September in PIN newsrooms: Partnership squared

Joellen Easton -

September is a month to double down

I remember when I was in school September was always time to get serious.  Hit the books.  But it means something in the "real world" too.  And looking at what you've all been working on, it seems true in PIN newsrooms, too.  In September, you've kicked lots of projects -- especially collaborative projects -- into high gear:

CPI piloted the new "Insight Button" widget (sometimes referred to as the "PIN button") on iWatchNews, and got exactly what they needed from sources to inform the followup story.  CPI's Cole Goins is also co-teaching a class at the University of Maryland to teach PIN to students and work PIN into a student reporting project.  CPI is also partnering with PRI on a state corruption project, and they're querying sources in every state about their experiences with state government.  WDET is kicking off a major series of public insight forums in the community, following on their success with two forums in the spring.  Fronteras is getting to know the Congolese immigrant community.  California Watch and CIR are working with the APM PIN team to pilot the Insight Button and a new visualization tool we've been working on called Skyline.  Changing Gears is being really deliberate about connecting the community outreach they're doing to immediate content on air and on their site.  The Lens and WWOZ are leading a collaboration with CIR/California Watch, the Miami Herald and the St Louis Beacon to track the spread of FEMA trailers across the country.  Colorado Public Radio is changing up their monthly governor interview format, working with PIN sources to find the right questions.  Marketplace's analyst Angela Kim is starting to blog about the experiences of PIN sources on  Not In Our Town is forging partnerships with KQED and Fronteras to ask questions about community safety.  WNYC is working with the New York Times on SchoolBook, using PIN to dive deeply into stories from parents and educators.  The Miami Herald is working with Open Media Miami to host community meetings to inform reporting.  CIR worked on a joint query with MPR to investigate peoples' experiences with security and detention.  And OPB is using PIN to reach deep into sources' networks to find just the right people to follow for a long term reporting project. 

From PIN central, just a few updates:

  • Expect an email next week about how you can start using the Insight Button. 
  • Annie will be in touch soon with results from September's "demographic derby."  (The upshot for those who don't mind spoilers: when we ask sources to tell us more about themselves, they do.)
  • EmailLabs and Formbuilder templates are being upgraded on November 15 (see my note earlier this week). 
  • We're planning a webinar for late October on "sleeper features" in AIR -- if you want to learn about AIR functionality you may not use or even know about, please attend.  Invite to come next week.
  • In the coming month we'll be doing PIN trainings with journalists at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, ImpreMedia, WAMU, the Investigative Reporting Workshop, and Twin Cities Public Television.


Center for Public Integrity/iWatchNews -- Piloting the Insight Button, teaching students, and state corruption reporting

It’s been a busy month for PIN in the iWatch newsroom. Our biggest success came with our pilot launch of the new “Insight button,” which we used to solicit responses from former mortgage industry workers in our two-part series detailing a former Countrywide Financial executive who uncovered massive fraud at the company. We quickly received more than 30 rich, in-depth replies from a variety of sources from the mortgage industry, along with citizens who have lost their homes in foreclosures. One of the responses we received from the first story detailed fraudulent use of fax machines at a Countrywide branch, which the whistleblower also recalled during her time at the firm. Reporter Michael Hudson was able to add in those important details for the second half of the story the next day. Hudson is planning to use insights from the responses we received to inform more stories in his ongoing series, “The Great Mortgage Cover-Up.”  We’re excited to experiment more with the Insight button on our website, giving our readers an easy way to share their experience and help inform our investigative reporting.

As part of a new election-year series, The Raw Deal, iWatch reporters are working with the Huffington Post and students at the University of Maryland’s School of Journalism to show how corporate actions and government decisions have left America’s working families with falling wages, shrinking benefits and jobs shipped overseas. PIN will play a large role in helping find sources for the series, and we’ve already started distributing queries to locate families that have been most affected by the Great Recession. Engagement Editor Cole Goins and Senior Reporter Jack Farrell have been working with Deb Nelson’s class of UMD students to collaboratively build the online forms, brainstorm ways to reach out to diverse communities and tell the stories of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. It’s a big project and we’re excited about the potential for PIN to help us extend our reach and engage working families across the country.

We’re also collaborating with partners Global Integrity and Public Radio International on the State Corruption Investigation, which seeks to measure the risk of government corruption in each state. We’re using PIN to collect feedback and ideas from residents on how state government can be more effective and transparent, and will use responses to spark discussion around the issues on our State Corruption website. (Cole Goins)

WDET, Detroit -- From the South Pole to Southfield: authentic voices make for compelling radio

wdet_south_pole.jpgIt’s been a busy late summer/early fall in Detroit. In late August, WDET started a series of queries around the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. We sought the memories of people connected to Metro Detroit and we collected a broad range of experiences -- from a cameraman who covered the aftermath in lower Manhattan to a filmmaker/adventurer/heating contractor Paul Daniel who was at the South Pole research station on 9/11 (Daniel at right). The queries created a unique and compelling blend of stories for a special September 11th show hosted by Rob St. Mary, WDET’s Public Insight Analyst. The September 11th show gave the audience concrete examples of how PIN can create compelling content and how they can take part. 

This fall we're also developing additional conversations/editorial content related to media and self-perception issues in Southeast Michigan, promoting a range of queries on the air and online and a new segment, "Insight with Rob."  In the next few weeks, WDET will undertake an additional series of community meetings in various “inner ring suburbs” of Detroit. These discussions pick up where earlier community conversations started in February of this year. The main thrust is to get people to talk, aiding in the connection of Detroiters & suburbanites more than ever before through the use PIN engagement and editorial content in a way only public media can make possible. (Rob St. Mary)


Nine Network and the St. Louis Beacon -- Finding people with powerful stories adds context to film screenings

In September we queried sources asking for their civil rights stories to support our Community Cinema film screening of “Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock.” Daisy Bates was a largely forgotten heroine of the civil rights movement who led the charge to desegregate the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, AR in 1957.  Our goal was to collect stories to share at the screening, and PIN helped us gather two stories to add perspective and depth to the screening.  Through the query we connected with the first school to admit African-American students in Miami in the 1960's.  In Feb. 2011 the school held a living history symposium including some of the first-admitted black students.  The living history day challenged students to think historically: AP History students researched and studied the local history of school integration, and designed a series of questions to present to the guests, which helped their peers understand integration more deeply.  I'll be sharing a video from that event at our screening of the Daisy Bates film.  At the screening we'll also share the story of Ken McGee, who in 1965 was the operations manager for Carl Stokes' campaign to be the first black mayor of a major American city. Stokes was defeated in 1965 but in 1967 was elected mayor of Cleveland. Mr. McGee has written a book about this journey and will be interviewed by the Beacon for its community cinema article in January, the month of the Daisy Bates screening.

Queries from earlier in the summer also have continued to impact our engagement work: through our July query on women and girl’s organizations, we connected with Pat Rich, President of the Women's Foundation of Greater Saint Louis, who has joined our newly-created Women and Girls Lead board. We also brought eight PIN sources who shared insights on children’s mental health together for a community conversation with them on the issues of youth mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.  Some of the insights gained were used to help frame the TV spots for the youth mental health project.  I will send the link to the Youth Spots next month. They are done but aren't ready to air yet. (Sydney Meyer)


Fronteras: The Changing America Desk -- Finding some needles in the haystack, and getting to know new immigrants

fronteras_riaz.jpgCovering the tenth anniversary of September 11th posed a challenge for Fronteras that PIN solved with flying colors. We knew that coverage from NPR would be extensive, so we didn’t want to duplicate efforts. And, it’s easily one of the most widely reported stories of the 2000s, so we wanted to make sure that we could find unique and untold angles. Putting out a call to sources of our PIN found us several incredible people with varied stories who we utilized on air and online.  (Riaz Tejani, at left, shared his experiences as an Indian Muslim American.

We also reported on the possibility of an intercity rail line between Phoenix and Tucson. Searching for someone whose life regularly takes them between Arizona’s two largest cities was a breeze with the Network.  Plus, we got to know some of the Congolese refugee community and their civic engagement efforts here in the U.S. and in their home country. We’re at work on an incredible feature story about them. (Nick Blumberg)

California Watch/Center for Investigative Reporting -- Getting solid leads for investigative follow-up reporting

In September, California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting continued to look to the future, working with APM on new ways to display results (Skyline) and bring in new sources (the Insight button, which CPI has already debuted on its site). Neither is ready for our site yet, but we look forward to their implementation. On the query front, we had a couple of very successful queries. The first resulted in "For caregivers, health, well-being and finances can suffer," an honest and insightful piece that reporter Joanna Lin did on the stresses and unexpected perks of being a primary caregiver to a loved one. We also worked with MPR to query sources across the country to see whether they had been detained for engaging in suspicious activity. The responses were varied, and our reporters believe they may have found some solid sources for follow-ups to the CIR series "Under Suspicion." Meanwhile, we are continuing to prep for some of our largest-ever in-person sign-ups and looking to how we can use PIN and Mobile Commons to enrich our engagement. (Ashley Alvarado)

Changing Gears -- Challenging conventional wisdom on small businesses and manufacturing policy

JeremyandBrianPeters-300x427.jpgDuring September we focused on gathering specific types of sources into our PIN database, and figuring out new ways to highlight those sources. We recruited some folks in the agriculture community at the Eastern Market farmers market in Detroit, small business owners through a query, and continue our search for people involved in manufacturing. Some of those stories ran in September and more will run in October.  Our highlights from September include: Dan Bobkoff interviewed former Obama administration "manufacturing czar" Ron Bloom, and featured a PIN source talking about U.S manufacturing policy. We ran a well trafficked web post about "micro-enterprises" featuring different sources from PIN and challenging conventional wisdom that small businesses can easily turn into larger ones or benefit the economy (small record label owners Jeremy and Brian Peters at left).  We also ran our first guest commentary on the web, accompanied by audio. Nathan Oostendorp shared what "Open Source manufacturing" is and how he thinks it's necessary for a strong future in manufacturing.  (Sarah Alvarez)

The Lens and WWOZ, New Orleans -- Tracking FEMA trailers and getting inside protesters' heads

fema_trailer_map.JPGSeptember has been an exciting month for our fledgling Insight New Orleans. We’ve launched a project along with the University of Oxford, Miami Herald, St. Louis Beacon and California Watch that seeks to use PIN as a means of tracking potentially harmful FEMA trailers from their origins in the post-Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Gulf Coasts to resellers across the country in the wake of tornadoes and a housing crisis. We’re off to a slow start, but hope that we we’ll be able to connect with owners and past or current residents of these trailers so that we can learn more about how these trailers are dispersed on the open market and if they are hazardous.

We have also joined much of the national media and several PIN partners in covering the local chapter of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Demonstrators took to the streets on 10/6 at noon, and we had a query out by the end of the workday. We’ve already received a slew of submissions from protesters and sympathizers, as well as some counterpoints. PIN helped us turn the mic over to an underrepresented movement, and the nuanced and various responses we’ve received will inform broader, more reflective reporting on this subject as demonstrators continue to occupy the plaza across from New Orleans’ City Hall.  We’ve also utilized PIN to gather stories from folks who have had experienced injuries or difficulty navigating New Orleans on bike, which will inform a piece we’re publishing on changes to city streets.

nola_protests_copy.jpgWe’re beginning October with an eye toward criminal justice queries, as the anniversary of a much-embattled life-imprisonment case draws nigh.  It’s also the season for second lines here in New Orleans, so we’ll be querying our readers on the safety and regulation of the sometimes-violent musical gatherings. PIN is beginning to take shape as tool for bolstering and broadening our reporting: we were already executing hard-nosed, deep investigative work; now we have access to the human experience and varied backgrounds to frame and hone those articles. (Maggie Calmes & Briana Prevost)


Colorado Public Radio - Covering September 11th

We engaged the public and created a space to share perspectives on living in a post-9/11 world here in Colorado. Perhaps most influential were the deeply personal stories unearthed by PIN sources who found themselves directly connected to the tragedies of Sept. 11 and whose lives -- for better or for worse -- were forever changed.

Some of the PIN responses were strong, but didn't make the final cut for broadcast. We took a sampling of those comments and published them online as a web extra. We tossed to it at the end of the on-air report. ("To read more of what you had to say about 9/11...")

CPR News commemorated the 10th anniversary of the attacks on Sept. 11 with an hour-long special broadcast exploring life in Colorado since 2001 and how, from a variety of angles, some residents are still affected by 10-year-old acts of terror. The PIN component was the lead story for that broadcast. Editorially, I think it sent a strong message to the audience how much their insight is valued. And within our news division, it was a vote of confidence in the power of PIN.

Teaching_9_11.jpg(At left, University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Kent Willmann talks to students about their Sept. 11 memories. We heard from several educators about the challenge to teach what happened on 9/11 to students, especially in the days immediately following the attacks in 2001. Credit: Jenny Brundin/CPR)


Connecting the governor directly to constituents

hickenlooper.jpgEach month, CPR interviews Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper ( at right) for a half-hour discussion on issues shaping the political dialogue throughout the state and to learn more about his latest priorities in the state's top office. We decided to make our early-September check-in with the governor not so routine. We opened the floodgates and gave the power to the public. Using PIN, we produced an interview that was wholly audience-driven. We know that there's a lot going on in the political realm, matched by lots of passion from constituents about the political process and the role of government. So for a month leading up to our scheduled interview, we aired promos telling the public they would be the questioners for CPR's next interview with the governor.

We pushed out a query asking people whether they think the state is headed in the right direction and, if they could, what one question would they ask the governor... and why. The end result was a rich and candid interview.  There were questions voiced by a state worker upset about her pay being frozen, another from a community gardener dissatisfied with state support for producers of local agriculture. He also addressed a woman's suggestion of inefficiency within state agencies, based on her recent DMV visit!

And noticeably, the governor didn't clinch to his talking points. The dynamic of a less polished, but thoughtfully questioning public added texture ... and just seemed more raw, yet tasteful. And while not all politicians would be up for the format, the governor was a good sport about it.

We were pleased by the value and the spice added by incorporating PIN. The query responders also seemed empowered by the opportunity to share what's important to them. They were glad someone asked!! (Lee Hill)


Marketplace -- September was all about jobs: losing them, looking for them, and getting them

PIN has helped to cultivate original voices to tell the story of those looking for work. One of the segments we did was a series of three radio pieces that we ran one per day for three days. First, I created a query asking people how they are going about finding jobs. We decided to highlight three people from different generations and let the PIN sources tell in their own words how they are dealing with looking for a job. You can hear someone in their 20s, 40s, and 60s.

Recently, I received an email from one of the sources that was featured in our series and she wrote, “I wanted to send a note to you to say thank you for the Marketplace interview last month… I did also want to update you on my job hunt - I was offered, and accepted, a position yesterday… I do not know if the air time had anything to do with my current string of luck or - perhaps as we discussed - persistence in pursuit of a job one wants really can reap the most ideal results. Either way, thank you and the Marketplace Team, again, for reaching out to me. It was a pleasure.” I shared the email with my senior producer and we may check back in with her.

Marketplace has three major shows: Marketplace Morning Report, Marketplace, and Marketplace Money. In addition, we also have special productions like Economy 4.0, Freakonomics Radio, and Marketplace Tech Report. I support these projects through PIN and the work I do isn't limited to radio. The work I do gets original voices and insight from people on the ground and people doing the work that we can share with our audience. PIN sources help Marketplace with original stories and the ability to stay one step ahead of the news. (Angela Kim)

OPB -- Finding the right cast of characters to follow a story over time

garcia_family__small.jpgI’ve found PIN sources to be helpful not only directly as sources, but also to help guide me to the perfect people for our coverage. For example--OPB is working on a series about how education cuts are affecting families and schools, and to tell the story we’re following a diverse cast of characters over the course of the year. Our ed reporter found a principal and a teacher that he wanted to follow, and through PIN I found a family who were willing to be featured.

But since Oregon’s Latino population is rapidly growing, we also wanted to find a Latino family to be a part of the year-long series. I couldn’t find a family who was quite right directly in our network, but calls out to existing PIN sources helped me find the Garcia family—a perfect fit for our purposes (the Garcias, at right). Here’s the first story featuring the family. (Amanda Peacher)

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