November in PIN newsrooms: Three new series, eight risky roadways, hundreds of hunters, 507 short creative writings

Joellen Easton -


Hi everyone,

Last week I asked you to send me short writeups of what you did in the last month with PIN that was particularly awesome.  And...I got what I asked for.

These monthly notes can get kind of long -- but don't miss these below: Dan Grech's walk through the Miami Herald and WLRN's most recent innovative PIN project that captured the imaginations of South Floridians...Ashley Alvarado's moving description of how California Watch's community meetings in community spaces are improving their reporting on the Eastern Coachella Valley.... Maggie Calmes at The Lens writes about reaching out to bike riders passing through eight of New Orleans' most dangerous intersections about their experiences with road quality.... Angela Kim from Marketplace explains why training reporters to use PIN makes her job easier and more rewarding... and a Hearst TV station in PA is piloting PIN with some great results.  Read to the end to see how a query about hunting on Sundays bagged 400+ sources and insights.

A small bit of housekeeping: You can make AIR a better resource for everybody by going to your user profile page and adding your phone number and a profile pic. Need help? Check out this tutorial

This month, whichever holiday you celebrate (or not) -- eat well, drive safely, and enjoy your friends, family and colleagues. 


WLRN and The Miami Herald

The South Florida Flash: A writing contest takes off

"The hospital bed was a rental. They put it in the living room, facing into the backyard. Her mind may have slipped elsewhere, but her gaze kept up with the day. Alex sat next to her in a chair and held his mother’s hand..."  -- Miles Black, Miami

flash.jpgThe rules of the South Florida Flash writing contest were simple: keep it short and make it about South Florida. More than 500 people took up the challenge sponsored by WLRN-Miami Herald News.

The 507 entries ranged from lyric poetry to searing memoir. They poured in from 13 states, including Wyoming, Tennessee and Washington. And they featured the perspectives of teenagers and octogenarians.

We partnered with HistoryMiami on the contest, and all the entries will be added to the museum’s “Miami Stories” archive.  Our hard-working preliminary judges, local authors David Gonzalez and David Beatty, faced the daunting task of whittling down entries totaling more than 120,000 words to a list of 25 finalists.

The finalists reflect the full range of experience and personality of South Florida. All of the finalists are from Florida. They range in age from 15-year-old Osmany Corteguera, who wrote a David Mamet-like flash fiction piece called “My Neighbor,” to 83-year-old Arnold Slotkin, whose fiction story “A Birthday” tackles death and memory and manages a surprise ending in a spare 305 words.

readers_choice_flash.pngAnd then there was Miriam Rosen (at right). The 67-year-old from Miami managed to have four entries among the finalists, three poems and a piece of nonfiction. That’s no small feat, considering it’s easier to get into Harvard than to make our finalists list.

You can read the finalists, and see which ones got the most votes on the Tumblog we set up for the contest, at  Full information about the contest is on the Herald's site.

The contest wrapped up with an event at HistoryMiami on November 17, to announce the winners. A number of finalists read their pieces and guest literary judge John Dufresne picked a winner in each of four categories and the best in show. The winners got schwag and a dinner with WLRN-Miami Herald News host Chris DiMattei. (Dan Grech)


New series launched, hat tip to OPB

In November we launched a new PIN-driven series on Forum, modeled after OPB's As We Are series. We're calling ours In My Experience.  It's a new monthly segment that represents a markedly new approach for Forum. Response to the first show, on long-term unemployment, was very positive.  The second show will discuss being mixed-race. It hasn't aired yet but we've had a great response to the query.  We're still playing with the formatting a bit, and are excited to get more personal stories on the air.  Thanks, OPB, for sharing your idea! (Amanda Stupi)

Colorado Public Radio

So... here's what happened:

cpr_reunion.jpgOn November 30, CPR kicked off our new PIN-fueled series "Here's What Happened." We've turned to the public, asking them to share their most unforgettable experiences and compelling stories. The ones that consistently get a strong reaction -- either leaving people speechless, wanting to give them a hug ... or laughing until they’re in stitches! The stories are both life-changing and bizarre.

In the first episode, we hear from Colorado woman Ginny Wilkins (right, provided by Wilkins) who traveled to her hometown in New York, where -- after stopping to use a public restroom -- she unknowingly stumbled into her 40th high school reunion! The revelation came as she was using the ladies' room and overheard curious restroom chatter among women who would turn out to be classmates she hadn't seen in decades who were gathered for the festivities. (Lee Hill)

California Watch & Center for Investigative Reporting

Engagement paying dividends for reporting

bottes.jpgNovember was an exciting month at California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Many long-planned engagement efforts finally took place, including a community meeting on solutions in the Eastern Coachella Valley, a community meeting about pollution in Maywood (at left, bottles of contaminated tap water brought by residents, picture by Ashley Alvarado), and a mentorship session with student reporters in Coachella. We held yet another Open Newsroom. At each step, we did PIN sign-ups. Through these events, we've brought in a couple dozen sources. That's probably not overly impressive to all newsrooms, but those are good numbers for us. We've also brainstormed with community members about how we can best use PIN and Mobile Commons to inform and strengthen our reporting AND bring attention to the issues that most affect them. We're not quite ready to talk about those goals yet, but I'm excited for what is coming. (Ashley Alvarado)

WDET, Detroit

Community engagement continues to reap rewards while building attention

In November WDET headed back into the community to continue an ongoing series of meeting with residents in various cities and neighborhoods around Detroit. November’s effort was concentrated on the inner ring suburbs of Southfield and the Grosse Pointe community.

Southfield.pngTurnout for the Southfield event (right) was great. About 35 people joined the conversation with WDET staff to talk about their community: the perceptions, the reality and the engagement opportunities. We promoted our query for Southfield before the November 2nd event, used some responses on-air in a re-cap, and we also posted a slideshow from the event.

On November 16th we hosted a community listening session in the Grosse Pointes (right), and the turnout was exceptional: about 45 people talked about the perceptions, the reality and the engagement opportunities in their neighborhood.  We queried to help plan this event as well, and we used some of the responses from the PIN query to talk about Grosse Pointe on the air before and after the event. (Pictures by WDET.)

grosse_pointe.pngAfter both events, attendees received follow up e-mails re-capping the respective evenings and inviting them to join the PIN and continue their engagement with WDET.  Both events received local media coverage, including a Southfield Cable channel video and write ups from Grosse Pointe Today and Grosse Pointe Patch. (Rob St. Mary)

The Lens & WWOZ, New Orleans

The Lens got rolling with PIN this month -- like, literally. 

We've seen a lot of return on two queries concerning wheeled vehicles. We launched a Tumblr this month to curate website content and to better host, illustrate, and present our queries. You can see a post explaining our "Tracking the Trailers" query here.  The Lens, along with researchers and chemists from The University of Oxford, reported in May that formaldehyde-ridden and potentially still-toxic FEMA trailers were being sold on the open market without adequate warning or documentation of health risks. Well, fresh testing has revealed extremely high levels of formaldehyde in trailers in Mississippi, where residents are reporting severe health problems typically associated with the toxic chemical. We hope that these recent tests, along with results forthcoming in the near future, will bring more attention to our query and, simultaneously, to the possible danger of these trailers that have been sent all over the country in the wake of natural disasters and a housing crisis.

nola_road.jpgThe Lens also released a query a few months ago on the difficult, and, at times, terrifying experiences of those riding bicycles as their main mode of transportation in New Orleans. This query came out of a series of stories on federal grants meant for road improvement in a city riddled with buckling sidewalks, massive potholes, and few bike lanes. We received a considerable number of responses, which helped us determine eight of the most dangerous intersections for cyclists in New Orleans. We'll be profiling some of our responders in print and photo, and posting up at those intersections to asks folks on two wheels what kinds of policy changes they'd like to see regarding the roads. (Picture by Aubrey Edwards for The Lens)

WWOZ's November's activity focused on outreach events and gathering sources for Insight New Orleans. Briana set up shop at the third annual Po-Boy Festival last weekend and brought 30+ new sources for the Gulf Coast region.  WWOZ also rolled out a new query concerning public violence after a slew of shootings that occurred in New Orleans on Halloween night.  WWOZ is also gearing up to launch a PINfluenced blog for its website,, which enjoys a broad reach. WWOZ will also begin integrating PINfluenced stories and queries into its on-air programming. (Maggie Calmes)


A Marketplace/NYT series, playing with Tumblr, and why training reporters pays off

murphys.jpgMarketplace Money has been working on a series of stories about housing in America with the New York Times. One of the folks they profiled came to us through PIN: Bernie Murphy (left, with wife Joyce) talked about how he owes more on his home than what it’s worth but he’s he getting through it. This is the second series Marketplace Money and the New York Times have worked on together – in both cases utilizing PIN.

I sent out an exploratory query about shopping which netted us a source for one of our Black Friday stories: Dina O’Leary shared which items swayed her into certain stores. As we are in the middle of holiday shopping season, we hope to use more sources in our retail stories this month. I’ve been posting queries on our the new Marketplace Insights Tumblr site – it’s simple and doesn’t take took long to post. I’m testing it out to see if it’s a useful tool to get our queries out to a different audience.

Lastly, this has been a busy month of training at Marketplace. I’ve been training a producer on each of the Marketplace shows to search in AIR. We now have 11 people trained on staff and I’ve been offering up refresher sessions with those reporters who trained a while ago. Allowing those on staff to search the database give me more time to work on foundational reporting and outreach. Plus, the best part is the reporters are beginning to understand how PIN works and the best uses for the network. (Angela Kim)

Southern California Public Radio

People just love to talk about cars.  How that insight can fuel future coverage.

KPCC circulated questions that not only contributed to our journalism, but have the additional value of helping us learn more about lifestyles and values of people in the Network.

insight.pngPeople love to tell us about their cars. We asked “What are you driving and what’s your next car?” We collected questions they wanted our reporters to ask the experts at the L.A. Auto Show. Sure, that’s an easy topic – one that some might dismiss as better handled with man-on-the-street interviews -- but the lasting value of using the Network for this are the wonderfully detailed stories people told us about their best and worst cars. Those will aid our future automotive and lifestyle coverage. We got a few stories and blog posts out of the responses, most of which asked about fuel efficiency and hybrid cars.  Our reports included one about the Honda Insight's status as most fuel efficient hybrid (parts at an Insight repair shop at right), and another questioning automakers' progress on fuel efficiency.

Sending questions when a news story reaches a turning point yields people who are motivated to share personal stories. I launched questions about Occupy LA the day the mayor ordered it shut down. I asked people what they made of Occupy LA’s goals and tactics, but also about their own histories of activism and civil disobedience. That turned up people telling stories of their involvement in protests reaching back to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. No stories out of this just yet. However, as events change, I’ve updated the intro language and questions to reflect the latest.

Side note: If you click on the Occupy LA question link, you will see another link at the end of the intro that invites readers to click if they are using a mobile device. That toggles the reader to a stripped-down set of questions on the same topic that are better formatted for a smart phone. I added the mobile phone link to test the theory that it was too hard to read our usual-format questions on smart phones. However, I’ve gotten very few responses on the mobile link, so I’m not sure that cell phone legibility is an issue. I’d be interested in hearing others’ experiences in optimizing questions for smart phones. (Sharon McNary)

Changing Gears LJC

Getting out of the way so sources can tell their own stories

Word_cloud_2.JPGThis month I would like to highlight the work done for Michigan Radio's "Culture of Class" series. These were non-narrated pieces used between longer pieces and in an hour-long documentary. They highlight some different views on class struggle.  In the series we hear from Rikka Bos, Justin Paravano and Danielle Malczewski.  We also used PIN to gather listener feedback on the series, and put those responses together in a word cloud (at right) for a web piece.

In conjunction with our Empty Places series we launched a map on our website where our recent stories are geo-tagged, a great tool for a regional project. You can see the map on the right-hand side of our website.

And we did three "Your Story" pieces. Each of these tries to tell the story of the re-invention of the industrial Midwest through a personal lens, with economic facts and data wrapped around the narrative. There's a story on family lending, the difficulties of renovating an old building, and my personal favorite-an audio slideshow showing what Gary, Indiana is doing with its empty buildings. (Sarah Alvarez)

WGAL, Lancaster County, PA

Tapping what people wanted to talk about: hunting on Sunday

sunday_hunting.pngWGAL, a Hearst television station in Lancaster County, PA is piloting PIN as a resource for their reporting on the job market. We wanted to share one example in particular: the success of a query about hunting on Sundays -- a query that struck a nerve, told a story they wouldn't have told otherwise and expanded the source base the station can draw upon for their jobs queries. Getting people in the door (hunting query) loads up the database for people who could comment from experience on the state of the job market. It's a two-step approach that, put simply, works.

Andrew Pulskamp, WGAL's Digital Executive Producer, recaps how the station used the powerful combination of on-air and web to gather 400+ new sources with the hunting query:

"1. We posted the query in the main media window on shortly before noon. It was fairly high in the window at that point. I think it was the No. 4 item. That generated a lot of responses. And we used the copy you sent us verbatim, which let us turn it around quickly. Here's the link. Note: we looped in some u local content in here too, which is driving pageviews for us -- the u local crowd has responded to deer hunting topics previously.

"2. We put a call-out on Facebook in the middle of the afternoon. That pushed some more responses and another discussion on Facebook itself -- about 53 comments there. Here's the link (you'll have to scroll down a bit).

"3. We did an on-air call out in the 5:30 p.m. show. Our news producer John Mason wrote very effective copy that generated an instant response. We started seeing a query response per minute shortly after the on-air push. We also moved the web query to the No. 1 spot in the media window at that point. We have a real-time metric that showed us the query was the top story on the site, which gave us a great justification to move it all the way to the top. Here's the on-air call-out

"So, we had a nice multi-front approach that really clicked. I thought the on-air callout was especially effective."

To engage these new sources on the job market topic, WGAL will reach out to all the new sources with a thank you note that links to a query about jobs. WGAL has already produced two on-air stories from the job market queries since beginning the pilot project at the end of October. (Mike Caputo)




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