How Santa Cruz Local Used Listening Sessions to Engage Communities

by  Tulio Martinez and Isabella Nisby,
with Natalya Dreszer and Kara Meyberg Guzman


Santa Cruz Local started Listening Sessions to create news that catered to the informational needs of Santa Cruz County residents. By listening to community feedback through online surveys and in-person listening sessions, they can report on issues that community members feel are most important to them. Through this program, Santa Cruz Local has created election guides, resource pages and community-oriented deep dives. It has allowed them to be a more effective tool for their community and has allowed them to gain insights into how they impact Santa Cruz County residents.

Organization Background: Santa Cruz Local is a local news organization started as an LLC company by Kara Meyberg Guzman and Stephen Baxter in 2019. Santa Cruz Local has received funding from institutions like American Press Institute (API), the Google News Initiative, and LION publishers, but most of their funding comes from memberships and local individual donors. Their community-driven support is fitting. Santa Cruz Local aims to involve their members and their community in the work that they do, with the idea that keeping people engaged will strengthen the community and make change happen more efficiently. 


Project Goals: Santa Cruz Local’s listening sessions were started to involve the Santa Cruz County Community in the stories that were most important to them.  These sessions are intended to build a relationship with the community so they can help guide their reporting and simultaneously establish trust between Santa Cruz Local and Santa Cruz County community members. Through these sessions, Santa Cruz Local can build an ongoing, two-way conversation with listeners and readers.

Project Resources: The primary training for Santa Cruz Local’s listening sessions was done with jesikah maria ross through the American Press Institute. 

Tools & Technology

  • Listening Sessions’ greatest tool is their survey system,  which they have developed and refined to sort through and help prioritize the news that community members want to hear. Airtable, a collaborative application-building platform, was essential in creating these surveys and has proven to be a great organizational tool for Santa Cruz Local
  •  They use Airtable to organize survey data. 

Impact: Santa Cruz Local is making strong connections within the community to inform the content they produce for the community. These listening sessions are conducted mostly in person and sometimes take the form of showing up to spaces like food distribution centers or farmers’ markets to touch base with different parts of the community. Combined with their boots-on-the-ground outreach, they are slowly but surely expanding their own community and have consistent interaction with their core members at listening sessions and online. 

How it Happened

Listening Sessions were created after Santa Cruz Local received training from the American Press Institute. The purpose of this training was to incorporate more community engagement into how newsrooms operate. Thanks to the guidance of API consultant jesikah maria ross, and financial assistance from the local community college, Natalya Dreszer was able to take on the role of community engagement lead in 2019 and has been there ever since.

What Worked

1. Collaboration

The Santa Cruz Local team felt that they collaborated well with each other, as well as with the community and the different organizations they partnered with.  For example, they covered a school board election. They hoped to connect with Spanish-speaking parents in the area, so they partnered with the organization Cradle-to-Career which connected them with Spanish-speaking parents.

2. Survey Coding

Another thing the Santa Cruz Local team felt they did well was coding the surveys and casual interviews they conducted to help them gauge what news topics community members were interested in. They succeeded by setting aside time within 24 hours of each survey response and in-person interview to put it in Airtable, a coding platform that makes sense of and organizes data.

What Could Have Worked Better

1. Increase Understanding of Community Impact

The Santa Cruz Local team has relied on impact surveys to gauge how satisfied consumers are with how the listening sessions’ feedback has been implemented in their news cycle. However, most of the time, these surveys are completed by people who are already supporters. They give positive feedback, which is great, but in terms of reach, it’s unclear how much their listening sessions have helped expand their reach and the size of their community. Their goal is to be better at getting more immediate feedback from all people, not just supporters after an article comes out.

2. Operationalize Community Engagement

Something their team wants to improve on and implement in the future is operationalizing community engagement with editorial staff now (currently Stephen Baxter), and in the coming months when their staff grows. They feel the work they do in terms of community engagement could be better communicated with their editorial team and vice versa.

What Else You Should Know

Their team currently consists of only three people: 

  • Kara Meyberg Guzman: Co-founder and CEO
  • Stephen Baxter: Co-founder and editor 
  • Natalya Dreszer: Community engagement and business development

Learn More

To learn more, email Natalya Dreszer or Kara Meyberg Guzman.  You can also check out their website: Santa Cruz Local

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