Following a surge of populist movements in Europe, the need to engage with the public felt acute. German news organization ZEIT Online wondered, “Could someone develop a dating platform for political debates?” To find out, ZEIT Online launched a project called Germany Talks.
In March 2017, Seattle’s The Evergrey took about 20 Seattleites to rural Oregon to spend an afternoon in conversation with 16 residents of Sherman County. The project’s name, Melting Mountains, was coined by Sandy Macnab, a just-retired Sherman and Wasco County agricultural agent who planned the event with Anika Anand and Mónica Guzmán, co-founders of The Evergrey.
Verify debuted in 2016 in response to a challenge from WFAA’s corporate parent, TEGNA, to find ways to “truth-test” the news. For Verify, reporter David Schechter and producer/photographer Chance Horner select a topic of public interest (e.g. homeless camps, fracking, the death penalty) and invite a citizen reporter to join them on a “road trip” throughout the reporting process.
The Austin Monitor, an innovative nonprofit newsroom that covers municipal matters in detail, sought ways to engage readers on the most mundane issues. It has found success by hosting Budget Game Nights that challenge citizens to come up with their own solutions for the city’s budget, an interactive approach that the Monitor and its project partner, Glasshouse Policy.
As part of a pilot for Challenge for Change, a national media project in Canada, Discourse Media reporter Brielle Morgan organized a series of listening events to discuss the child welfare system in B.C. Morgan highlighted the challenges faced by Indigenous children, but also needed to acknowledge and tackle the community’s deep distrust of the media.
St. Louis Public Radio began its Curious Louis project in late 2015, empowering readers and listeners to ask questions and pairing reporters with question-submitters to track down the answers. STLPR hired Kimberly Springer, who’d previously worked at Michigan Public Radio on another Hearken-powered project, MI Curious, in part to run the project.
Sarah Alvarez launched Outlier Media in 2017 to serve the needs of low-income news consumers in Detroit. Using SMS and Facebook messenger, Detroit residents can input any address in the city and receive free rental information about the home, including its most recent inspection data, any back taxes owed, and the name of the owner.
The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University works to grow and strengthen the local journalism ecosystem in New Jersey. Its flagship project, NJ News Commons, works with about 150 news organizations — from legacy publishers to hyperlocal startups — on collaborative journalism projects in New Jersey.
In 2017, Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) piloted Unheard LA, a community-driven live storytelling series that featured people’s first-person accounts of real-life experiences. KPCC’s events and engagement arm, KPCC In Person, reached beyond the station’s existing audience by using the P.I.N., GroundSource, and other engagement tools to solicit story pitches and promote the event.
Open:Housing is a platform, a network, and a set of strategies aimed at strengthening the information ecosystem that supports civic engagement around housing issues. Journalists, housing advocates and experts, and Portland residents came together with a shared interest: to create inclusive, informed public conversations that drive solutions to the Portland region’s housing crisis.
In 2016, Chicago-based civic journalism lab City Bureau started its Documenters program, which pays and equips community members to document public meetings and civic events in the city. As the program grew, they teamed up with ProPublica Illinois and volunteer coders to “scrape” the web for public meeting listings and populate an events calendar usable by journalists and citizens alike.