December in PIN newsrooms: "In our experience," bike outreach, an editorial team comes together, plus two new national partners

Joellen Easton -



New year, new territory

Hi All, and happy new year!

This month I'm happy to share a couple of important updates from APM with you, in addition to pulling together notes about the work of your colleagues.

The first announcement has to do with APM's new PIN editorial team.  In December, APM hired two senior reporters, who -- with collaborations editor Jacqui Banaszynski and engagement editor Jeff Jones, are about to embark on a month-long pilot of new national PIN reporting opportunities, pulling threads that are wholly derived from insight gathered through the PIN.  To introduce the new folks:

JeffSevernsGuntzel.JPGJeff Severns Guntzel brings with him a knack for data mining, a penchant for crowd-sourcing, and a passion for collaborative storytelling. At MinnPost, where he spent the past year doing investigative reporting and data-driven projects, it was common to see the words “teamed up with” after Jeff’s name. His Intelligencer column is a great example of the kind of conversational, transparent journalism PIN aspires to do.  Prior to working at MinnPost, Jeff was a senior editor at the Utne Reader. He has reported from the Middle East and elsewhere for the National Catholic Reporter and has covered political and cultural developments from Minneapolis as a staff writer for Village Voice Media.  Recently, Jeff wrote on Google+ that if he ever has to find a new career, “it will either be librarian or GIS guy.” Lucky for us, we found him first.

NealKarlen.jpgNeal Karlen is a seasoned journalist with a bevy of books and magazine articles to his name.  Neal has been an an associate editor at Newsweek, staff writer at Rolling Stone, and regular contributor to The New York Times. He is the author of seven books on topics from punk rock to minor league baseball to Chasidic Jewry. His collaborations range from co-writing a rock opera with Prince ("The Dawn")  to collaborating with vaudeville comic Henny Youngman on his memoirs ("Take My Life, Please").  In 2009, Neal earned a master’s degree under the University of Minnesota’s New Media Initiative, learning how to use social media to get the news out fast and in hybrid forms. He has taught feature writing at the U. and, more recently, literary non-fiction. He has a quick mind, a dry wit, and a rabbit named Bunny Lebowski.

To help us pull together this new reporting venture, we have one more position to fill -- a hot associate editor spot.  Please send any on-the-market talented & hungry editors here.

The second announcement is about partners -- two new and exciting ones:  NPR and PBS NewsHour have now joined the PIN family.  This past week Alison and I trained both of them in DC.  NPR actually sent their first query today, and everyone in the room at training was brimming with ideas for national queries and finding ways to connect with partners around the country on projects.  NewsHour staff focused their initial query writing on a few long-term projects on which they, too, are hoping they can collaborate with partners.  I won't reveal what they're digging into yet, so stay tuned! 


The Lens and WWOZ, New Orleans

Bicycle outreach à sources & stories à story lead à photo essay à comments!

Mitchell-442x604.jpgInsight New Orleans finally produced its first PINfluenced story in the final days of 2011, and we’ve seen extremely positive feedback and engagement as a result.  A few months ago, The Lens released a query titled How’s Life on a Bike in New Orleans? and quickly received more responses than we'd gathered than on any other query.  We were regaled with tails of murderous drivers and bottomless potholes, and were impressed by the sources’ suggestions for policy and infrastructure changes that would make New Orleans a safer place for bikers and pedestrians. Many of the answers specified certain intersections around town that were particularly treacherous, so one of our reporters decided to find out more about those danger hot spots by reviewing cycling fatalities and injuries associated with those areas. From there we sent out a photographer to capture images and insights from folks rolling by that day. In this way, we created a hybrid photo essay: half of the subjects were PIN sources; the other half were sources found at intersections provided by sources. PIN was a fantastic tool for this project.  It not only provided insights from folks who were only a phone call away, but also led us to sources who have infrequent access to the Internet. You can check out the story here: Cyclists being seen, hope to be heard.

Insight New Orleans spent the holidays hustling to bring more sources into the network as well, with PIN presence at our local Treme Gumbo Fest and The People Say Project, a live interview show with local cultural leaders. (Maggie Calmes)

Minnesota Public Radio

Mapping organizes insights as they come in, long-term tracking of unemployment stories brings poignant voices to air

Many post offices in rural Minnesota may be closing. We contacted PIN sources living in or near these towns and simply asked them to send us a picture of the post office. We got an amazing response and are currently putting together a web feature that will showcase these photos and the insights people shared. To get a sense of the scope… check out this map.  The blue dots represent the photos we’ve received, yellow represents places where a PIN source has told us they will get us a photo and red represents towns where we haven’t heard back yet. We intend to do another round of contacting to turn some of those red dots blue.

20111222_david-rogde_39__1_.jpgA shooting at a county courthouse in northern Minnesota prompted us to ask attorneys, law enforcement and others who regularly visit courthouses to tell us about how safe they feel. We got some great responses for some quick turnaround work on air and on our Big Story blog, and it also spurred a follow-up story that a reporter is currently working on.  Our work tracking sources employment experiences during and after the recession continues to pay off.  (David Rogde, at left, sought paralegal training after he lost his job as a computer operator. He never found work as a paralegal and says the $4,000 in workforce funds he got from the state may have been a waste of taxpayer money.)  PIN sources also provided great perspective and voices for our coverage of the closing of the Ford plant in St. Paul(Molly Bloom)

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Place-based series both learns from and recruits PIN sources

astoria.jpgPIN has proven to be instrumental for a series called “Our Town,” by OPB’s radio talk show Think Out Loud. PIN has helped producers figure out what questions we should be asking and who we should feature on the live one-hour show that takes place in communities across the state. As we research the show and gather community perspectives, producers ask community members to sign up for PIN, so the series has also proven to be an excellent PIN recruiting tool as well. We feature photos and snapshot quotes from some of the new PIN sources on the Our Town website, so sources immediately know that their insights are important.

120111_manyahelman_small.jpgPIN sources have also showed up with great new story ideas about health care in Oregon. Take this doctor near Salem, Oregon, who wrote in to tell us about how she saves her practice money by not accepting health insurance. Our reporter loves the new ideas that come in and the sources are a boon to our year-long health care series(Amanda Peacher)


Telling stories "in our experience" = responses made for multimedia

mandolin_kqed.pngLast month’s In Our Experience show focused on being multi-ethnic. We received about 80 responses to the query, which inspired me to create online content with the sources who we couldn’t fit on the show. The result was a compelling collection of excerpts and a really great photo slideshow by our web intern Michelle Gachet.  (At left, Mandolin Kadera-Redmond holding a photograph of her mom.  Her parents are Czechoslovakian and African-American, and as a child she was asked if she was adopted.

This month on In Our Experience we’ll be talking to the formerly incarcerated. At first I was nervous about finding folks to talk, but we’ve already received a handful of responses.

Another highlight of last month was receiving about a dozen responses from truck drivers and others working in the trucking industry. Unfortunately, the responses came in too late to use them for our coverage of the ports shut downs but next time we’ll have them lined up. (Amanda Stupi)

Fronteras: The Changing America Desk

Simple queries sometimes have the highest payoff

jami_top_t600.jpgIn December, we ran one of the most important stories to come from our PIN outreach yet. Through a generic "share your story" link, we met a woman (at right) who ran into unimaginable roadblocks trying to get mental health treatment for her troubled pre-teen son.

Her openness and bravery in telling her own story are a great example of the kinds of people we can meet using the PIN. Check out the story here(Nick Blumberg)

Changing Gears

Convening sources, and planning a national project.  Want to get involved?

CG_Getting_By_3_FINAL.jpgIn the spirit of year end wrap ups Changing Gears produced a one-hour special on how economics have affected the day-to-day lives of Illinois residents. Eight people participated in the conversation, six of whom came through the Public Insight Network (participants around the table at WBEZ, at left). The voices and stories that came through were authentic and powerful. We heard from a returning vet who is optimistic about a new career, a state employee dealing with furlough days even as unemployed family members move back under her roof, and a couple forced to give up on their plans to adopt a child because they can't sell their one bedroom condos and buy the two bedroom place regulations require.

A preview and an appeal: In January we are launching a project to document some of the migration out of the Midwest over the past few years. We want to hear from people who have left the Midwest over the last four years. We're curious to see where they ended up, and if they think it's better where they are now. We would appreciate the help and participation of PIN newsrooms across the country. We are able to share any local sources that come in through this query with the local newsrooms. Here's the query(Sarah Alvarez)

The St. Louis Beacon and Nine Network

Personal stories on a film panel, extending American Graduate conversations 

troop_panel_Nine_Network.JPGNine Network's December 1st screening and discussion of the Community Cinema film “Troop 1500” was made richer by PIN. The film is about a unique Girl Scout troop in Texas that unites girls and mothers in prison. It explores how families struggle to mend fractured relationships while mothers serve time in prison for serious crimes.            

Through a query seeking similar stories, we located a mother and son who speak publicly about their relationship struggle during and after her imprisonment for forgery and bad check writing. Their honest conversation after the screening of the film as part of a panel was both impactful and helpful as they supplied resources and agency information to the audience. They were a real PIN find that added a lot of credibility to the discussion.  The picture at right shows, from the left: son Ryan (now age 23) and mother Jean (who now works with other women at the organization Center for Women in Transition)

Nine Network ‘s newest project is American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, which is designed to address the dropout crisis across the country.  Nine held a Teacher Town Hall at the station with 100 local teachers to discuss issues surrounding the dropout crisis facing communities and schools. To engage and continue the discussion, we sent the teachers who attended the Town Hall a query asking which school issues are most important to them.  I started a PIN American Graduate blog discussion  on Nine Network’s PIN page with the 17 teachers who responded.  Several teachers continued to engage on the site, and the most promising discussion was on bullying in schools. We plan on holding a face-to-face discussion later in January with these teachers and several other persons who answered the December bullying query.  I will continue to engage and promote the discussion reaching out to more teachers through social media. (Sydney Meyer)

Reflecting on 2011 joys, challenges, and art on a  budget

reike300BlessingTreeKids.jpgThe Beacon had a couple of great PIN-informed contributions in December. In one, we invited PIN sources to reflect on 2011 and share their joys and their challenges. This allowed us to compile a year-end report that was not only informative, but helped provide news content during the slow holiday week. In the other, Beacon arts reporter Nancy Fowler was able to refer back to responses submitted for a broad, prospecting query in June. These gave her great suggestions to share of how folks are stretching their tight budgets to still be able to enjoy the arts in these tough economic times.  (The Reike children, at left, enjoying their "blessing tree."(Linda Lockhart)


WLRN/The Miami Herald

Querying on a hot local trend sparks discussion, coverage and traffic

I wrote a story about youth migration patterns out of South Florida, after learning about the trend a Brookings Institute study, which I read about on Twitter. Noticing that Miami had one of the highest net out-migrations, I wrote up a query and sent it out to 800 or so PIN sources in the age group.

Instead of sending it through Lyris, I sent out a very personalized email through my address, and blind copied everyone. I got such a huge response! People were tickled with the laid-back approach of the email, and many forwarded along to their friends. I got so many colorful people, and contacted 20+ of them. It created a huge buzz. People contacted me to say that they were organizing forums to discuss this issue in their organizations, and one organization has invited me to attend the forum to offer some insight on the issue. They want to stop the out-migration.

Many people contacted me to thank me for putting this issue out there. Many said they've felt this way about Miami, but did not realize that there were numbers to back up their suspicions.

south_florida_wordle.pngI also created a Wordle that mapped everyone's query response, to show which words most resonated (right). Not only is that an interesting way to map what people had to say, it also makes it so everyone sees that their responses are used in some way. It makes everyone feel included in the article, even if they were not all quoted in it.

At the same time, a reporter at WLRN was working on the opposite angle to the story -- about people who decided to stay in South Florida despite the difficulty. The audio story is linked on the story page as well. I shared PIN sources with the reporter, and she interviewed some of the people, but now I can't remember if she ended up featuring them in her story or not.

The article was featured on the front page of The Miami Herald, and El Nuevo Herald. All the photos used for the article were provided by the PIN sources themselves. This story was one of the most viewed on our website for the month of December, but it's interesting that the PIN article had many more local views than any other article. It was the most emailed and most shared for at least the whole month, and I believe the most shared on Facebook for the whole year.  It was featured on the local Huffington Post site, and when I checked our stats, I saw that 53% of the traffic to the article came from other websites, 30% came from social media, and 5% came from search engines.

PIN also informed stories about Miami's status as the vainest cityquestionable claims of short ER wait times on billboards, and this story about a baby boomer who decided to start up a ballroom dancing business after retirement. 

The ballroom dancing story came to us from a PIN source who responded to our "So you're a baby boomer - now what?" query.  According to the editor and reporter, many of the people who replied to that query will be included in a series of stories that they're writing on aging, and many of the issues sources brought up have sparked story ideas. (Deborah Acosta

Colorado Public Radio

A good-news approach to year-in-review coverage

Polly_Letofsky_-_motivational_speaker.jpgWe saw great success with a December query that paralleled an NPR series. We added a twist to more traditional year-in-review reporting by asking the public to look back at 2011 and reflect on something positive within the past year, despite political and economic doom and gloom.  It came together in an on-air piece and we're experimenting with a new on-air strategy of phoning listeners and bringing them into the conversation with me and host Ryan Warner.

Here's the link to the piece. At left, PIN source Polly Letofsky's motivational speaking business "soared" in 2011, despite the economy. (Lee Hill




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