“Why are so many babies dying in Richland County?” This question sparked a year-long reporting project led by Brittany Schock at Mansfield Ohio’s Richland Source. Schock and her colleagues produced a dozen investigative stories on infant mortality, with help from a Solutions Journalism grant to report on possible solutions to the problem. All of that great reporting work culminated in a community baby shower at the Richland Source’s downtown office this past weekend. The newspaper opened its doors to new and expecting mothers and invited them to mingle with community organizations aiming to serve them.
We originally met Schock at the Solutions Journalism Audience Engagement Mini-Summit at CUNY School of Journalism in the spring where she presented the progress of her site’s Healing Hope series and discussed her plans for the community baby shower. When she was talking about ways to engage with folks at the shower and beyond she mentioned the Listening Post model as a way to “sneak journalism into the event”. This stuck with us as a great way to think about event-based engagement journalism. Outreach at events, particularly one like the community baby shower, should feel unobtrusive and natural.
We connected with Schock after the Solutions Summit and have been chatting over the last several months and brainstorming ways to integrate a Listening Post community recording device into the community baby shower. Last week Schock emailed us this photo of the Richland Source’s brand new Listening Post.
It’s always exciting to see how the Listening Post recording device concept is interpreted and innovated. This one’s no exception. This sleek Listening Post is a product of an ongoing relationship with the Renaissance Theater in Mansfield. Schock sent theater staff the Recording Device Blueprints from the Listening Post Collective website and they ran with it, creating a “steampunk 1950’s” vibe for the Post. “When you guys launched your website and included the blueprints for the recording device that was a huge boost for us because we knew we didn’t have the expertise to actually build the thing,” said Schock.
Engagement Tips: We brainstormed a lot of different strategies for event-based engagement with Schock over the last several months. Here are some of the key takeaways from those conversations:
- Ask the right questions. This is true of any engagement project, but especially one dealing with a sensitive topic like infant mortality. Schock wanted to make sure she was posing questions that got mothers speaking from experience, and that didn’t feel so intrusive that participants were discouraged from interacting with the Listening Post. In the end, she came up with two categories of questions, one for experienced parents and one for new and expecting parents. She asked experienced parents:
“What’s one piece of advice you’d like to pass on to brand new or expecting parents – something that really helped you as you were raising your own?”
This gave parents an opportunity to share personal experiences while paying it forward and helping out other moms and dads by passing along their expertise.
New and expecting parents answered the question:
“What is one thing you are most nervous about becoming a parent? And what’s one thing you are most looking forward to?”
- Offer something in exchange for people’s time. The Richland Source set up a photo station next to the Listening Post to take portraits of mothers who record a response to the Listening Post prompt. The portraits will be emailed to participants and will also be used to create a photo essay that pairs with the recordings from the Listening Post device. The Richland source also set up a raffle exclusively for those who recorded their stories with the Listening Post. “We want people to know that this isn’t a scary thing and you could also win a prize!” said Schock.
- Location, location, location. We talked a lot about where to situate the Listening Post in a way that allowed users privacy, but didn’t isolate or hide it from the flow of the event. In the middle of the Richland Source office there’s a raised conference room encased in glass. It’s visible and prominent, but still provides privacy. The photo station and recording device were set up in the conference room and someone was stationed at the bottom of the stairs explaining the Listening Post and directing traffic.
The community baby shower is a great example of the benefits of creating a specific event around engagement, and inviting people in who have a stake in the topic you are investigating. And events can lead to longer-term engagement. The Richland Source is now in touch with many residents, and they are getting queries from around the community. Schock tweeted a photo of the recording post and the marketing director from the local hospital reached out about using it for an event. The Listening Post was collaboratively built and, hopefully, it will become a shared community resource.
Turnout: Close to 200 mothers — 500 people total including kids and spouses.
Timing: 10 am on a Saturday. (by 9 am there was a line around the block)
Engagement: 110 people used the Listening Post over 4 hours. 72 people took portrait photos.
Journalism output: Video slideshow including the portraits and audio recorded at the event posted on http://www.richlandsource.com/.
Lessons Learned: Having the incentive of the gift basket was crucial. Some participants were reluctant to record their voice and have their photo taken but the gift baskets helped get people to record. It was obvious that some people were just answering to be entered into the drawing but many of them gave really good answers.
The Listening Post Collective provides journalists, newsroom leaders, and non-profits tools and advice to create meaningful conversations with their communities. We believe responsible reporting begins with listening. From there, media outlets and community organizations can create news stories that respond to people’s informational needs, reflect their lives, and enable them to make informed decisions.