Seeking questions before answers

CUNY Social Journalism students experiment with Hearken

This spring in our community engagement course, Jeff Jarvis and I asked students to experiment with a new tool aimed at helping them understand what their audiences most want to know.

Hearken makes it easy for the public to ask journalists questions and be part of the process of reporting the story. Stories produced using Hearken often drive more traffic and engagement as a result.

This tool is a great fit for a program like ours that emphasizes listening to communities and finding new ways to serve them. Although students don’t have big news brands behind them to make distributing Hearken question-seeking modules easily, the philosophy of not assuming that reporters already know what people need is critical to what we do.

Big thanks to Hearken CEO and co-founder Jennifer Brandel and business development manager Remy Schwartz. They gave us a free trial of the software and walked students through the process of using it.

I rounded up some of my students’ posts here about how they used Hearken and what they learned:

How I Used Hearken to Teach Seniors to FaceTime by Katelyn Gillum

Having a tool like Hearken allowed me to give my audience a voice and to carry them through my process as a storyteller and as a part of their community.

Hearken To Your Community: Breaking the Taboos in Journalism About Who Asks the Questions by Noa Radosh

There have been many instances of frustration where I feel stuck on a particular story; however, the Hearken questions brought up themes and areas of interest that I didn’t think about before.
Social journalism students Gloria Medina and Sasha Fountain at a reception at Social Media Weekend, hosted at CUNY-J

Using Hearken to figure out what people want from you: An exercise in community engagement from the front lines of social journalism by Joe Amditis

It was also very useful as a source of concrete proof when trying to convince my bosses that people care about a certain issue. Pitching a story is much easier when you can bring your editor questions that came directly from your readers.

“What can we as gentrifiers do?” By involving your community in the reporting process, reporters can assure their stories are valuable to readers by Bettina Figl

that’s where social journalists come in: they can help to start a communication between two communities that have long been conflicted.

Hearken: A Reflection by Philip B. Richardson

This is the difference between helicopter journalism happening in a newsroom and that being crafted with your community.

This Is How You Hearken by Simon Galperin

The point of our mission is to do right by them — not necessarily ourselves.

Hearken: Listening to Someone Means You Value Them by Allen Arthur

I am battling understandably negative perceptions of journalists that are magnified in vulnerable communities. People don’t want to lose control of their stories or be harmed further by some writer’s desperate grab at a byline. Nevertheless, listening is not only possible but necessary.
The key to this is that if one person is pondering a question, odds are other people are too.This means we are not relying on insular editorial judgement to decide what to publish. People are telling you what to publish by asking you things they want to know.

Hearken Reflection by Sasha M Fountain

I do believe community -driven questions are better that the typical newsroom questions because the community engages more with their own stories… I think that the communities that we report on, whether they are physical or virtual, want to be involved in the process of reporting about them.

The Hearken Experiment by Sabrina S. Gordon

Getting questions from the community transformed my article. It forced me to go deeper.

Brilliant idea: Ask people what they want to know by Martika Ornella

When you’re not just following leads, and have someone tangible beyond your intuition to answer to, there’s an energizing sense of urgency in your reporting.

“Hearken! The Subway Buskers Sing:” Using an Online Tool to Engage an Offline Community by Colin-Pierre Larnerd

When journalists partner with the communities they report on, amazing things can happen.

Hearken & Me: Diversity in Video Games and the Gaming Community by Anna-Michelle Lavandier

I feel that community-driven stories may bring a new perspective to a topic that may not have otherwise been brought to light. While pitching stories and bouncing ideas off others is all well and good, asking the community about what concerns them is an invitation to get involved.