system
- JotForm survey embedded on Ideastream website
Impact: Glanville used three main techniques to measure the impact of his project and the podcast
- Visited monthly produce pickups, inviting residents to listen and provide feedback on the stories Ideastream was producing.
- Asked three consistent checkout questions at the end of each interview: 1) How do you feel after this interview? 2) How would you feel if others heard what you have to say? 3) How likely would you be to recommend others speak to me?
- An online survey open to the general public, embedded on the Ideastream website, intended to evaluate the quality and accuracy of the podcasts’ storytelling technique and impact.
From on-site surveys conducted within the Woodhill Homes community, the impact was clear
- 83% of residents reported Ideastream stories as accurate
- 86% reported they learned something about a neighbor they didn’t already know
One open-ended question asking about residents’ feelings toward the stories being written resulted in common feel-good words like: “touching,” “good,” “nice,” “glad,” “feel.” In response to these words, Glanville said “While these words were “softer” than the intended outcomes of “empowered” or “having a voice,” we felt they did reflect our intended outcome of building social connections.”
Online surveys that were open to the general public:
- Had over 80 responses
- Reached current ideastream audiences through existing platforms (online, through email communications, and on the radio).
- 94% of people who took the survey said they knew more about Woodhill Homes and/or public housing as a result of ideastream’s coverage.
- Over half of respondents said the coverage affected their attitude or impression of Woodhill Homes and/or public housing.
- People also shared personal experiences with public housing/Woodhill Homes.
Some themes that emerged from the open-ended responses were:
- Please do more like this (in this neighborhood and other neighborhoods)
- Praise (for Justin and the series)
- Stories were “humanizing”/ challenged stereotypes/ gave insight to people who don’t live there
- Want to know more about the topic
Here’s How it Happened
Starting out: Glanville, a reporter and producer for Ideastream, gained a 2-year grant to cover Woodhill Homes’s public housing neighborhood as it underwent a major renovation. He was tasked with reporting on the renovation process and telling stories about the residents that live at Woodhill. In the first year of the project, Glanville took four months to get to know the community and form relationships with some of the residents at Woodhill, before beginning to produce his first stories. These stories followed his decision to put “people before problems,” highlighting individual experiences within the community. In doing so, he hoped to avoid viewing the neighborhood through the lens of common stereotypes about public housing, including that it is “crime-ridden” and that residents are “hopeless.”
Inside the Bricks: Woodhill Homes is a six-episode podcast hosted by Glanville and Woodhill resident Jeanette Marbley in the second year. It covered the project’s process and focused largely on profiling the experiences of individual residents within the community, the struggles they faced and the goals they had for their futures.
Building relationships: For the first 4 months of the project, Glanville spent his time getting to know the residents at Woodhill Homes. A friend from the housing agency got him in touch with the Woodhill community center coordinator, who gave him opportunities to engage with the community and get to know the residents. He would also often sit on a bench in the courtyard with recording equipment, giving residents the chance to come to talk with him. “People are intrigued when they see someone sitting with recording equipment in their neighborhood. Some people are attracted to that,” said Glanville. These events included bingo afternoons, the Splash Park opening event across the street, monthly produce pick-ups and other activities within the Woodhill community center. During this process, Glanville was able to make connections with community members and learn about their stories; one community member he met was Jeanette Marbley, who would later become his co-host on the podcast.
Open-ended interviews: Glanville formatted the interviews in a way that allowed interviewees to dictate the direction of the conversation.
Facebook Group: With the help of a Woodhill resident, they were able to create a Facebook group for the community that allowed residents to post news and commentary about the community.
The Podcast: In the second year of the project, they began a six-episode podcast covering the lives of Woodhill residents and the future plans for the Woodhill renovation.
Here’s What Worked
1. Dedicating time to establish feedback loops
Ideastream waited to produce stories, instead focusing on building relationships within the Woodhill community. Once a relationship was established they began producing stories, but stayed connected, continuing to listen and produce stories about the community.
2. Including community member in production
In year two of the project, IdeaStream began the podcast “Inside the Bricks” to produce new stories and reflect on them, bringing resident Jeanette Marbley in as co-host. This allowed for a broader interpretation of the stories from the perspective of both an “insider” and an “outsider.”
3. Outlining and setting goals upfront
As a stipulation of the project’s grant, Ideastream was tasked with creating a logic model outlining the outputs and outcomes of the project and the methods used to measure those outcomes. This led to a hyper awareness of the emotional impacts of the project on the Woodhill community and audiences in general.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Be more specific and defined in their goal language
While the logic model helped organize the outputs and outcomes of the project, Justin felt measuring the impact of these outputs and outcomes were difficult to define. Questions arose after the project to help refine this process in the future, some examples being: What does social connection mean? How does empowerment look?
2. Evaluating audience impact earlier and in more measurable ways
At the end of the project, the team surveyed residents about their impact on the community. In the future, Justin and his team are looking to connect with survey participants at several stages throughout the project to gain a better understanding of this impact. A key element will be to organize a group of community members that can take these surveys from the beginning of the project and track their changed responses throughout.
3. Partnering with community organizations from the outset
Looking forward, the team hopes to collaborate with established community organizations from the outset, with the goal of connecting with more community members sooner. One example of improvement in this area came from Laura Fillbach, Audience Engagement Producer for Ideastream. “Maybe we are finding a community organization that we can funnel people to and see how many people show up there as a result of hearing about it on the podcast,” said Fillbach.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
- On May 26, 2021, Woodhill Homes was officially selected for the $35 million rebuilding grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While there is no evidence of the project impacting this decision, Glanville hopes their coverage helped.
- In the next season of Inside the Bricks, Justin and his team will delve into another Cleveland community on the verge of a major change, this time with a focus on gentrification.
To learn more, you can reach out to Justin Glanville on Twitter, or check out the following links to delve deeper into the project:
- Inside the Bricks: Woodhill Homes (Project Landing Page & Podcast)
- New podcast ‘Inside the Bricks’ about Woodhill Homes is essential Cleveland listening (The Land)
- People Before Problems: Building Trust To Tell A Community’s Story (Gather Lighting Chat)
- Woodhill Homes Wins $35 Million HUD Grant For Massive Overhaul