American Public Media’s Public Insight Network is leading a pubmedia charge into collaborative journalism. It taps into the wisdom of 70,000+ volunteer sources by letting them share expertise and news tips. We invited Joellen Easton, a public insight analyst for APM, to explain the Network’s usefulness for H1N1 coverage.
A story like H1N1 can be tricky for journalists. Sound the alarm too loudly and panic sets in. Give the issue too little attention and people don’t take the threat as seriously as they should. Even health officials are struggling with how much information is too much information. For newsrooms, that balance comes from accuracy, context, explanatory reporting, and smart sourcing. We need to know what’s happening in the schools, the workplace, and at home. We need to hear what people are experiencing and how they’re coping. And to make sure our coverage reflects the reality on the ground, we can engage our audience editorially: it’s community engagement for your station with newsroom impact.
At American Public Media and other public media newsrooms that use Public Insight Journalism, journalists are gathering insight into H1N1 community impact from listeners and readers, and incorporating new ideas and new sources suggested by the audience into reporting.
MPR News asked its Public Insight Network and listeners:
Public insight has become a part of how the newsroom chases and tells the H1N1 story, and how it prospects for new story leads. We always ask targeted questions, but leave the door open for news tips and related leads.
One of APM’s partners, the St. Louis Beacon, asked its readers “How are you getting ready for a major flu outbreak?”, collected responses, and then reported a fresh angle on the swine flu story. Other partner newsrooms at Colorado Public Radio, SCPR, and NHPR are also collecting insight and creating H1N1 source lists.
Public Insight Journalism’s particular method of partnering with the audience involves a database of 77,000 volunteer sources, on-air and online promos, email, web questionnaires, and social media outreach, as well as dedicated journalists who comb through responses, distill insights, identify sources, and work with reporters and editors to use that insight in coverage. You can learn more about PIJ here.
Meantime, you can create a mini version of PIJ using free online survey tools. I like Google Forms because it doesn’t scream “marketing,” you can customize it, and it integrates smoothly into Google Docs for exporting responses, maintaining source lists, etc. Every form you create will have a unique link, which you can email, post on your Web site, tweet, post to your station’s Facebook fan page, and call out to on the air. (You can find tutorials for Google Docs and Google Forms online.)
However you editorially engage your community, the important thing is to listen to what people are telling you, and use their insights to guide your reporting. If you do, your stories should be richer, deeper, and more relevant.
Joellen Easton is a public insight analyst in American Public Media’s Public Insight Journalism division, where she adds mojo to Marketplace‘s reporting by engaging the Public Insight Network. She also works with news directors and public insight analysts at eight public media partner organizations around the county to help them integrate public insight into their reporting.