A Crash Course in Listening for Journalists

Josh Stearns
May 20, 2015 · 4 min read

In December of last year Jeanne Brooks predicted that 2015 would be a year of more listening and more collaborating. Over the last few years I’ve certainly seen a rise in interest in modes and models of listening within journalism. You can see evidence of this in projects like the Washington Post’s “This Year I Learned” series and Melody Kramer’s interviews on how people outside the news get their news. Journalism school programs like CUNY’s new social journalism degree and the New School’s new design+journalism courses are putting journalism at the core of their curriculum.

For a few months I have been collecting interesting links about listening in journalism (as well as other civic sectors). Below is a round up on interesting reads. This is by no means comprehensive, there is a long and rich history of scholarship and writing on the art of listening. So please add your favorites or your thoughts in the comments, or drop me a note on Twitter: @jcstearns.

Five Kinds of Listening for Newsrooms and Communities

By Josh Stearns (me)
“Too often newsrooms approach listening as a transaction — you give me info, I’ll give you journalism. We need to move beyond transactional listening to something more transformational that helps reshape newsrooms, communities and the ties that bind us. To do that, we have to make listening a part of the entire journalism process.”
(See also these remixes of my post: Five kinds of Listening for the global development community by Zara Rahman and Five Kinds of Listening for Technologists and Communities by Laurenellen McCann)

Reimagining news from the ground up: Creating journalism that’s deeply engaging and responsive to our communities’ needs.

By Andrew Haeg
“The mix of trusted institutions might be different in your community. But the point remains the same: People will talk about hard things when someone’s listening and when they believe they can make a difference, even in a small way.”

Photo by Tim Pierce, used via creative commons

What I Have Learned About the Art of Listening

By Kate Krontiris
“Listening is the art of making others eloquent… to be a skillful listener, it really helps to have had the experience of being listened to.”

Sensing as Listening: How sensor journalism helps us listen to our environment and each other

By Lily Bui
“If we think of a sensor as something that is able to “listen” to its environment, we might consider sensing as a form of immersion in that environment; a mode of knowledge generation/transfer; and a polestar of human-centered design.”

The Need For Listening and Empathy in Journalism

By Josh Stearns (me)
“While journalism is rooted in interviews, there’s not enough discussion about the need to listen to our communities. And by listening, I don’t mean simply talking to sources or listening for story leads, I mean listening for the sake of understanding and building truly reciprocal relationships with communities.”

Photo by hobvias sudoneighm, used via creative commons

The Listening Cycle, Part I and The Listening Cycle, Part II

By Jessica Steimer
Written for advocacy groups, this how-to guide offers a lot of great tips and advice for doing “big listening” in social media.

Krista Tippett: Compassion in news ‘too often comes in the form of feel-good feature stories’

By Mallary Tenore
“Listening is a hugely powerful form of attention; it’s presence. And if you are really listening, you are genuinely curious and you are open to being surprised and changed by what comes back at you.”

Listening as a designer, not a journalist, helped me look deeper

By Charla Bear
“’I don’t have time for the news.’ … If I listen to this as a journalist, it sounds pretty dismal. But I’m learning to listen as a design thinker, which encourages me to look deeper.”

Active Listening 101 for Civic Tech

By Laurenellen McCann
“Active listening is the art of focusing: lending your full attention to what a person or a bunch of people have to say and how they say it before responding. It’s both a skill and a series of practices.”

Photo by David Robert Bliwas, used via creative commons

Josh Stearns is the Associate Director of the Public Square Program at Democracy Fund. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearns.

Josh Stearns

Written by

Director, Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. Journalism and democracy of, by and for the people. Formerly: @grdodge @freepress

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