This study examines organizational dynamics, technological affordances and professional challenges of engaged journalism practices by analyzing how Hearken, one of the most celebrated audience engagement companies and its tools and services are being implemented in 15 U.S. news organizations. This framework identifies Hearken and organizations like it as important “external actors” providing technological “actants” that are shaping how newsrooms report the news by providing ways for audiences to be brought into producing the news, particularly during the earlier phases of the reporting process. Ultimately, this study presents a partial update to the decades-long literature on participatory journalism by suggesting that engaged journalism practices actually create opportunities for meaningful audience involvement.
Abstract: This study was written with both scholarly and practical questions in mind. We examined the organizational culture of a sample of 15 news organizations across the United States to better understand how particular factors affect the process of using Hearken.
Bitch Media tested whether engagement platform Hearken improved engagement and/or increased membership among users. During the “Turning Readers Into Funders” experiment, Bitch Media found that Hearken-prompted content was 125% more engaging than non-Hearken prompted content. Learn more from Hearken’s project review and their ONA17 session.
British Columbia-based Discourse Media sent reporter Trevor Jang on a listening road trip to Northern BC to report on the contentious Pacific Northwest liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline project. He facilitated online discussions through a Facebook group, as well as in-person meetings, in an attempt to prompt dialogue and better understand a complicated issue.
In early 2016, San Francisco public radio station KALW started using the engagement tool Hearken to interact with its audience and create relevant stories. The collaborative reporting project, called Hey Area, has yielded about 15 long and 15 short stories so far — all based on ideas generated by audience members.
Jennifer Brandel wanted to know: what would happen if the public was brought in to the editorial process? As an independent producer and reporter at WBEZ in Chicago, the question had weighed on her, and in 2012 she founded Curious City through an initiative with the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR).
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.
The Hearken team is proud to have developed a transparent, collaborative, and well-defined system for hiring that attracted a diverse pool of strong applicants. We learned a lot from others out here on the Internet about best practices when recruiting and hiring, so we wanted to give back and share what we learned. Related resources Dodge Foundation, Poynter, and Open News.
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.
In 2014, Michigan Radio launched MI Curious, a public-powered news initiative that invites community members to help choose what stories get assigned. Modeled after WBEZ’s Curious City, MI Curious uses Hearken to a) collect people’s burning questions about Michigan culture, sports, history, and other topics, and b) put the best submissions up for a vote online.
When uttered outside of journalism circles, the word “engagement” means something fairly specific involving rings, love, wedding bells, commitment, and the like. If there’s no pathway for input from your audience to shape the content decisions your newsroom is making, then it’s not audience engagement. Engagement happens when members of the public are responsive to newsrooms, and newsrooms are in turn responsive to members of the public.