May in PIN newsrooms: Breaking news, records and rules

Joellen Easton -

PIN news in brief...

PIN tools:
Thanks to the PIN design and development team who worked night and day to get AIR2 beta out, including many critical updates and improvements over the spring alpha release -- and to all the users who helped find bugs, learn the new system, and otherwise kick the tires.  Thanks especially to those of you trying out the new projects functionality with inter-newsroom work.  At the end of June we'll move out of beta into the full AIR 2.0.  Changes also coming in July to Source (allowing sources to choose newsrooms individually). 

New partners: In May a number of new newsrooms trained and are now launching PIN, including KCRW (Santa Monica CA), Fronteras: The Changing America Desk (7 southwestern pubradio stations, HQ in Phoenix at KJZZ), I-News (Denver), and La Opinion (LA) and El Diario (NY) of ImpreMedia, both Spanish-language newspapers.

Across the PIN: Several newsrooms used PIN queries to gather local reaction to Osama bin Laden's death, Nine Network and the Beacon are driving arts coverage with PIN source ideas... MPR partnered with Document Cloud for PIN-based research on bullying in MN schools for a 6-month long investigation... WNYC sussed out a police crackdown with queries... Fronteras tells the story of how Americans at home feel the impact of Mexico's drug violence... KUOW found some nice surprises.... NHPR has a record-breaking month...


The Charlotte Observer

Fast turnaround on gas price and property tax stories

PIN has proved vital in our quest to find real people in real situations – quickly. Case in point: Gas prices began shooting up in early May, much to the dismay of Charlotteans planning Memorial Day getaways. In two separate stories, we were able to quote sources about how high cost of gas is affecting budgets. PIN source Cam Bartlett told us that his family's skipping several scheduled days in the mountains next week. "We probably could have gone ahead and made the trip, and not starved later, but it came down to principle," he said. "I can't help but think that the oil companies find any excuse to gouge us. So we'll be taking the kids to local museums next week." (No word on how the kids felt about that.)  

In a story about a possible property tax increase, PIN source Nicholas Rose had a different view than most of our other sources. "Obviously from a taxpayer's perspective any tax increase is bad news," said Rose, of the Observer's Public Insight Network, a group of readers who share knowledge for stories. "(But) if they don't, then we're going to find ourselves in a new normal that we don't like."

In the works: Unpaid hospital bills and local flavor

Not only does PIN help us elicit quick responses, our sources share poignant stories. One of our reporters is working on long-term project about hospital billing practices, so we asked folks to share their stories.  Most sources have said an unexpected illness led to unexpected debt that they can’t pay. This one gentleman put it eloquently: "I have worked all my life and maintained a respectable lifestyle. Now at the 55+ age group I find in our family budget medical expenses are taking 83% of our income. The best I can do is make a payment to each provider once a month. I want to pay my way. I want to cover my expenses and have done so all my life. I just have to do what I can do."

On a lighter note, the Observer and our hyperlocal partner fielded a joint query on what Charlotte’s signature food dish should be. Why should Chicago (deep-dish pizza) and Cincinnati (chili) have all the fun? So far,  North Carolina BBQ has taken an early lead.  (Cindy Montgomery)

The St. Louis Beacon and Nine Network

New ideas for exploring public art

In May, the PIN helped Beacon arts reporter Nancy Fowler explore public art in the region. Two queries helped inform two stories and have laid the groundwork for others to come. The queries asked what do you want to know about the arts? and what's your favorite work of public art?. The resulting stories were Art lends heart to public places and Art in the Open: The Awakening, which is the first of what Nancy hopes will become a series of short profiles on works suggested by PIN sources.  (Linda Lockhart)

Gathering stories for local arts coverage on TV

In May I wrote one query for producer Ruth Ezell who is working on fall arts and culture spots, asking sources to share their best story about the local art and culture scene. She is collecting local stories of entertainers/groups, many unknown, in our St. Louis area for the program “Living St. Louis." The half-hour weekly program showcases St. Louis arts, culture, neighborhoods and history.  I reached out to several bloggers in the music and arts world who posted the link in their blogs and sent to their contacts.  (Sydney Meyer)

Center for Investigative Reporting

Planning ahead for reporting on school assessments

May was an interesting month for PIN at California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting. We didn't issue a single new query, although we did send out our ongoing query regarding API scores and school report cards which brought us to 100+ responses. Our reporting team is looking for ways to incorporate people's understanding of how California evaluates public schools into how we report on the issue. Meanwhile, we spent the month focused on outreach and ways to get our reporters more excited about PIN.  (Ashley Alvarado)

Southern California Public Radio (SCPR)

Hybrid drivers losing solo access to carpool lanes

In California, thousands of owners of gas-electric hybrid vehicles have been able to drive solo in the carpool lanes, avoiding crowded freeways. But come July, the party’s over. The yellow stickers that allowed solo access expire, and our reporter wanted to know if early adopters of hybrids were going to jump into the market for all-electric or compressed natural gas vehicles. We asked the Insight Network, sending questions to owners of Toyotas, Hondas, Hummers and other vehicles if they were bummed to see solo-driver hybrids banned from the fast lane. We found Chris Yoder, an employee of famed CalTech, who owns several hybrids and has moved up to the all-electric Leaf.

Recession solution: Leaving LA?

The arts and culture show Off-Ramp has been airing a series of profiles of people going through hard times in the recession. The latest in the series are two men who bought a house they could afford when they both had high-paying jobs. One worked in construction, the other in advertising. Well, the housing crash wiped out both their jobs. In this report they talk about how they are throwing in the towel, giving up their house and moving to far-away Michigan. Kai, the construction guy, has found a new stable source of income in dog grooming. (Sharon McNary)

Minnesota Public Radio

1: Query for sources with POV on an issue.  2: Host an online debate.

In May Insight Now hosted weekly debates driven by the expertise and insights of PIN sources.  May's debates featured PIN sources squaring off on ethanol production, the use of public financing to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, whether or not Minnesota should change gun laws when it comes to the use of deadly force, and ID requirements for voters.




Adding meaningful reaction to breaking news

For reactions to Osama bin Laden's death, sure, we could have gone out to the mall to grab reaction from the first person we see. But it adds more depth to hear from people who can bring insight to the discussion.  We queried PIN to gather impressions, reactions and questions, and featured responses online and on air.   

PIN drives 6-month long investigation into bullying in schools

In May MPR News aired and published online a six-month long investigation into bullying in Minnesota schools. This project was fueled by insights from parents, teachers, students and administrators. We used a query to collect every bullying policy from each school district and charter school in the stateand then used Document Cloud to analyze them.  This is the first time anyone (even the Dept. of Education) has done brought all these documents together in one publicly accessible place.

Finding Bob Dylan's homies in PIN... who knew?

Back in February we queried to find people who knew Bob Dylan when he lived in Minnesota.  Aaaand.....jackpot.  PIN sources helped to shape this documentary on Bob Dylan’s Minnesota years.

Training reporters to use AIR2

At MPR we've also been training reporters to use AIR2. This paid off when a tornado hit North Minneapolis. Reporter Dan Olson searched in AIR for people who live in N. Mplsand just started calling them. Several PIN sources appeared in his quick turnaround story on how the tornado affected transportation(Molly Bloom)

WDET, Detroit

Piggyback event outreach, new promos and a new website

The Harwood Institute came to Detroit for a listening session with people in the community, and I attended and pitched PIN to the participants. About 12 new people signed up for the network to be sources that evening. The discussion with Harwood relates to political trust for a new report that will be released ahead of the 2012 election.   In May we worked on gathering photos for WDET's Source page, creating new on-air promos and a new website.  Stay tuned for a bigger update next month...  (Rob St. Mary)


Crowdsourcing a hunch: Is NYPD cracking down on cyclists?

We asked cyclists to tell us where and when they were ticketed by NYPD and for what. The result is a crowd-sourced map and a story (on air and online) that led us to believe the NYPD has initiated a crackdown on cyclists -- though they don't call it that.  We received about 140 responses and most of those people were brand new sources. This was a collaboration within WNYC between Transportation Nation and The Brian Lehrer Show.  (Walyce Almeida)

Fronteras: The Changing Americas Desk

Fronteras launches PIN to fuel reporting on changing demographics and culture in the American Southwest

In May, I got to dive in as Public Insight Journalist for the Fronteras Local Journalism Center with both feet! My first week, I found two sources for the finale to our series "The Drug War at Home." The series examined how drug violence in Mexico spills over into the U.S. The two folks we talked to were a volunteer English teacher in Tijuana who's had difficulty because of the violence and danger in that city, and a cancer survivor in Phoenix who illegally uses marijuana to cope with her pain but worries that she's contributing to a violent drug cartel (at right, gardening).

I also set up a first draft of a web page, which I plan to develop much more in the near future. And, I've been working with reporters to put together a couple of longer-term queries that we'll be promoting over the summer, and researching library folks in the area to start some LibrariUS outreach. All in all, it's been a busy and very rewarding few weeks. (Nick Blumberg)

KUOW, Seattle

From the ground up, workers telling their stories

When a merchant wrote to KUOW to complain about the toll that theft was taking on her business, we realized this was an opportunity to tell a story rarely told – because usually store owners don’t like to talk about how crime hurts them. Our PIN source spoke about how the absence of a trespass law in Seattle means she can’t ban people from her shop even if they’ve stolen from her in the past. Reporter Amy Radil used the source in her story

When we asked sources to describe what it’s like to be in a workplace that's faced multiple rounds of layoffs, several people from the same organization responded. One of them was keen to tell the story, and we protected that person’s identity. The result was a news feature which spun into a show segment.

Breaking the rules -- or upping the game?

As an analyst I get edgy when a producer asks me to try out some vague idea and just see what people say. His hunch, bless him, was that people could point the way to the real angles a talk show should pursue, instead of just the ones producers can think up in meetings.  I hereby resolve never to worry again. The resulting query about economic mobility will generate ideas for three separate talk show segments, and look – it is the picture of vagueness and imprecision. I had several sources write extra notes to me about this one because they found they had so much to say.  Here’s the first segment, with two more to come.

This query, asking "does age matter?" is also turning out great. We had a fast overnight turnaround I think because people liked the idea of helping us shape a segment. I had terrific fun turning one of our demographic questions against us to see what would happen.  (Carolyn Adolph)


PIN hits its stride with breaking news in NH

Our first real success with PIN and breaking news was covering the Bin Laden story - we put our version of the query out at about 8 am and got some of the responses onto our morning talk show at 9 am.  We also put together a two-way with a New Hampshire native who was going to school at George Washington University in DC and went to the White House after the news broke.   And that wasn't all on the breaking news front - when Libya announced it would free several western journalists, including one from New Hampshire (James Foley, at right), I was able to share a PIN contact with our newsroom that was a childhood friend of the reporter, and gave us reaction before the family had issued its statement.

We had some further success with crowdsourcing questions for interviews, including this conversation with the "Ask the Pilot" columnist at, and we used our many municipal contacts from the Town Meeting project of years past to gather information on local Memorial Day celebrations. We had, I'd say, the most comprehensive listings of any news org in the state.

In all, we had ten shows/stories/blog posts in May that utilized PIN in some way - the most productive month we've had, save for months when a big week-long series was underway. It was awesome. (Brady Carlson)


The topic of tipping lends good PIN karma, a question for you, and a lesson learned


The topic of tipping was the big hit this month at Marketplace. Reporter Jeff Tyler was working on a story about navigating the murky world of gratuity for Marketplace Money and we planned to produce an online feature to complement the story.  I created a query that asked all sorts of questions about what people tip for various services – food delivery, haircuts, cab rides, etc. – and added a few open ended questions about what experiences people felt influenced their tipping behavior. 

We received about 200 responses before the story ran and we posted an infographic summarizing PIN responses we’d received to that point. During the show listeners went to the website to see the infographic and shared their tipping practices via the form. When people saw that others had responded and that we had read and used their responses, they were motivated to add their voice to the conversation. We received about 200 more responses from people new to the PIN.

And now a note about the online feature: initially we planned on displaying the responses on a map of the United States. We had technical difficulties, so our web designer threw together the infographic at the last minute. If you take a look, you can see that responses are presented in a manner that makes them look like some kind of scientific poll was taken. Although we clearly state that these numbers come from a sampling of sources from the Public Insight Network, I’m not sure I’d use data like this again in the future. Any thoughts on this? We’re currently working on the map, which should be posted on the Marketplace website within the next couple of weeks.

At this point I have deactivated the online form, but before I did, I thought I’d put out one more call for responses on Twitter and Facebook. I basically said that 450 people have already told Marketplace about their tipping habits, it’s your last chance to tell us yours. My goal was to reach 500 responses. Within about an hour I received almost a hundred more responses. I had to close down the form because we didn’t actually want that much data.

Jeff Tyler is now working on a second story on this topic, but from the perspective of those who work in industries whose salaries are dependent on tips. I created a query for that story, and we’ve received some excellent, very detailed responses and have had several workers say thank you for asking them about this topic.

My two lessons from this project: people feel very strongly about the issue of tipping and posting content that shows you’re using source’s responses is a great way to motivate others to respond. (Alison Brody)

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