Abstract: This research examines the impact of One River, Many Stories, a community storytelling project designed to disrupt relationships between news organizations and their audiences. Community engagement methods were used to study this two-year storytelling project. Ripple Effects Mapping methods measured its impact. Findings reveal that traditional news media deviated little from established journalism routines while citizen participation was diverse and expansive.
Language matters. How we think about and frame the communities we serve inside the newsroom influences the issues we tackle, the assignments we pursue, how we define success, and how we edit, package and circulate our stories. That’s why we want to share some strategies, based on our own hard-learned lessons, for how to build genuine and productive relationships with your communities.
We had a fruitful conversation on hosting live events with Sarah Binder the Engagement Manager of Iowa Ideas, Megan Finnerty the Director of the USA TODAY Network’s Storytellers Project, and jesikah maria ross the Senior Community Engagement Strategist at Capital Public Radio.
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.
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.
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.
Curious City, a series produced by WBEZ Chicago Public Media, invites listeners to participate in the reporting process. Using the Hearken digital engagement platform, listeners ask and then vote on questions that are turned into radio stories. Over a year, Curious City attempted to engage residents of Chicago areas that traditionally had few public radio listeners, mostly stigmatized African-American and Latinx neighborhoods, to participate via face-to-face outreach, outreach via community partners, or social media marketing. Using a communication infrastructure theory framework, this study draws from observations and 25 interviews with journalists, participating audience members, residents of targeted outreach areas, and partner organizations to examine best practices to combine digital and offline strategies, and the importance of pre- and post-broadcast engagement.
Public Radio International (PRI) launched the reporting project Global Nation in 2012 to cover the “real-world stories of immigrants in the United States—their challenges, successes and how uneven US immigration laws affect their lives.” PRI then created the Global Nation Exchange to foster discussion between immigrants and help ground editorial decisions in what was most important to them.
ProPublica is well aware of the benefits — and impact — of crowdsourcing. It landed a story about US President Donald Trump having sold condominiums to his own son at big discounts, avoiding the usual taxes, because a reader tipped them off after digging into Trump disclosure documents that ProPublica shared. GIJN’s program coordinator Eunice Au spoke with ProPublica’s deputy editor of engagement, Terry Parris Jr., about the nonprofit newsroom’s strategy in encouraging reader and community participation in its stories. Another view from MediaShift.