Highlights from 6 months of Hearken case studies

Five success stories and four lessons from our partner newsrooms

Jul 6, 2017 · 4 min read

This spring, the Hearken engagement consulting team embarked on a round of case studies. We were curious to know: How were different kinds of newsrooms using Hearken and how was it going? Had anything unexpected happened? What lessons have they learned that we should share with other newsrooms?

We aim to keep in close contact with journalists in all our partner newsrooms, but doing these case study calls allowed us to get deeper insight into the challenges and successes of implementing a public-powered journalism strategy. What we learned (and continue to learn) allows us to continually improve our support for partner newsrooms.

Here are a few of our favorite success stories:

What one newsroom learned about the size and shape of their potential audience:

“The first post we did with Peak Curiosity went super viral. That did so much better than any other post we have ever done on our website.

There’s luck, timing, and magic involved in having a story that catches like that. But it was eye-opening for me to realize.

Given the size of our Facebook following, I didn’t think we could reach that many people. But we can and should continue to strive for it.”

“I think it’s had a broadening effect on my ability to reach people and get story ideas and on my perception of who’s listening.

That’s been cool to see what questions are coming in and the zip codes they come from and the types of people. It does seem to run the gamut, people from all walks of life who are participating.”

— Jake Brownell, KRCC

How listening to audience questions opened up the door to different kinds of stories:

“We’ve managed to publish so many stories that we would never have published otherwise. There’s not a single one of these stories that we ever would have written had we not done this project. And they are all very successful pieces of content on our site.

— Janine Anderson, Kenosha News

The one-two punch—higher traffic, and happier members:

WFDD has produced five stories as part of its Hearken-powered “Carolina Curious” series so far this year. Some fun data points:

  • The five Carolina Curious stories have averaged 10% more page views and 15% longer time on page than other local stories published in the same period.
  • Two Carolina Curious stories are in the top 15 most-viewed local stories of the year so far (#10 and #13) and an evergreen Carolina Curious story from 2016 makes it into the top 20 at #17.

And on top of that, news director Emily McCord shares:

“During our Spring fund drive, we heard from a lot of listeners that they enjoyed Carolina Curious. Even the negative feedback we heard was along the lines of ‘we want more frequent Carolina Curious’ pieces.

Learning that a niche audience is eager to engage

Next Avenue started off asking its over-50 readership for questions about sex and aging. They expected a lot of questions to roll in on this subject, and they did. But the newsroom then found high participation around drier topics like reverse mortgages and estate planning.

“We learned that our audience isn’t afraid to ask questions. That they have a lot of questions. The volume was surprising, especially on the really niche ones.”

— Shayla Stern, director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue

On a politics project that was so successful, it expanded — twice:

KUT’s managing editor, Matt Largey, wanted local politics stories to perform better.

“Unless they’re about really controversial issues like abortion or voting rights, political stories just don’t perform very well. People say they’re interested but nobody really reads them. So personally a goal of mine was like, let’s do political stories that people actually want to read.”

And did it work?

Yes! The TX Decides project was so successful that they expanded after the 2016 election to report on the 2017 Texas Legislative Session, and more recently a Special Session, as well.

Four lessons learned to share with other newsrooms

We asked everyone we talked to what advice they’d give to other newsrooms. While we’re planning to share much of that advice with our newsrooms on our partner-only listserv, there are a few lessons that seemed general and valuable enough to share with even non-partners:

  1. “Promote things more than seems reasonable” We heard this from another newsroom, as well: “We’ve learned that our audience likes to be asked, but that they really need to be asked a lot of times. Asking once isn’t enough.”
  2. “If there are questions that are simple to answer, then just answer them. Not everything has to be a huge production.”
  3. “Not sure Facebook is most effective [when trying to promote]. Boosted posts weren’t useful. They just didn’t take off.” (We also heard this from another newsroom who had tracked Facebook’s boosting and targeting more closely as part of a year-long experiment.)
  4. “Don’t be afraid of this. Trust your readers to ask smart questions! And then also know that if they don’t, the tool is good and can sift them out.”

Not sure what Hearken is? Visit our website. Interested in learning more about what Hearken can do for your organization? Sign up for a demo.

Want to learn how to better engage the public? Download our free engagement checklist guide.

🙌 Thank you to all our partner journalists for taking the time to talk to us for these case studies. You all rock. 🙏

— Ellen, Summer and Julia

We Are 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/


Written by


News organizations use Hearken to meaningfully engage the public as a story develops from pitch through publication. Founders: @JenniferBrandel @coreyhaines

We Are 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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