by Anna Wilcox & Austyn Steelman
In August 2020, The KPCC/LAist team built a multimedia journalism project with engagement at its core. KPCC/LAist gave cameras to 12 childcare providers, early educators, and caregivers across Southern California. The goal was to gain an intimate look into their daily experience caring for young children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was an immersive, multimedia #nofilter look at early childhood care. Stefanie Ritoper, early childhood engagement producer at KPCC/LAist spearheaded the project, collaborating closely with Mariana Dale, early childhood reporter, Chava Sanchez, visual journalist, and Nubia Perez, assistant engagement producer. In addition, the entire KPCC/LAist newsroom collaborated to bring Child Care, Unfiltered to life. The team designed the project for impact building in multiple outlets online, on air and throughout the region for the providers and the community to gather and spark conversation around issues surrounding early childhood care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online reporting at LAist.com included five photo essays. On-air reporting at 89.3 FM KPCC included a segment for the news magazine show Take Two, and a series of audio postcards profiling four of the project’s participants. In addition, the team organized five in-person photography installations around Southern California and hosted their first fully bilingual virtual event in English and Spanish.
Organization Background: Southern California Public Radio encompasses KPCC, LAist and LAist Studios. They are a member-supported public media network that operates across the region, reaching from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and out to Riverside and the Coachella Valley. The mission of Southern California Public Radio is to strengthen the civic and cultural bonds that unite Southern California’s diverse communities by providing the highest quality news and information across multiple platforms. The outlet seeks to provide greater understanding and new perspectives to the people and leaders in the communities they serve.
KPCC/LAist designed the photography project and corresponding events to center child care providers’ voices, foster dialogue and build community connections. Their main goals were to:
- Build deep relationships with childcare providers and through these relationships, reach a broader network of parents and families
- Deepen learning about the lives and experiences of early educators to elevate the reporting
- Center caregivers of color and provide a platform for them to tell their own stories
- Design for impact, creating multiple avenues for the community to engage with the reporting using art, interactive spaces for connection, and multimedia engagement.
Designing for impact was perhaps the most significant goal of Child Care, Unfiltered. Impact took on multiple meanings for the project team: Sparking public conversation, connecting child care providers with each other, and connecting the early child care community with people in power were all unique goals within this project. The number of page views and overall event attendance were also important to the team. Still, the KPCC/LAist team did not value these metrics as highly as the aforementioned relational goals.
KPCC/LAist.com used general funding from their early childhood coverage for the project and a dedicated $25,000 grant from The California Arts Council. Live photo installations were hosted by Santa Monica Promenade, Evergreen Early Learning Head Start in Compton, Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles, and the Museum of Art and History (MOAH) in Lancaster. Some of the collaborations with local arts and cultural institutions also opened up more funding opportunities. Grand Park offered KPCC/LAist an artist’s fee of $2,500 and MOAH split the photo printing and display costs, covering approximately $2,000 of the costs. KPCC/LAist recognized the childcare providers who were part of the project as contributors and offered each participant a $500 stipend for their work. Over the course of approximately a year, one full-time staff member was dedicated to Child Care, Unfiltered. Two additional journalists worked “intensely” on the project for “about three months”.
Tools & Technology
KPCC/LAist mailed one digital camera to each child care provider and 3 SD cards to complete this project. Participants mailed each SD card back to the project team when they were full. The project team then held a series of three meetings to discuss each round of photos, identify themes, and build community among the cohort. The project team uploaded photos to Pixieset, which allowed everyone in the group to review and discuss the photographs. The project team used Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom to edit and process all photographs. The photo essays that emerged from the project were based on themes that emerged during the three discussion meetings. Google Voice SMS was the primary communication software used throughout the project.
KPCC/LAist incorporated a robust multimedia approach for this project to increase impact and accessibility. The team circulated the project via broadcast radio segments, a podcast, a live virtual event using Zoom, pop-up art installations, and digital publication on LAist.com.
Rather than focus exclusively on quantitative goals, like web traffic and social media shares, KPCC/LAist tracked both qualitative and quantitative goals.
One of the primary impacts of this project was the creation of opportunities both in the physical and digital world where childcare providers could connect with, engage, and build community with one another. Project lead Stefanie Ritoper recalled a moment during a post-event debrief with the group. “In that conversation, people were just sharing how meaningful it was to be a part of the project.” Child care providers often work alone or with one or two assistants. In working on this project, providers could meet and bond over shared experiences.
The impacts of Child Care, Unfiltered extended into the newsroom. “We also felt the impact internally,” wrote Ritoper. “Through this work, we collaborated deeply across the newsroom, laying the groundwork for future projects that transcend traditional journalism reporting models.” The childcare providers who participated in the project now act as an informal advisory for journalists covering childcare and early education beats—relationships made possible through the close work between the community and the project team.
“The stories that we got through this process were just so rich and different than anything that we could have conceptualized,” shared Ritoper. She shared that KPCC/LAist managing editor, Tony Marcano, said that the Unfiltered series helped him go from being an engagement skeptic to an engagement proselytizer. He shared that it’s not always clear for reporters how engagement can integrate into reporting and that this project provided a model. Ritoper explained, “It’s now a model for how we can do our reporting in the newsroom and how we can put engagement at the center and as a starting point, to be able to do this rich, deep dive into some of these issues.”
Child care providers also got a chance to share their stories directly with decision-makers. In a live virtual event, early educators shared their stories with Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell and California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia.
Finally, last year brought dramatic policy shifts around child care, and our coverage has amplified these issues during a critical time of public dialogue. For example, the child care providers union signed their first contract with California and the state budget expanded preschool to all 4-year-olds.
- Art exhibitions: The art installations reflected a wide range of scale and target audiences. The Santa Monica 3rd Street promenade, the nearest pedestrian counter, recorded 1.15 million pedestrians over the three months the installation was up. The Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton estimated that 6,300 people visited their site over the same period. At Evergreen Early Learning Head Start in Compton, there were just 31 families enrolled at the site, but families and staff regularly engaged with the work and were in a neighborhood that KPCC/LAist wanted to get to know better
- Radio: In June 2021 when the Child Care, Unfiltered programs aired, the cumulative audience was 639,100.
- Podcast: As of the end of July 2021, there were 4,000 downloads.
- Digital engagement: As of March 2022, we estimated 10,120 unique visitors to LAist.com across the photo essays, which surpasses reporter Mariana Dale’s average of 2,700 uniques per story. 32% of readers to the photo essays on LAist came from direct links, which speaks to all of the engagement work KPCC/LAist did to encourage community members to share with their networks.
Bilingual live virtual event
The live event saw 100 live attendees and accumulated 1,100 views post-event as of July 2021.
How it Happened
The inspiration for the “Unfiltered” photo project series arose from a conversation with a Los Angeles Public Library staff member, which sparked the idea of using photography as a tool for community engagement. Early childhood producer Stefanie Ritoper drew from her own experiences with participatory photo and video as well as a methodology called “photovoice.”
Child Care, Unfiltered was the second year the team did this type of project. The world was already deep in the pandemic and knew child care was a big deal. Parents were working from home and taking care of their children. Family, friends, and neighbors stepped up to care for kids so parents could work. Many child care providers and preschool teachers kept their doors open the entire time, and had to take on extra responsibilities to keep families safe and stretch their resources. The majority of people caring for young children are women of color.
KPCC/LAist sought to find ways to center child care providers’ voices, flipping the traditional model of journalism and inviting people to tell their own stories.
5 photo essays: Thousands of images collected from the 12 providers were edited down and compiled into 5 photo essays portraying who early educators are, how they adapted to the pandemic, how they cope with the challenging economics of the job, their impact on children’s lives, and how they care for themselves.
On-air reporting at 89.3 FM KPCC included a segment for the show Take Two hosted by A Martinez, and a series of audio postcards profiling four participants.
Podcast: A special episode for the LA Report podcast on LAist.com
In-person photography installations: were presented during the summer of 2021 at 5 sites across Southern California, including outdoor and indoor exhibits at museums, an Early Head Start child care site, and the Santa Monica Promenade Bilingual virtual event: Hosted by Mariana Dale on June 17, 2021, the event presented a candid conversation between child care providers and early childhood decision-makers with guests Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Supervisor, District 2 and Cristina Garcia, California Assembly member, District 58. KPCC/LAist’s events team produced the station’s first-ever bilingual event and provided additional technical support to ensure that the event would be accessible to the early educators on the call.
1. Designing for impact at every step
KPCC/LAist designed this project for maximum reach, access, and impact during every step of the process. They offered reporting in English and Spanish, both online and on-air. Photo essays appeared online, and the public could visit in-person photography installations around Southern California. The team hosted their first fully bilingual events in English and Spanish and sent postcard invitations to art installations via direct mail. The team also developed a social media strategy to “activate existing audiences and reach new ones.” These collective strategies helped KPCC/LAist effectively reach the public via a robust multimedia approach.
2. Incorporating Equity
KPCC/LAist intentionally designed this project to incorporate the wide-ranging and diverse experiences of child care providers throughout the greater Los Angeles area. “The majority of child care providers in the region are Black, Indigenous, or people of color,” wrote Ritoper. “We wanted the cohort to reflect the workforce’s diversity as well as the different types of providers, including preschool teachers, family child care providers, nannies, and family, friends, and neighbors.”
To foster access, equity, and ease of participation, the project team provided various support and accommodations throughout the project. Participants were offered $500 stipends for their participation to recognize their work as contributors, which often involved hours documenting their lives amid long shifts and busy work schedules. Group meetings were conducted via Zoom in the evenings after most children returned home with their families. KPCC/LAist simultaneously interpreted meetings in English and Spanish. Journalists were available for one-on-one support during the project, utilizing text and any mode of communication that each participant preferred.
Participants were offered camera training and given pre-addressed envelopes to ensure that the process of sending back photos was as simple and accessible as possible. Online discussions with the cohort informed the final decision about the five essay topics chosen by the project team. All final essays and deliverables were translated into Spanish, including the Child Care, Unfiltered website. The final live virtual event was bilingual.
3. Fostering Newsroom Collaboration
Ritoper articulated that the Child Care, Unfiltered project deepened KPCC/LAist’s commitment to internal and external collaborations—seeing what’s possible when we work across teams and with community members.. First, the photographs and input from child care providers opened doors and provided intimate insights to reporters covering this particular beat. Second, the large scope of this project required an all-hands-on-deck attitude within the newsroom. “Each person on the engagement team had a hand at some part of the project, whether building online forms to ask community members for stories, buying paint rollers and wallpaper glue, or designing the layout of sites,” said Ritoper.
Third, executing this large-scale project required cross-team collaborations within the news organization. “Collaboration was necessary for the project’s success,” Ritoper explains in her Gather survey response. “Given the multiple components, it would have been impossible for a single reporter to take on something like this independently. We needed the many, many people in our organization who jumped in to support.”
She shared that this project required collaboration with the “administrative and legal side of the organization to draft legal agreements, process payments, and deal with photo permissions.” The project team also needed marketing, which involved engaging with the marketing team for social media assets and marketing materials for the in-person art installations and the virtual event.
4. Putting Community Members into Dialogue with Decision Makers
This project also effectively created spaces where childcare providers could engage directly with those with political and decision-making power. As a result of this event, one care provider met and engaged in conversation with LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who attended a live exhibition in Grand Park. Three of the participants were also able to engage with Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, and California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia Jackson during the virtual event. These types of engagement “created moments for a deeper level of engagement with the content versus just reading it online or hearing it on the radio,” Ritoper told Gather.
What Could Have Worked Better
1. Streamlining the project
KPCC/LAist conducted an extensive debrief, and evaluation at the end of the project and many lessons surfaced for future projects. One lesson KPCC/LAist learned is to spread reporting publications over time rather than producing multiple reporting projects for a single publication date. The large cohort generated an expansive amount of material for the KPCC/LAist team to interpret. For future projects, they might aim to work with a smaller cohort to reduce the project scope and be able to explore each participant’s story deeper.
2. Engaging the cohort
Because of the constraints of the pandemic, KPCC/LAist had limited access to meeting with the providers in person. They held three meetings over Zoom for the providers to talk about their photos, the themes they saw coming through, and what photos they found most meaningful. The Zoom calls were also a way for the providers to connect with each other. In hindsight, they wished they would have been able to convene at least the first meeting in person to build camaraderie. They might also provide prompts to keep participants thinking about their photos and their story throughout the process.
3. Optimizing usability
While working on Child Care, Unfiltered, LAist was also undergoing a full redesign to the site. This gave a shorter runway for the team to build the series page for the site, and as a result, it was not as easy to navigate as it could have been. It would have been ideal to be able to do more user testing of the site before launching.
They would also try to design content specifically for social media such as Instagram Live and Tik Tok from the outset of the project.
4. Communicating expectations and outcomes
The KPCC team received thousands of photos from the 12 participants, and in the end, they were only able to use a fraction of these photos. If given another opportunity to do a similar project, they would try to be upfront with the participants about the editing process to set expectations about the number of photos that would appear in the final publication.
What Else You Should Know
- To work with child care providers, KPCC/LAist also had to get consent from children’s families. To get consent for all the children whose images appeared in this project, each of the providers had to get signed consent forms from the families they serve. One care provider, a nanny in Oxnard, worked with a family who preferred not to include identifiable images of their children. “We worked with her to think about different ways that she could photograph the kids without showing their faces,” Ritoper told Gather. The KPCC/LAist team helped providers navigate conversations with families, often having one-on-one conversations with employers.
- Child care providers had different levels of engagement with social media. The Child Care, Unfiltered project used two hashtags on social media to encourage engagement with the project: #childcareunfiltered. However, the project was designed with the idea in mind that social media would not be the primary method of dissemination for this project. While some of the participants shared their experiences and photographs on social media, not all participants were interested in engaging with this project in this way. “People are at varying levels of being on social media,” Ritoper told Gather. “Which was why analog communication was really important.”
- Child Care, Unfiltered in English
- Cuidado Infantil, Sin Filtros en español
- Watch the Child Care, Unfiltered Virtual Event
- Building an Engaged Reporting Duo – slide deck of Stefanie and Mariana’s #ONA22 session
- 2022 OJA/Gather Award in Engaged Journalism – Medium/Large Newsrooms – Gather Lightning Chat where Stefanie Ritoper shares lessons learned