by Emily Poole
In September 2017, Richland Source in Ohio hosted a community baby shower to teach experienced and new parents about healthy pregnancies and babies. At the event, parents were connected with community resources to help combat the high infant mortality rate in Richland County. The community baby shower was a response to Richland Source reporter Brittany Schock’s successful series on infant mortality: Healing Hope. With the help from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), Schock organized the event and set up a Listening Post to give mothers an opportunity to share their experiences, advice, and vulnerabilities.
Project Goals: “The goal was to inform the community about the resources that are available in the community, and make organizations aware about each other as well,” Schock said. “We wanted to promote community engagement.”
Tools and Technology: Schock met the creator of the Listening Post Collective at a Solutions Journalism Network Summit, and said she knew she wanted to incorporate a Listening Post into her work somehow. A community baby shower was the perfect opportunity. At the shower, Richland Source used the Listening Post to collect responses from two questions: 1. If you are an expectant mother, what’s one thing you are most nervous about and one thing you’re looking forward to? 2. Or as an experienced mother, what advice would you give to brand-new mothers? Richland Source partnered with a local theatre company, Renaissance Theatre, to create a Listening Post. Renaissance Theatre built the Listening Post for Richland Source with a wood box, a microphone and a recorder. “The Listening Post, right now, lives at the Renaissance, and they are using it to engage with their community and audience,” Schock said. “They are celebrating an anniversary so they are asking people to share a memory that you have at the Renaissance.” Schock said that Richland Source reached out to the Renaissance Theatre because they were experts in stage and set designs. Richland Source created a landing page for the community baby shower to provide information about the event. In addition to a landing page, Richland Source created a Facebook event for the shower and promoted the event on the public radio station, who Richland Source is a partner.
Impact: The project several areas of impact, as described below.
- Richland Source’s community baby shower generated a lot of community excitement and support. More than 500 people showed up to the community baby shower. “At 9 a.m. I went outside and there was a line wrapped around the block of people waiting to get in because they were so excited,” Schock said. The event was open, which Schock says motivated more parents to come. “Most of the vendors said they had never seen such a crowd at any similar event before,” Schock said. In addition to excitement, the community also supported the community baby shower by donating over $5,000 to the Richland Source.
- Richland Source connected vendors with expecting or experienced parents. At the baby shower, each person in attendance was given a punch card. The cards would get punched after interacting with a vendor and were used to encourage parents to engage with the vendors. With a full punch card, an attendee received a gift bag with baby goodies–blankets, diapers, wipes, lotions, shampoos, binkies, etc. “One pediatrician’s office said they got 99 new client referrals that day,” Schock said. After the baby shower, Schock sent out a survey to the vendors to see how impactful the event really was. “92 percent of them said they made actual meaningful connections with potential clients and their audience,” Schock said.
- Mothers learned a lot about healthy pregnancies and babies. “All the moms said they had such a great time and learned so much,” Schock said. The feedback from the event was very positive, said Schock, and the mothers expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to learn from and connect with not only other parents but with community resources. To gauge community impact, Schock also sent out a survey to the attendees. “83 percent of them were likely to recommend the event,” Schock said.
Organization Background: Richland Source gets an average of one million pageviews a month and reaches most of Richland County’s 120,000 residents. Richland Source has sister newsrooms, Ashland Source and Crawford Source, which cover Ashland and Crawford counties in Ohio. Richland Source’s business model is commercial. “We make most of our money on Ad sales,” Schock said.
Project Resources: Richland Source received an initial grant from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN). “They ended up awarding us a $10,000 grant to continue the infant mortality reporting,” Schock said. Richland Source utilized $5,000 of the $10,000 grant for planning and executing the community baby shower. In addition to the SJN grant, Richland source also received $7,000 in donations from the Richland community. The $7,000 was used to purchase items for the shower such as prizes, gift bags, and baby products. Schock was the main organizer for the event, but received help from other Richland Source staff. “It was a combination of me and the sales staff at Richland Source leading up to the shower, but the day of the shower it was all-hands-on-deck for the entire staff from about 9-3,” Schock said.
Here’s how it happened
The community baby shower started from a solutions journalism series on infant mortality that Schock worked on in 2016. Schock’s series identified the infant mortality problem in Richland County, looked at what the county was doing to address the problem and examined what other communities have done to address high infant mortality rates. Schock explained that the series looked “outward at other communities who have had this problem and what is being done to tackle this problem that could possibly be applicable to Richland County.”
In December 2016, Schock’s series was ranked the number one solutions journalism story in the country by the SJN. “That is kinda how we got on the Solutions Journalism Network’s radar,” said Schock. The SJN then reached out to Schock in January 2017 to offer funding for the continuation of the infant mortality project. The grant came with one condition: promote community engagement. “We decided basically go big or go home, and we’re gonna throw a community baby shower,” Schock said. The main reason for the community baby shower idea, Schock explained, centered around one question: “How do we make the community engage with infant mortality?” Schock and her team decided to make the conversation about infant mortality positive by focusing on being pregnant and having a baby. “We wanted to have an event that celebrated mothers and prepared them for what was to come,” Schock said. However, mothers were not the only people invited to the community baby shower. Anyone could come. “We wanted it to be open to everybody, and boy did everybody come!” Schock said.
From 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on September 9, 2017, around 500 people and 20 vendors packed into the Idea Works building on West Fourth Street. The vendors were a very critical part of the community baby shower. Schock explained that through her series on infant mortality, she learned that there was a lack of information about the resources in the community for expecting mothers. So, the vendors served as a way to bridge that information gap. The community baby shower vendors ranged from child care services to healthcare to classes on breastfeeding. Schock and her team wanted the mothers to interact and connect with the vendors, so Richland Source offered gift bags with baby goodies to attendees who visited 10 of the 20 vendors. “I really wanted them to actually engage and learn, you know that was the whole point,” Schock said.
Here’s what worked
1. The editorial, sales, and newsroom teams all worked together
In the weeks leading up to the event, Richland Source departments worked together to promote the event. “We collaborated really well between the editorial and sales side,” Schock said. “We all really wanted to get the word out.”
2. Interest in tackling community issues
“It’s not a bad thing to care about your community,” Schock said. The community baby shower was one way Richland Source demonstrated their commitment to the community of Richland County. “It shows that we care and we want to see the community succeed,” Schock said. “I think it makes people trust us more because they know we have skin in the game, too.”
3. The team was all-in
Schock said her team was more than helpful when it came to planning, organizing, and last minute favors. She added that the community baby shower had a lot of moving parts, and the extra hands really helped the event keep momentum.
Here’s what could work have worked better
1. A bigger venue
Over 500 people packed into the Richland Source newsroom. “We got a lot of feedback of like you should look at a bigger venue for next year,” Schock said. A reason to have the event in-house was to provide an opportunity for the community to engage with Richland Source, and that was an important project goal. “It was so crowded, although we enjoyed having people in our “home” so to speak,” Schock said.
2. Use the Listening Post sooner
“When I think about things that I would change, I wish that we had incorporated the Listening Post more throughout the entire project instead of right at the end,” Schock said. The Listening Post unveiled rich advice, experiences and perspectives, explained Schock, and Richland Source would have had more clips and recordings to share if the Listening Post was used sooner.
3. Tweaking the design of the Listening Post
“We partnered with the Renaissance Theatre and they actually created the post for us,” Schock said. The Listening Post did its job, but Schock said one thing she would change is “working and tweaking the design the Listening Post to make it a little bit more user friendly.” A lot of the mothers had a difficult time using the Listening Post, as it needed to stay plugged into an outlet and required users to press the record button multiple times.
Here’s what else you should know
- Be proactive: Richland Source took initiative and covered an epidemic in Richland County: Infant mortality. The local community responded well to the coverage, and Richland Source transformed their coverage into a community baby shower, where the community could come together to combat infant mortality.
- Do it Again? Schock said that people have already asked if Richland Source will host another community baby shower. While Schock has made no plans for another community baby shower, she explained that all the excitement generated from the event is worth doing it all over again.