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:
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.
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.
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.
that’s where social journalists come in: they can help to start a communication between two communities that have long been conflicted.
This is the difference between helicopter journalism happening in a newsroom and that being crafted with your community.
The point of our mission is to do right by them — not necessarily ourselves.
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.
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.
Getting questions from the community transformed my article. It forced me to go deeper.
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.
When journalists partner with the communities they report on, amazing things can happen.
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.