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We Are Hearken

Hearken Case Study: KQED Gathered 1,300+ Questions About Homelessness

When KQED asked for listeners’ questions about homelessness, the response was overwhelming. Here’s how they handled it.

Part 1: Inviting people to send in questions on homelessness

The email that KQED sent asking its audience members to share their questions

Part 2: Watching the questions roll in

“We were expecting like… 30. That’s not what happened at all.” — Jessica

Part 3: Reporting out answers

  • What are the most common causes of homelessness?
  • What do I do if I think someone needs help?
  • Are other cities sending their homeless to San Francisco with one-way bus tickets?
  • Do any of the homeless choose life on the street?
  • What happens to all the money that San Francisco spends on the homeless?
  • Why are there so many homeless people in San Francisco, and why are they so visible?
  • Why are there so many more young homeless people in San Francisco than other places?
  • Are there any plans for adopting a “Housing First” program similar to that in Salt Lake City?
  • How can building tiny houses help homeless people in the Bay Area?

Part 4: Getting the answers out into the world (and back to the question-askers)

Lessons to share

  1. Start figuring out how you want to organize things quickly. If you’re using Hearken’s tools, put questions into categories or lists early, and try to keep the pile under control in real time.
  2. Pull in additional help as soon as you can. It was challenging for Jessica to both manage the tide of questions while also beginning to report out answers and also doing other work. Olivia says knowing what she knows now, she would’ve put at least three staff members on the project, and would’ve try to delegate questions on certain topics to other areas of the newsroom (like questions about health issues to the health reporter).
  3. Set realistic expectations for yourself — you may not be able to respond to every question individually, or maybe not in the timeframe that you’re used to. In the same vein: Set realistic expectations for your audience.
  4. Consider the best approach for reporting answers within your time constraints: Is the goal to answer as many questions as possible, or to answer one or two as deeply as possible? Or maybe a series?

More about KQED and Hearken:



The Hearken team's thoughts on journalism, engagement, and tech. Hearken means: to listen. We believe that listening to your audience first, not last, makes for better everything. We're here to help: http://www.wearehearken.com/

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Julia Haslanger

Journalism nerd exploring audience engagement, analytics and newsrooms. My path so far: WI ▹ Mizzou ▹ CO ▹ DC ▹ NYC ▹ Chicago. Engagement consultant at Hearken.