Discovering what matters: Why I joined Hearken

My first day as a full-time reporter, I was given an angel.

I was covering a gas line explosion. As I surveyed the wreckage from across the street, a man walked up and wordlessly offered me a handmade wooden angel ornament.

I should have asked him about the angel, why he was there, whether he did this often. Instead, I thanked him and went back to getting firsthand accounts of the explosion, anxious to make sure I didn’t miss anything on my first story.

Focused on getting the story (and staying out of the rain) as a young reporter.

Later I realized I completely missed the angel man’s story.

In time, I moved from reporter to editor to audience development specialist, from a daily community newspaper to a national magazine publisher. I kept that angel on my desk in the newsroom, as a reminder to be open to the unexpected.

Although I never got his story, the angel man taught me a lesson: that stories can come from anyone, anywhere.

DON’T MISS WHAT MATTERS

Whether a cub reporter covering her first story or a veteran editor pursuing a major investigation, sometimes journalists miss what matters to those we serve. Hearken helps newsrooms make sure that does not happen.

Involving the public in the reporting process from the very start gives journalists more insight into what people want to know and an excellent reason to provide them with answers. Public-powered reporting can drive institutional changes or scratch a particular curiosity itch, but no matter the topic it delivers some key benefits:

  • Uncovering what matters to your audience — before publication. Our audience members have a wealth of experiences and expertise just waiting for us to explore. When we invite them to share their questions, we can discover stories that may not otherwise have seen the light of day.
  • Building open, honest relationships. Every news organization represents a promise to serve and inform the public. Demonstrating that we are listening creates a virtuous cycle (an engagement ring) that deepens our relationships with our audience members.
  • Increasing revenue opportunities. Newsletter signups, events, subscriptions — there are many ways that more engaged audiences are eager to support reporting that meets their needs.

BETTER QUESTIONS MEAN BETTER REPORTING

A pause to appreciate the excellent results from engagement journalism.

I joined Hearken because I’ve seen firsthand how a newsroom can dramatically improve its reporting simply by asking what matters. Some of my favorite story ideas came from reader submissions to my “Glad You Asked” column. When people started calling the newsroom saying they had found photos scattered by a tornado, our “Survivors of the Storm” project helped return 27 priceless memories to their owners. We invited our audience to ask questions of local candidates in online live chats, share their remembrances for special holidays, and come together as a community to thank everyone who helped rebuild a school after a terrible fire.

The work of Hearken’s partners demonstrates every day how the profound act of listening leads to inspiring, engaging journalism. I am humbled to be able to assist in this important work.

And by the way, if anyone has a lead on the angel man, please let me know. I’m still curious.


Interested in getting started? Download our engagement guide here!