February in PIN newsrooms: 'I'll only ever interview 'real' people again...'

Joellen Easton -

Hi All--

The highlights from the last month:

MPR used PIN in February for sensemaking reporting on the showdown in Wisconsin and the hot topic of taxes.  WNYC relaunched PIN in New York and with just their first few queries is impressing reporting staff with on-target insightful sources for daily news.  KUOW had a big win bringing insight to air, even inspiring a host to say he would give up interviewing experts and only ever interview “real” people. The St. Louis Beacon is beginning queries and outreach to shape a year-long series on class and the American Dream.  The Charlotte Observer is using PIN to lay the groundwork for 2012 DNC convention coverage, and is interested in hearing the experiences of other PIN journalists who have used PIN in their conventions coverage.  Marketplace Money is partnering with the New York Times and querying PIN to look at the financial questions and challenges faced by people at different stages of life. 

On the academic front -- a new and exciting area for PIN -- Lee Banville's Online News class at the University of Montana had a successful first semester with PIN.  Banville's students used PIN to power a four-part multimedia series on NewWest.net, published in February.  Banville's condensed recap of the semester is below, and in the coming months we'll be creating a first draft of a handbook for PIN in the classroom, drawing on experiences at Montana, the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, and The New School. 

Read on for the full scoop.



Academic partner: University of Montana

A successful first semester for Public Insight in the classroom

In an effort to expand how young journalists think about the development of sources and use of online technologies in reporting, the University of Montana launched an Online News course in Fall 2010 that incorporated PIN.  The result was a four-part multimedia series for the regional news site NewWest.net.

    Day One: New Markets Put Western Farmers in Greater Control of Their Destinies
    Day Two: Food Safety Fight Highlights Growing Power of Local Food Movement
    Day Three: How Families Manage in the Rural Food Deserts of the West
    Day Four: How the West’s High-End and Lower-End Stores Cash in on Organic

To begin the process of using PIN in the Online News course, I had students explore the ideas of crowdsourcing and other audience engagement efforts tried by news organizations in their reporting. The idea was to encourage students to think differently about source development as well as how you might engage experts about your topic before formally organizing your story idea. I then had the students review how PIN is used newsrooms, recruit new sources for their reporting and query these new sources with framing questions.  Also at the beginning of the project, APM sent our initial query to Montana PIN sources recruited in the past by APM; this helped students significantly in both seeing the value of the network and the specifics in how the query worked.  Feedback helped us generate concrete story ideas and helped the class organize those ideas into the different sectors of the food economy we reported on later. On the technical side, I served as the primary producer/analyst. In this role, I did the construction of the queries, organized and checked sources and served as the initial filter of responses. 

It was easy to see the impact of the network on the series we would later report. Many of the key personalities in the stories came from sources in our network and often not for the reasons we had thought they would.

For example, in searching for small-scale farmers students found Pattie Fialcowitz from Dixon, Mont. Fialcowitz told us how she raised small crops to sell in the local organic store in Missoula, but also how she would travel for more than an hour every couple of weeks to both deliver food, but also shop for the fresh fruits and vegetables she could not find in her town. This led to our “food deserts” reporting with Fialcowitz as the primary character of both our print and video pieces.

But beyond the specific stories, the effect on the students was clear and compelling. Students, who have been trained to seek sources for their established stories, now had to let the sources/experts help them decide what the story really was. This fundamentally different approach served as a real challenge that the students, by and large, rose to with real passion.

I'll further refine the class in the spring, with these notes: I'll again ask APM to send a query to sources on our behalf to help kick off the project, involve a working PIN analyst in-person or via Skype while helping students through the conceptual challenges of using the network, and continue to focus the project on the end product -- conceiving of the project as a reporting effort that will lead to publication on a profesisonal news site adds weight to the effort and inspires students.

New West has asked us to produce another series this spring, giving students another opportunity to both intellectually expand their reporting range and to professionally develop pieces of work that will remain in their portfolio for years.  (Lee Banville) 

New Hampshire Public Radio

The word of the month at NHPR was authenticity...

Through PIN we brought authentic voices into our news stories and shows. A professor who’d lived, worked and studied in Egypt talking about the protests there. A patient and health insurance subscriber, caught in a financial dispute between her hospital and her insurance company. Voters in the 2nd district telling us about the issues and topics they’re following in Congress. Not earth-shattering stuff, perhaps, but the kind of partnership that I’m pushing for every day, and am able to bring about more frequently as time goes on! (Brady Carlson)

WLRN and the Miami Herald

New projects, foreclosures, a new model for arts coverage

This month has been one of innovation. We put up a PIN opt-in box on the MiamiHerald.com registration page, and we get an average of 60 people a week that sign up through there. This is great because it adds a substantial amount of people to our network without much work on our part. The goal is to send out a welcome e-mail once a week to whoever signs up  I’ve also started to include a Facebook share option when I send out thank you e-mails to those who contribute to stories. It's a great way to get the word out on PIN in a word-of-mouth kind of way. The idea is to have sources be able to click on a link that takes them directly to Facebook with everything already set up. I did some research, and figured out how to do it. Here's an example: "Hello HeraldSource, thanks for contributing to our article. Click here to share the story you were featured in on Facebook."  I’m still trying to tweak it so that I can customize the link even more to mention the PIN in it.   We also created a video explaining PIN in both Spanish and English

On the foreclosure beat, we queried sources to learn what it’s like to owe more on one’s home than the home is worth.  The responses led the Miami Herald newsroom to cover the story of negative home equity from the ground up, letting the voices of the people with direct experience lead the report

Looking ahead, I also started to plan a PIN video project, inspired by USA Today’s Voicesproject, that will present people’s insights through a series of short simple videos that feature sources' insights on different questions. We thought it would be great to start with one a month, and then do a bi-monthly question, if possible. It would be a great way to create more buzz about the PIN, and also a great way to present people's insights.  

Also in the works is a Knights Art Challenge Grant we applied for through WLRN to fund a new initiative similar to MPR's Art Hounds project, which will help increase our arts coverage here at The Miami Herald and WLRN. There would be some differences with Art Hounds, including the fact that a lot of the content would be user-generated text. But the overall idea is similar. Thanks so much to Molly Bloom at MPR for helping out with this. (Deborah Acosta)

Center for Investigative Reporting

Planning next steps

February was short on days and PIN queries for California Watch and CIR. We kicked off the month with a fast turnaround query on mental health and the budget. The query, as expected, produced only a few responses. Instead, we have spent the month looking to the future. I spent a morning at one Oakland school, speaking with representatives about how we can create a relationship between California Watch-PIN and the school, its parents, and its students. I also had a fantastic phone call with APM's Melody Ng about the type of events andactivitiesthat help foster a relationship and bring in new sources. Finally, I am working with reporters on an upcoming query focusing on education in California. It's yet another opportunity for us to talk to reporters about the sorts of queries and questions that workand those that don't. (Ashley Alvarado)

The St. Louis Beacon and the Nine Network of Public Media

PIN queries informing live and Facebook programming

Our query on the life of Benazir Bhutto produced a wonderful speaker for an upcoming community cinema screening of Bhutto.  Dr. Sayini Devarajan will speak after the film screening, as she has extensive knowledge of the history of Pakistan and also as a journalist interviewed Benazir Bhutto when she was Prime Minister of Pakistan. She is a real find and will add a lot to the screening.  PIN sources also helped us develop a new Facebook page called Science Matters St. Louis by sharing their ideas for the page. I got an idea from this query to write a PIN query using a contest to drive people to the page to encourage science interaction on the site. I am working on writing that one for March. (Sydney Meyer, Nine Network) 

Beacon in early stages of a year-long project on class in America

At the Beacon, we had four PIN-informed stories this month and are doing well in receiving responses to several queries, which are helping reporters prepare for future coverage of several topics. While all the PIN responses have been great in informing our coverage, perhaps the best use has been for the start of our year-long project, "Class: The Great Divide." Here are the first two stories for this project that used PIN sources.  The first is aconversation about social mobility, and the second two profiles that explore the impact of where one lives and works on class perception(Linda Lockhart)

Telling the stories of storms and neighbors

During a big winter storm, faithful PIN source Eileen Evans sent in a google doc listing warming centers throughout St. Louis and St. Louis County. We converted the information into a map/graphic as an interactive component of our story (left).  When Beacon intern Ariana Tobin asked me if I could find her some sources for a story she was doing on Habitat for Humanity's 25th anniversary, I was able to respond quickly with several names of people she could contact. PIN source Martin Wohl had responded to a previous query and told us about his experiences as a Habitat volunteer. He added an authentic voice to this report. Finally, this story on what makes neighborhoods grow features PIN source Sean Thomas, head of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, on recent demographic and economic changes in his neighborhood. (Linda Lockhart)


A successful launch + a hotbutton topic = happy reporters

In February, the newsroom focused on preparing for WNYC's PIN re-launch. The network has been around but used for a pilot program that did not make it to the air. However, that didn't discourage us from using this tool for the rest of the newsroom. For the launch, we included an article in our weekly newsletter, tweeted and posted on Facebook, promoted our PIN web page and my blog, distributed a press release that got picked up by MediaBistroI appeared on the Brian Lehrer show to talk about PIN and invite people to join, and finally -- I've been telling everyone I meet in person.

To ensure participation, we began with a topic that many New Yorkers are looking at right now: Education. With the appointment of a businesswoman instead of an educator as the new schools chancellor and the governor's proposed budget cutting teaching jobs, it made perfect sense to begin here.  170 people joined our network, which now has about 2,700 sources. And about 60 of those new participants entered through our education query. (Also available in Spanish.)  These new sources are providing excellent insight into the reality of NYC's education system. And when our education reporter, Beth Fertig, asked if I can find a social studies teacher using the uprising in northern Africa in the classroom, I had in PIN an Egyptian high school social studies teacher who adapted his lessons so his students would be up to date on current global issues.  Perfect match!

Other queries in the works for March are one about police follow up on domestic violence, and another about African American women and abortion. A controversial billboard, at right, provided the peg for the query. (Walyce Almeida)


Generational queries for a Marketplace/New York Times personal finance project

In February PIN played a central role in a collaboration between Marketplace Money and the New York Times. The project, called “Money through the Ages,” is a look at the financial questions and challenges faced by people at different stages of life and will be published/aired the last weekend in March.

The idea was that a person or couple from each decade would be paired up with a financial expert. Although tailored to the individual situation, the advice would also address broader financial issues common to those in their twenties, thirties, right on up through the seventies and eighties. The challenge was to find people with financial issues representative of their demographic, but that also represented regional and socio-economic diversity. In the end I sent out queries targeting people in their 20s30s60s and 70s (sources for other decades were found through other channels).

We were all very happy with both the number and quality of the responses. We were struck by the detailed personal financial information the PIN sources shared, as well as the thoughtful descriptions of what money meant to them, the challenges they’re facing in retirement, etc. We plan on using sources not selected for this project for Marketplace Money’s personal finance weekly call-in segment. In addition, Marketplace reporters are always turning to the PIN for sources that match very specific criteria - married with children who have experienced a layoff within the last few years, for example - and so now I have these “go-to” lists of sources I can use.

The other thing that struck me about this project was that two groups whose response rates are usually quite low responded pretty well to the queries – I received about 130 responses from people in their twenties and about 40 responses from people in their seventies and eighties.

I will post links to the New York Times website for the print version of the project and to the Marketplace website for the radio version in next month’s newsletter.  (Alison Brody)

Minnesota Public Radio

Revamping insight site with NewsCloud

Paul Tosto has been working with NewsCloud to make MinnEcon more dynamic and interactive. (See the new interface here.)  People can login with Facebook to comment, etc. The plan is to have the business reporting team update the site and interact with the audience as well.

Sensemaking with PIN: the showdown in Wisconsin, taxes, and troubled youth

We used the PIN on some big stories, like the Wisconsin showdown to enrich the reporting and also find new angles. We never would have this story on University of Wisconsin faculty voting to unionize without the PIN -- and it wasn’t being covered elsewhere.  We also used PIN for first-person public impressions of the Wisconsin protests, a commentary from a college senior having doubts about a public service career, and divisions across Wisconsin on the public employee unions question.  (Jason Schank, at right, is a fourth-generation dairy farmer near Arcadia, Wis. As a farmer who has struggled to balance his own budget, Schank says he supports Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget repair bill.)

We used PIN to gain interesting perspectives on recurring stories like job numbers and tax debates -- including "dispatches from the well-off"wealthy Minnesotans' reactions to a proposed tax plan, and we used a PIN source as an expert on a confusing issue --understanding tax brackets

We also ran an online forum on troubled youth and public safety spending in Rochester MN.  The online forum focused on prevention, in the wake of a live public safety forum staged by MPR News and the Post-Bulletin of Rochester on February 1 at the Mayo Civic Center. (Molly Bloom)


Making strategic changes to PIN integration, and winning newsroom converts

We’ve been working on wiring PIN more closely to station coverage planning by looking ahead and identifying coming news events where the station will want to invest coverage. This is allowing us to both plan coverage and lay the groundwork for sourcing in advance. One of the first such projects will be marking the 40th anniversary of the Boeing Bust later this month. We have a PIN query running seeking memories from Seattleites who remember the bust, and we're working on programming across production units, with answers to the above query supporting coverage on our noon talk show, The Conversation.  And in the interest of making ourselves more open to investigative leads and tips from wources, we've created an upload-heavy query form asking "Do you have evidence of waste, fraud or abuse of power?" and perma-linked it on our PIN page.


We've also had some on-air successes this month.  Our mid-morning show Weekday asked for names of people in the PIN who had been unemployed for some time. The host, Steve Scher, interviewed three sources. The resulting hour-long broadcast was a rich portrait of three courageous people facing a major challenge. The host said he would give up interviewing experts and only ever interview “real” people.  This couldn’t be true, but the PIN made a believer out of yet another journalist. In another approach to jobs coverage, we asked for anupdate on sources’ careers and received one response so amazing that we had to turn it into an upbeat news story.  Listeners responded warmly, and several spouses of discouraged job-seekers contacted the station to ask for a link.  (Carolyn Adolph)

Colorado Public Radio

PIN helps identify the small businesses leading local recovery

Policy makers often talk about how small businesses are going to lead the country out of economic doldrums, but we rarely hear from the business owners themselves. Thanks to responses to a query seeking to find out which small businesses are hiring, three sources from the Network talk about weathering the recession, and preparing for the growth to come in the Colorado Matters segment Small business owners see light on the horizon(Andrew Haeg)

The Charlotte Observer

2012 DNC convention, grocery bills, and deepening engagement with sports queries

Within hours of the announcement that Charlotte would host the 2012 DNC convention, we posted a query on charlotteobserver.com asking what ideas or suggestions readers had for city leaders to make sure Charlotte comes off in a good light.  The query drew many strong and thoughtful responses.  We were able to quickly find Realtors and everyday entrepreneurs who want to rent their home to DNC folks coming to town for this front page story, detailing high interest among homeowners in renting their properties out to conferencegoers.  Foranother front page storywe asked readers and sources if their grocery bills have spiked.  They told reporters how they are coping with higher prices, and also how they have noticed packages are smaller but they are being charged the same amount for products.  And we have discovered a new avenue - Sports - for talking with and developing new PIN sources.  When the Charlotte Bobcats made controversial trades, we asked PIN sources to talk about next steps for the team and how first-year coach Michael Jordan was stacking up.  Source insights (Kim Billups, whose family has four season tickets, at right) contributed to this piece in the Sports section: Please Draft Well(Cindy Montgomery

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