by SOJC students Nicole Kiley & Grace Hellwarth
The Latino Listening Project was started by Sami Edge, an American Press Institute fellow and reporter for Idaho Education News, and Nicole Foy, a reporter for the Idaho Statesman. The project aims to fill potential gaps in education coverage and examine education inequities in the state’s school system. The reporters sought to base their reporting on Latino students themselves as well as their families.
Organization Background: The Idaho Statesman is the daily newspaper of Boise, Idaho and is owned by the McClatchy Company. Idaho Education News is a nonprofit news site that provides information about public education in Idaho. In addition to feature stories, the website shares news and commentary about education policies and practices. It also distributes information through social media, a data website, and annual print products.
Project Goals: Edge said the goals for this project were both organizational and personal. The organizational goals included three main components:
- Get lawmakers and state leaders to address inequities between Latino and white students.
- Force a conversation between predominantly white state leaders and Latino students.
- Build connections with Latino families around the state as well as become a reliable resource for their information needs.
On a personal level, this was Edge and Foy’s first time using community engagement as the baseline for a reporting project. Their shared goal was to do this engagement effectively and learn how to better incorporate this community feedback into future work.
Project Resources: The project required a significant time investment from Idaho Education News and the Idaho Statesman. Because the two publications pursued this project as a partnership, it took even more time to coordinate efforts across the two newsrooms. The Idaho Listening Project received funding from the Education Writers’ Association and mentorship help from the American Press Institute. The fellowship from EWA paid for travel, reporting time, the texting platform, and translation costs. This resource helped alleviate financial stress and the API mentorship provided guidance for the reporters.
Tools & Technology: The team used GroundSource as a texting platform. This platform is built for listening at scale and includes services such as activating audiences with creative texting call-outs and automating two-way, branching conversations.
Impact: Almost immediately, Edge and Foy saw state leaders respond subtly to their stories. They talked about “achievement gaps” like they had not before and referenced Edge and Foy’s stories. The State Department of Education changed the way it notifies schools of achievement gaps that need to be corrected. On a personal level, the reporters heard from many Latino students, teachers, and community members who said that they were thankful that Edge and Foy were focusing on their experiences. Additionally, the in-person and virtual events helped directly connect Latino students and parents with district and state leaders.
Here’s How it Happened
The Latino Listening Project included collaboration from the American Press Institute, Idaho Education News, and Idaho Statesman. As an API fellow, Sami Edge reached out to Nicole Foy because she had already been engaged with Idaho’s Latino students and reported on their stories. Their collaborative effort expanded their coverage across the state. Together they hosted events and wrote stories that were most important to the Latino community.
Within the first year, engagement with community members was held over four Facebook Live Q&A sessions over a three-month period, a Spanish-language text service, and a panel discussion. This was after Covid-19 restrictions stopped multiple in-person events that happened among six different communities.
Events were advertised through flyers and social media. Edge and Foy were able to find students through Foy’s previous work with Latino students, listening events, and recommendations from the Latino community.
Each event served different purposes. The Facebook Live sessions educated Spanish-speaking parents on how the coronavirus affects education, including online learning and information from school board meetings. The text service served Spanish-speaking parents with questions regarding the reopening of schools. Finally, the panel discussion connected Latino students with the Governor of Idaho, Brad Little, to give students an opportunity to share their stories. Students connected with a large audience, including leaders who are responsible for their education. Before the panel, Edge and Foy prepared students with read-throughs, which involved asking the students to write down their questions, read them aloud, and practice their presentation.
Ultimately, Edge and Foy hosted multiple community events that allowed Latino students to share their opinion on issues regarding their education. Listening to their voices allowed them to write meaningful stories that would move policymakers to make a change.
Here’s What Worked
1. Collaborating among organizations
Edge and Foy explained how splitting every aspect of the project made their efforts stronger. Specifically, they co-wrote stories by complementing and editing each other’s work. Their stories benefited from this approach because they had twice the effort and outreach. In addition, these stories were published in English and Spanish for their readers’ accessibility.
2. Preparing everyone involved
Edge and Foy facilitated a student panel with Gov. Brad Little by preparing their participants for success. This included helping their students practice their presentations. In addition, they provided information on internet connections, dress code, and more to ensure participants were prepared going into the discussion.
3. Getting out of the way
Edge and Foy encourage other news organizations to let marginalized groups speak for themselves. It’s more difficult for participants to have authentic conversations when you speak on their behalf or disrupt the conversation flow by over-mediating.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Partnering with existing community organizations
Edge and Foy experienced greater success in partnering with organizations in order to host events. Edge said she would either do more prolonged advertisements for their events or eliminate them completely in favor of partnerships. Edge said she would accomplish this goal by collaborating with community organizations that are already in-network with the audience with which they want to connect.
2. Finding youth interested in partnering
Edge said she would have liked to find youth interested in partnering with Foy and herself. Teens could review their story ideas and offer suggestions, help create multimedia outreach or social media campaigns, and get involved directly in the story creation.
3. Producing stories more quickly
Edge expressed that she would have written stories more quickly. The team identified a number of stories in the course of reporting that they put off too long. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these stories completely fell off the to-do list. Overall, they published six stories as products of this project.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
- Feedback Loops: Edge and Foy learned how to create a feedback loop from Ashley Alvarado, the director of community engagement at KPCC. For example, if one community brought an issue to light they confirmed with another community if that issue was important to them too. This was important because it allowed the community a unique opportunity to suggest topics and critique ideas. Additionally, Edge expressed how implementing a follow-up plan would have been an additional way to close the gap between the reporters and the students and families. Following up creates an opportunity for community members to share any additional feedback and allows reporters to build a list of sources for future initiatives.
Timeframe: Edge and Foy expressed their appreciation to their editors for the flexibility and time given to develop the project as a whole and to work on the stories. The panel with the students and Gov. Little, which was decided about six weeks prior to the event, could have benefitted from more advanced planning.