By Summer Fields

As a former competitive public speaker on my high school speech team, I was drawn to the disciplines of radio speech. Broadcast journalism, particularly public radio speech, was something I worked on perfecting for competition. Later, as a student in sociology at the University of Chicago, I became an amateur podcast producer and a super-listener to many podcasts — ones made by both independent producers and affiliated with public radio. I got curious about public radio as an industry. I paid attention when journalism scholar Chenjerai Kumanyika identified a phenomenon he called the “Public Radio Voice,” the idea that people who present the news on NPR member stations sound a particular way. An upper-class, white way that doesn’t reflect the whole community they’re meant to serve. I came from the south suburbs of Chicago, an area that’s more racially and economically diverse than other parts of the Midwest, and I didn’t hear my America on the radio either. I decided to focus my sociology research on the implications of public radio voice for public radio’s audiences and the experiences of the people who work in the industry. …

This is a guest post from Summer Fields, an engagement strategist at Hearken.

KPCC / LAist launched new individual reporter and producer mission statements. I talked with Director of Community Engagement Ashley Alvarado about this effort — what it looks like, why they took this approach, and what tips she has if you’d like to do something similar in your newsroom.

Alvarado said that staffers have engagement-related goals as a part of their performance evaluation for the first time ever. “Ten percent of each reporter’s work needs to be done with the community.” She cited platforms and strategies like Hearken, the Public Insight Network, Typeform, GroundSource, or in-person engagement. …

You can probably think of an audience member who always has something to say about how you covered something wrong or didn’t do justice to a particular topic. Learn how the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, New York was able to shift the dynamic with a long-time critic of the newspaper through Hearken’s public-powered process.

The Democrat & Chronicle (D&C) is a newspaper within the Gannett network in Rochester, New York. This year, they launched Time to Educate, an initiative looking to point the way toward solutions to end educational inequity in their community.

For this project, the newsroom has prioritized outreach and engagement in many ways, including:

  • convening a parental advisory board
  • going on local Spanish-language radio to talk through their latest reporting
  • using Hearken’s public-powered process to gather questions, let the audience vote on what they most want answered, and bring questioners along for the reporting process.

One of the first questions they received through Hearken came from longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, Howard Eagle: “What is being done to address individual, institutional, and structural racism in the Rochester City School District?” D&C put this question up for a vote against a couple other audience-submitted questions, and Howard’s question won first place. …

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For the sake of metadata, here’s a shot of our whiteboarded hiring process fall 2017.

We’re hiring another engagement consultant at Hearken (pass it on!) and I’m grateful to have our own guide to look back to as we recreate the process. I co-wrote this with Julia Haslanger back in fall after we hired Janine Anderson!

We recently hired our 9th full-time employee. The Hearken team is proud to have developed a transparent, collaborative, and well-defined system for hiring that attracted a diverse pool of strong applicants. …

Curious City tackles a 5-year-old’s question about a complex system, answers it in ways that appeal to all ages, online, on air, and IRL

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How do you report a story that satisfies the curiosity of a child and appeals to your adult audience? It’s not easy, but our partners at WBEZ stepped up to the challenge when a question-asker named Satchel submitted her question to WBEZ’s Hearken series, Curious City.

As a Hearken partner, Curious City collects questions from their audience — in this case, questions about Chicago — and reports answers to those questions for radio, podcast and web.

Satchel was 5 years old when her mom asked if she had any questions to ask Curious City. With help from Emily (her mom), Satchel submitted this question: where does your poop go when you flush the toilet?

Halloween weekend has officially begun. Grab a hot apple cider or some fun sized candies and get spooked with a Hearken Halloween special: six pieces inspired by audience questions and reported by our partner newsrooms around the world.

👻 VPR’s Brave Little State: Your Vermont Ghost Stories by Angela Evancie and Alex Keefe

Listener Allison Litten, of Wilder, Vermont tasked Brave Little State with uncovering “the most interesting, intriguing, bizarre, mysterious ghost stories” from around the state. So the team put the call out to the rest of their audience to submit their local scary tales, and they delivered. In addition to those bone-chilling tales that had me feeling spooked in broad daylight, this episode also featured a Halloween version of the Brave Little State theme, and an original audience-submitted a capella song submission about vampires. …

For the past few years, I’ve been a podcaster, and I’ve spent a lot of time teaching others how tell stories through audio as well, from storyboarding to cutting tape! 📻 You can hear all my assorted audio works from various projects at .

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Here’s some recommendations! The last piece I produced before graduating was one of my faves: in Louisa and the Summer of Pies, I chat with UChicago senior Louisa Richardson-Deppe about her self-imposed challenge of baking a pie every single week she was in Chicago last summer. …

This month at Hearken HQ, we’ve been thinking a lot about the role of delight in journalism. My colleague Ellen Mayer recently argued that it’s important for news stories to “resonate across multiple emotional frequencies,” and that journalists should embrace feelings like delight and discovery in their work. As the Assistant Community Manager at Hearken, I’m lucky to see how our partner newsrooms put these ideas into practice. As a follow up to Ellen’s piece I wanted to share with you some of my favorite delightful stories from Hearken newsrooms.

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Delight in public-powered storytelling and reporting can emerge in so many ways. In my experience at Hearken, I’ve noticed three major “flavors” of delight.🍦 …


I’m excited to announce I’ll be joining the small & mighty @wearehearken team as a community intern this March!

2:13 PM — 19 Feb 2016

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@coreyhaines Feb 19

Admittedly @sumjazfi is a dog person, not a cat person, so I’m getting rapidly outnumbered @wearehearken . But, I guess it is okay.


Summer Fields

I help organizations better listen to the communities they serve to drive their growth @wearehearken and @jtmstream. Sociology gal. Amateur bandurist.

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