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Building Community Through Innovation- Pt. 2

KQED and the power of public media as network

Scott Burg
Aug 16, 2016 · 7 min read
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In part 1 of Building Community Through Innovation, we explored the collaboration between KQED Education, and Known, a Matter alum, in the design of KQED Teach, a series of online professional learning courses in digital media literacy skills and strategies for teachers. KQED Teach incorporates the ability for teachers to complete modules and lessons by posting to a shared community space. This community building concept is a major component of KQED’s audience-first strategy. In part 2 we will explore how KQED News, with the assistance of another Matter start-up company, is also building community through their own unique audience-first strategy.

Community-driven news: Bay Curious

I wanted us to become more audience centric, and that’s a really hard thing to do in a newsroom because journalists aren’t always trained to think that way per se. Ironically, we’re often in this editorial bubble. We wanted to find a way to start baking audiences into the editorial process, a way to start thinking about how people are talking about issues on the streets, or at their dinner tables. One thing KQED can do really well is get access. The mayor will take our call. We can get answers to questions that audiences have. That’s a great role for us. — Holly Kernan, Executive Editor, KQED News

Execution of KQED’s audience-first strategy also extends to the newsroom. News stories should be reflective of what is important to the community, but the traditional journalism information model too often assumes that the role of reporters is to tell audiences what they think they should know. Stories covered by the media do not always match the kinds of things people are really interested in. How could the newsroom develop stories that increasingly reflect audiences’ interests in the media that they’re listening to? How could KQED shift reporters’ attitudes towards audience, and become more engaged with their community? How could the station somehow leverage the power of individuals and their curiosity with the station’s access to individuals and organizations?

The birth of Bay Curious

Holly Kernan, Executive Editor for News at KQED, was familiar with an experimental news series at WBEZ in Chicago called Curious City, that at the time, was developing an open source tool for newsrooms to bring audiences into the news-story creating process. After unsuccessfully trying in-house to build their own toolset to approximate its features and functionality, Kernan was eager to investigate how the Curious City tool might be adapted for KQED. Fortuitously, Curious City, and its founder Jennifer Brandel were invited to interview for Matter’s fourth cohort. When Brandel came to San Francisco for her interview with Matter, Kernan invited her to KQED to make a presentation to staff. The connection was immediate.

I was in on that meeting. I was so impressed with what she (Brandel) had done and what she was hopefully going to do at Matter that I left the meeting and went right into my boss’s office and told him I really want to be involved with this. Luckily Jen was selected for Matter. Obviously, it made it tremendously easier and more mutually beneficial that she was selected. As soon as she got out here we started talking about what it would take to implement a similar project here at KQED. — Bay Curious staff

Brandel’s experience with Matter provided the opportunity to rebuild the original open source Curious City platform into a multi-tenant, turnkey platform that would alleviate the need for newsrooms to maintain the product, and would be easily scalable for a variety of environments. In addition, Brandel also refined her business model, spinning the reporting model and the tech she built with Curious City into the company currently known as Hearken (Curious City remains an ongoing series at WBEZ).

Brandel’s time at Matter accelerated the relationship with KQED. Hearken, like Known, shared and supported public media’s mission. Their product, and editorial outlook aligned well with the ideals of KQED’s, and its audience-first strategic approach. KQED staff began to study Hearken’s structural and editorial methods more closely, and determine how best to integrate features and functions that eventually evolved into a regular audience engagement feature known as Bay Curious.

Bay Curious represents one component of KQED News’ two fold strategy audience-first strategy. (Note: In an upcoming article to this series my colleague Elizabeth Bandy will be exploring more broadly what KQED News is doing with respect to audiences and how Bay Curious fits in to the larger picture). Bay Curious stories are posted online and produced as radio news reports and videos. Through the Hearken platform, individuals are invited to submit questions to KQED. Questions are organized via Hearken’s Engagement Management System (EMS) and then selected and assigned to Bay Curious news staff who investigate and post full story responses. Questions and topics are as varied and diverse as the population of the Bay Area. Stories have included:

How Much Truth Is There to Those ‘Speed Enforced by Aircraft’ Signs?

Why Are There Ships Buried Under San Francisco?

The Origins of Hella

Bay Curious has proven to be extremely popular and widely viewed, generating 11 to 15 times more page views than the newsroom’s other stories. These stories are responsible for more engagement with audiences than KQED typically sees in their other blog posts. Certain Bay Curious stories have reached close to one million people. Leveraging the power of individuals and their curiosity with KQED’s expertise in editorial has proven to be a good merger. This collaboration has made KQED smarter about what people in their community really want to know and what issues are the most important to them.

Metrics and marketing

Bay Curious wants to learn more about their audience. Staff are working closely with KQED’s Audience Insights and Ingenuity team through incorporation of the Salesforce CRM database to segment out Bay Curious inclined individuals. By tracking everyone who clicks on e-mails that reference Bay Curious, staff can identify which individuals to increase communication with in the future. Bay Curious will also be working closely with Audience Insights and Ingenuity to develop a marketing plan for their proposed expansion into podcasts.

Within public media there is often a disconnect between newsrooms and the organization’s business and marketing functions. The increased visibility of Bay Curious stories positively impacts ad awareness, providing opportunities to turn casual readers/viewers into donors or members. The Hearken platform and the audience-centric approach of Bay Curious touches and brings together all three of these functions simultaneously, and in a productive way.

Benefits to Hearken

This relationship has also been beneficial for Hearken. Since ‘graduating’ from Matter, Hearken has scaled up, increasing their public media client base from 5 to approximately 25. The experience with KQED and Matter helped to accelerate their thinking both on the tools and business side, turning an innovative idea into a viable business. Hearken incorporated their work with KQED within their final Matter program pitch, and has referenced Bay Curious in their marketing materials and blog articles on platforms such as Medium.

The Bay Curious project served as a kind of beta test for the Hearken product. In working with KQED, Hearken developers were able to experience and troubleshoot the kinds of problems and challenges that a typical public media news organization might have in implementing their tool. This relationship helped Hearken establish credibility when marketing the product to other public media stations. KQED also opened up their metrics to Hearken. The impressive web traffic generated by Bay Curious stories is the kind of metric public media stations want to see.

What has also been helpful for Hearken is having public media staff like those at Bay Curious who are excited about the concept and understand its value to audiences, continuously looking for ways to extend its use.

I think what we’ve learned is just how important it is to have someone on the ground in the newsroom whose values align with our approach; someone who has a similar set of goals and ideals around how journalism can better serve audiences. Someone whose eyes light up when they think about the creative potential of working with an audience pre-publication and respects the depth of that relationship. — Jennifer Brandel, CEO, Hearken

Part of a Larger Community

In mid-June, Matter announced the opening of an office in NYC. This move coincided with the addition of a new media partner backing Matter: The New York Times, and increased support from existing partner Google News Lab. This month the SF and NYC city cohorts were announced, 13 start-ups in all.

KQED is now positioned as a member of a much larger and deeper media network, operating amongst cutting edge media and technology partners, and nimble and innovative, media-focused start-ups. Within this expanded community, KQED will no doubt continue to foster and benefit from relationships with future Knowns and Hearkens, but also grow with exposure to large enterprise organizations like themselves, who are also continually exploring ways to innovate and connect with communities.

Disrupting Public Media

A Study of Transformation at KQED

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