Your audience is wicked smart and will ask serious questions. Here are 50 examples as proof.
One of the common concerns we hear from newsrooms when we pitch our question-based engagement strategy is that journalists believe their audience won’t ask good questions.
We’ve discussed this problem before here, in CEO Jennifer Brandel’s piece with GroundSource’s Andrew Haeg about how the culture of journalism breeds disdain for the people we’re meant to be serving. (In case you’re the visual sort, that piece includes an excellent flowchart proving your audience isn’t a bunch of idiots.)
We’ve also explained how we don’t see news stories in binary: hard news vs. fluff. As our Engagement Consultant Ellen Mayer writes, “Too often, journalists dismiss any story that doesn’t qualify as hard news as trivial or ‘fluff.’ In doing so, they dismiss so many vital services journalists can and should perform for their communities.”
But back to our initial point: Your audience will ask serious, newsworthy questions. We’ve seen it happen for the dozens of newsrooms we work with, and we believe it’s true for your newsroom as well.
So today, we want to show receipts, as the saying goes.
For a talk at West Virginia University last week about social justice reporting, we gathered together some of the many examples of audiences asking smart questions about serious issues. Our lengthy list is below — every story there was created because audience members asked questions and newsrooms listened.
Topics audiences have asked newsrooms about:
- How Many Are Being Displaced by Gentrification in Oakland? (asked by KQED Bay Curious listener Elena Foshay)
- Austin’s Population Is Booming. Why Is Its African American Population Shrinking? (asked by KUT ATXplained listener Jen O’Neal)
- How does gerrymandering work? (asked by several Civics 101 listeners)
- How Did Texas End Up With Such Screwy Political Districts? (asked by KUT TXDecides listener Tim Campbell)
- Gerrymandering: America’s Most Dangerous Maps? (answering questions asked by several 1A listeners)
- How Can Average Citizens Get Involved In Texas’ Redistricting Process? (asked by KUT TXDecides listener Jane Shaughness)
- Where Do Chicago’s Homeless Go In The Winter? (asked by WBEZ Curious City listener Jake Riley)
- How many homeless people are there in Brussels? (asked by Bruzz viewer Rik, in Dutch)
- Why are there so many homeless people in Birmingham? (asked by BBC Birmingham reader Robert Flynn)
- What are the best ways of helping homeless people? (answering several questions asked by BBC readers)
- How can I help the homeless? (answering a question from several KCRW listeners)
- Homelessness: You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers (answering some of the 1,200 questions ! that came in from KQED listeners)
- Why don’t we let the homeless sleep in the subway after closing? (asked by a Journal Métro CurioCité reader, in French)
- How Did Metro Milwaukee Become So Segregated? (asked by WUWM listener Ken Schellin and so many others that WUWM produced a special series answering many questions around segregation, Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters Series)
- Which schools reflect the diversity of New York City? (asked by Chalkbeat reader Mishi Faruqee)
- Why is Seattle so racially segregated? (asked by KUOW Local Wonder listener David Newman)
- Within the Bay Area, why is Marin County the least diverse? (asked by KQED Bay Curious listener Henry Ma)
- Why Is Vermont So Overwhelmingly White? (asked by VPR Brave Little State listener Eva Gumprecht)
- What’s the history of the Chicago Independent Giants Negro League baseball team? (asked by WBEZ Curious City listeners Kathie Anderson and Rosalind Henderson-Mustafa)
- What Is The Status Of The Abenaki Native Americans In Vermont Today? (asked by VPR Brave Little State listener Bethany Ladimer)
- Who were the Native Americans that lived in the Detroit region? (asked by WDET CuriosiD listener Andrew McKinney)
- “St. Louis is recognized as a gathering place & Sacred ground to U.S. First Nations. What efforts are being made to reconnect People here today?” (asked by St. Louis Public Radio Curious Louis listener Basmin)
- What is the Aboriginal history of Canberra? (asked by Australian Broadcasting Company audience member Gillian King)
- Do I have to present my voter registration card at the polling station? (asked by Michigan Radio MI Curious listener Steve Merring)
- Why haven’t voters had access to electronic voting? (asked by Australian Broadcasting Company Curious Campaign audience member Frank Reilly)
- How Secure Is Electronic Voting In Texas? (asked by KUT TX Decides listener Joan Cunningham)
- Why Is Voter Turnout So Low in Texas? (asked by KUT TX Decides listener Steven Kellman)
- What’s in place to stop people voting multiple times? (asked by Australian Broadcasting Company Curious Campaign audience member Stephen Vile)
- How can a municipality have more registered voters than residents? (asked by a St. Louis Public Radio Curious Louis listener)
- What Would It Take to Make Lake Merritt Swimmable? (asked by 7-year-old Violet, a listener of KQED’s Bay Curious)
- Wouldn’t it be better to have oil spill soak into the soil rather than drain into the sea? (asked by KCRW listener Douglas Norton)
- What’s the water quality like in the bay, and who is checking it? (asked by KALW Hey Area listener Austin Newsom)
- What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac? (asked by Michigan Radio MI Curious listener Justin Cross)
- Who in the city decided to dump wastewater into the river? (asked by a Journal Métro CurioCité reader, in French)
- Your Most Pressing Dakota Access Pipeline Questions, Answered (answering questions asked by several Inside Energy audience members)
- Where can I get lead stats on Chicago lake path drinking water fountains? (asked by WBEZ listener Svitlana Popyk)
Economic downturn and development
- Why are the malls struggling, especially those in north St. Louis County? (asked by St. Louis Public Radio Curious Louis listener Erica Holliam)
- How Many Downtown Dayton Buildings Are Empty? (asked by WYSO Curious listener Joe Kirby)
- Why do buildings stay empty so long? (asked by Kenosha News Curious Kenosha reader Lorrie Marzini)
- Can Microloans Lift Women Out Of Poverty? (asked by an NPR Goats & Soda audience member)
- Can rails-to-trails conversions create economic booms large enough that longtime residents will be priced out? (asked by WBEZ Curious City listener Patrick Singler)
- Why Is There A Craft Beer Boom In Columbus? (asked by WOSU’s Curious Cbus listener Bob Grove)
- Answering Your Questions On Trump’s Immigration Freeze (answering questions asked by several 1A listeners)
- How did Chicago become such a magnet for Polish immigrants in particular? (asked by WBEZ Curious City listener Todd Leiter-Weintraub)
- What percentage of immigrant students do not repay loans and bursaries? (asked by a Journal Métro CurioCité reader, in French)
- Where do immigrants live in Montreal? (asked by a Journal Métro CurioCité reader, in French)
- Why do mental health services vary widely in different parts of the state? (asked by Michigan Radio MI Curious listener Don Williams)
- Why does the NHS spend money on homeopathy? (asked by BBC audience member Andrew Toppleman)
- How can we stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance? (asked by NPR Goats & Soda audience member Ian Matthews)
- Who owns my DNA when I send it off for analysis? (asked by Australian Broadcasting Company Curious Canberra audience member Cameron Stuart)
Thanks to all the amazing members of the public who asked such smart questions, and to all our partner newsrooms for being brave enough to invite the questions and listen to their audiences.
If you’re interested in learning about how to become a Hearken partner newsroom, let us know.
Want to learn how to better engage the public? Download our free engagement checklist guide.
Want even *more* examples of awesome audience-powered stories?
- Our ongoing list of Hearken-powered stories, updating biweekly
- Hearken’s Earth Day story roundup of pieces about the environment, climate, recycling 🌏
- Six examples of Hearken partners collecting questions around civic uncertainty 📚
- Four examples of Hearken partners collecting questions around the election ☑️
- Hearken’s Halloween roundup of “spooky” stories 👻