March in PIN newsrooms -- "PIN responses gave me confidence ... your numbers don't square with what I'm hearing..."

Joellen Easton -

Some March highlights to top us off...

Detroit's WDET has been querying and convening insight forums to help the newsroom get their hands around the differences, similarities and motivations of Detroiters and former Detroiters...KQED used PIN to tell the personal stories of the worker diaspora after the closing of an auto plant... By querying PIN sources about small campaign donations in the 2008 election, the Center for Public Integrity found a story they hadn't been looking for: the impact of the Citizens United ruling on voters, and the small money vs big business angle... Marketplace Money's collaboration with the New York Times found 40% of the project's sources through PIN, and powerful stories spurred thousands of comments and followup reporting....A reporter working on a story for the Marketplace Morning Report found that PIN responses gave him the confidence to push back against official numbers and get to the truth of the story... and a PIN source featured in an MPR commentary about the challenges of teaching Huck Finn wound up on 60 Minutes -- and then debriefed her experience.

PIN turns up in recent academic and industry research

Academia: Researcher Doreen Marchionni surprised PIN Director Linda Fantin at a SXSW panel in March; Marchionni was presenting her doctoral research on "conversational journalism," and, unbeknownst to anyone on the PIN staff, had identified the Public Insight Network as the deepest and most collaborative approach to reporting.   By measuring six variables in stories and audience response to those stories, Marchionni documented how the audience perceived credibility and expertise for several different types of conversational journalism. The variables?  Social presence of the journalist, coorientation (whether the journalist is perceived to 'think like me'), homophily (whether the journalist is perceived as being 'like me'), interactivity, friendliness, and informality.  The implications for PIN are big: Marchionni's research highlights some best practices of collaborative journalism.  Check out this podcast of her SXSW talk, and slides from her presentation.

Industry: Diana Scearce and Noah Flower of the Monitor Institute interviewed me about PIN for a report Scearce authored for the Knight Foundation.  It's called Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks  The report explores the roles networks play in connecting citizens to institutions and each other, and “explores how technology might impact public participation and leadership in the future.”  The frame for the research is philanthropic, but the insights are valuable for all of us who seek to understand how to leverage community networks to deepen reporting.  There's also a public webinar to discuss the paper on April 20th at 2pm EDT (sign-up is at

Read on for the newsroom details.



WDET, Detroit

Neighbors understanding neighbors

IMAG0116_small.jpgIn February we started the first in a series of community listening sessions. Our goals are: 1) to better understand various neighborhoods around the City of Detroit and 2) to see where we can find more authentic stories.  Michael Caputo of MPR flew in to be our moderator for the February session.  An excerpt from how Mike wrote up the event:

"WDET staffers worked with community connectors to get people to that meeting. They put up fliers around town. They set up a phone number that would allow those who could not attend (and who didn't have computer access) to leave a message, an answer to the question, what's the one thing people in the greater Detroit region should know about your neighborhood?
IMAG0123_small.jpg"The forum itself was built around two questions, the one above, and also the question: What's your access to power ... what do you wish it to be?
"WDET welcomed the full group and broke them into smaller groups of seven or eight. The small groups hashed out those two questions. Then they summarized their finding and chose a volunteer to read them when the full group came back together.
"The final session included talking with WDET staffers about the project. Next steps will include landing on some of the many story threads that emerged. Queries will be sent out to the new PIN sources to flesh out those story threads."

Why do people leave Detroit?  Why do they stay? There's a PIN for that.

wayne_county_census.jpgThe release of US Census figures (right) showed that Detroit’s population is the lowest it's been in more than 100 years (Henry Ford was building the Model T the last time Detroit had fewer than 750,000 people). 

To get our hands around it, WDET fired up two queries – with help from APM. The first focused on why people left Detroit and what it would take for them to come back. The second focused on people who have stayed and why they are still in Detroit.

Between the two queries we received almost 100 responses. We then used the responses to build two panel discussions and several other pieces from the newsroom and our talk show about people who left, people who have founded "Detroiters in exile" groups, and what motivates people who stay in Detroit.  Looking ahead, we're working on partnerships with WNYC’s “The Takeaway” and others on this new wrinkle in the Detroit story.  (Rob St. Mary)

WNYC, New York

Teachable moments, census-hiders, and 9-11 stories

NYC_teacher_medium_image.jpgI’ve been blogging weekly about the awesome things we’re doing with the PIN. Two things stand out from March (both topics are also featured on my blog.)

First, we have a great example of the power of PIN. As the Egyptian uprising was developing, Beth Fertig, WNYC’s education reporter, asked me to find social studies teachers who were discussing the uprising in the classroom with students. Luckily, I found one who just so happened to be Egyptian and plenty to say on the current events. Maram Mabrouk made a great source for the story. However, that was the only person I could find. The other social studies teachers said they didn’t have time to change the lesson plan because of the pressure they have been under to meet a strict curriculum based on standardized testing. What I at first thought was a defeat turned out to be a valuable insight for Fertig's reporting. Read Fertig’s story here.  (ESL teacher Joshua Lewis at left)

Second, after the 2010 census data came out for New York, we asked people to tell us if they filled out the census, if they were not counted and why.  I promoted the query in my blog, and we only received a few responses. However, the few that shared their experiences were good examples of why people are not counted or missed by census workers. Our reporter is still putting together a comprehensive story on this issue and may use the PIN sources. 

Also, Radio Rookies is helping us recruit people under the age of 22 into PIN by having them share their 9/11 story. Out of all those who join, six people will be selected to participate in a Radio Rookies journalism workshop. When the contest closes, I'll thank the participants and better explain the PIN.  (Walyce Almeida)

Center for Investigative Reporting

Using SMS to recruit diverse sources, and querying on school rankings

March was a busy month at California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting. As April approached, we were busily working to wrap our 19-month investigation into seismic oversight in California schools. At the same time we produced a query asking parents and stakeholders to share their insights into California's school-ranking system. We knew going in that it had to be a dense query. The responses have been encouraging, though. We've passed the 60 mark and are looking to hit 100, thanks to help from parent groups who've been sharing the link.

In late March, we held our third Open Newsroom event. It's an opportunity for staffers to spread out to coffeehouses across the state and to meet one-on-one with our readers. It was also our first chance to try out Mobile Commons, the text messaging platform that allows for queries on phones and/or mobile signups. We did a few of these during the Open Newsroom and plan to use them, working with KQED, to bring in sources while doing a series of events this month across the state. Our hope is that we'll not only add additional sources, but that these will be ones we don't normally find within PIN. (Ashley Alvarado)

The St. Louis Beacon and Nine Network

Conversations" about class continue to help St. Louisans get to know one another

croy150caseyMDL.jpgPIN sources Casey Croy (at right) and Stephanie DeChambeau shared their insight about what they've learned about class distinctions in this latest installment of our year-long series, "Class: The Great Divide": Conversations about class with a longtime St. Louisan and a 'newcomer'.  The series' initial query is the gift that just keeps on giving for reporter Mary Leonard and other Beacon staffers. The responses that we received earlier this year continue to help us find authentic voices and find insight quickly.

PIN also helped us define an environment report through a query to sources asking what kind of environment reporting they would like to see. This story, Green homes can bring greenbacks in years to come, was done as a follow-up to the wealth of suggestions we received, including one from PIN source Judy Taylor.  (Linda Lockhart)

PIN helps tell stories of community impact

Over at Nine Network, we asked PIN sources What does the Community Cinema Series mean to you?  Responses helped us find seven stories of community impact, which helped me create a spot to show before the community cinema events and place on our St. Louis Community Cinema Facebook page and PIN page. They are delightful people with great experiences/insights about the screenings. (Sydney Meyer)

Center for Public Integrity

Small donors vs. big money in 2012

As the 2012 election looms, PIN helped us reach a really diverse group of campaign donors quickly and ask them about their sentiments.  Gaining insight from citizens who donated to a candidate in the 2008 presidential campaign in amounts of $200 or less was crucial to reporting this story. Sources in the PIN told us how they feel about the campaign finance system, helping our journalists understand current sentiments among former small donors.

We initially wanted to focus on how small donors to Obama felt about his performance so far, but the first few rounds of responses made us realize that a more interesting angle would be how small donors felt about their impact on the election process in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on independently-funded political advertising.

Backed with interviews from officials and experts, we were able to craft a story reflecting a variety of donor outlooks, and provided a preview of the role small donors might play in the race for the White House in 2012.  Without PIN, we wouldn’t have been able to easily reach such a broad survey of citizens, who helped hone our reporting. (Cole Goins)

KQED, San Francisco

What happens to the people who worked in an auto plant that closed

NUMMI_Pagan.jpgThis month, I had the very fulfilling experience of helping a reporter who approached me about using the Network to fill a specific void. KQED's Rachael Myrow had been working on a year-long project called "Shifting Gears." The project looked at the changing face of the manufacturing industry in California and was largely tied to the closure of the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA. Throughout the project, Myrow had a difficult time finding personal narratives to add to the project. She knew folks were losing jobs or switching careers, she simply couldn't find many who would talk to her on the record.  For the final installments of Shifting Gears (it ended earlier this month), Myrow wanted to return to the NUMMI closure and try to find out how its former employees were fairing a year later. She approached me about using PIN. I wrote up a query, which was posted on KQED's social media accounts as well posted to a Facebook wall of former NUMMI employees. We received five responses, three of whom Myrow featured in her final blog posts and radio featureRobert Pagan's (left) story is one of those featured in the blog.  (Amanda Stupi)

MPR News

Reporters using PIN themselves, following sources over time, and a surprising economic indicator

Two recent stories are good examples of the reporting done by newsroom reporters who have been given access to AIR: a report on Wisconsin state employees reconsidering their careers, and another on a Groupon lawsuit alleging deceptive business practices

college_grad_unemploy_graf.jpgIn March we had a couple of great examples of the impact of keeping in touch with sources over time.  Paul Tosto wrote about Taylor Anderson, a PIN source who shared her experiences with looking for a job fresh out of college in 2009.  Today, she has a job.  The newsroom found out about it because Anderson's mom wrote a note to Tosto letting him know she'd finally found a job.  Here's Tosto's interview with daughter and mother.  In 2009, PIN source Belinda Burkitt wrote a commentary about her family's struggle with unemployment.  In March, she returned to MPR News to write about her 22-month unemployment journey, and the job she found at the end of it

PIN sources have been instrumental in helping us tell compelling stories about issues that are important outside the metro area, such as broadband access and springtime flood coverage -- with a dedicated flood blog and on our News Cut blog.  PIN sources also helped us do some trendspotting, helping us read the economy through a bakery window(Molly Bloom)

Some lessons learned by sources on a hot story

After a PIN-generated commentary on MPR News attracted the attention of CBS News producers this winter, the author of the commentary – a high school English teacher – was interviewed on “60 Minutes.” Her commentary, reacting to a new edition of Mark Twain's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that leaves out the word “nigger,” had explored the problems teachers have teaching the novel.

A crew from “60 Minutes,” plus reporter Byron Pitts, visited the school and interviewed PIN source Karen Morrill (right), another teacher and some students. Those interviews became part of a larger story about the “Huck Finn” rewrite March 20.  Morrill, who teaches “Huck Finn” without uttering the N-word, wasn’t happy with the “60 Minutes” experience, so she responded in another commentary: Pitts and ‘60 Minutes’ were not interested in my teaching philosophy. “They were interested in why I would not speak a virulent racial epithet. In my two-hour interview with Pitts, I tried to discuss the complex ways ‘Huck Finn’ deals with race. But he was interested in only that one simple word.”

But the experience didn’t sour her on the media generally. As she wrote in an email to one of the “60 Minutes” producers, she and a colleague also appeared on a different program, MPR’s “Midmorning.” “The conversation that Nora and I had with Kerri Miller on MPR Feb. 21 was a very good exploration of this struggle,” she told the producer. “I hope you get a chance to listen to it.”  (MPR News commentary editor Eric Ringham)


NYT collaboration (40% PIN sources), and helping reporters dig deeper

20110401_susanna_dress_23.jpgIn last month’s update I wrote about a project I worked on with Marketplace Money and the New York Times called Money through the Ages. I said I’d post links when available, so here’s the link to the NYT page:  and the Marketplace Money page.  The idea of the project was to look at the financial issues people experience in different stages of life. We profiled ten individuals/couples and matched them up with financial advisors who assessed their situations and made recommendations for the future. Four of ten sources came from PIN, including Susanna Wilson (left), a single seventy-year-old woman without any retirement savings. Her story generated thousands of comments on the New York Times and Marketplace Money websites. In addition, the story prompted a surge of interest in the small dressmaking business she runs, which inspired a short follow up segment on Marketplace Money the following week.  Sources who responded to the Money through the Ages query have also appeared in Getting Personal, Marketplace Money’s call-in segment, and one man’s story helped inspire this story about paid family caregivers.

PIN helped inform a short feature on Marketplace Money about short-haul flights. No PIN sources were used in the story, but check out the feedback from reporter Alex Goldmark: He said that the number of short-haul routes has declined 25 percent in the last five years because of high fuel prices and less business travel. Data from the Department of Transportation didn't at first reveal the trend. Armed with information from a few experts in the industry, as well as PIN responses to a query about the topic, Goldmark was able to investigate a hunch and read the data in a way that revealed the truth of the story. He said that "PIN responses gave me confidence to say to the DOT, hey, your numbers don't square with what I'm hearing..."

Finally, Marketplace Money also started using PIN to generate a series of commentaries about the job market they’re calling "The Job Chronicles." The first commentary to air was written by Samantha Barnes, a PIN source who had responded to a query about unemployment I sent almost a year ago. I found her response striking at the time, and pitched her story, but nothing came of it. However, as soon as the commentaries editor said she wanted to hear from someone who was forced to take a lower paying job after being laid off, I had the right person in hand.  Barnes wrote her commentary about how losing her job taught her humility. (Alison Brody)

The Charlotte Observer

On access to public records and some advice for a coach

As part of our reporting on how citizens get access to public records, we asked Public Insight Network sources about their experiences with government agencies. A few sources reported good experiences, but others told of governments using delay tactics, inappropriately withholding records and charging high copying rates. One citizen had to work his way up the bureaucracy to the rank of police major before he was granted his request for an incident report. Here's the story.

On a lighter note, we used PIN queries to ask fans about their experiences with Charlotte's professional basketball team, the Bobcats. Responses are still coming in from thoughtful fans, who offered insight on how the team can become winners and advice for first-year coach Michael Jordan. The sports department took answers from PIN sources and make it a 1/2 page package in a Sunday Sports section.

PIN sources also answered queries and informed stories on gas prices, cell phone use and how to save Mecklenburg libraries from the budget axe.  (Cindy Montgomery)

KUOW, Seattle


The reluctant drug dealer and memories of the 1971 Boeing Bust

To mark the 40th anniversary of a mass Boeing layoff, PIN led the newsroom with a query seeking stories of how Seattleites weathered the difficult economic time.  Insights from the responses led to two news stories to mark the occasion. While no sources were used in reported pieces, one source landed in a Weekday segment that ultimately marked this important local anniversary. (Carolyn Adolph, photo by Jasen Miller)

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