Starting the churn…

Michael Caputo
Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media

When I started as a reporter (back when Reagan’s jelly beans were in the White House) you had to choose your medium. You wrote for a paper, you talked on the radio, you shot video.

The Internet now enables the reporter to pick up the tool of her choice – keyboard, microphone or camera – and tell the story in whatever way she is right for that story.

I also remember when feedback meant a letter-to-the-editor or an irate phone call. Now, webpages can display the audience critique just as quickly as the reported story.

It’s a call and response. It’s a liberation — and it ushers in a new kind of collaborative journalism. One that empowers storytellers to paint with all the colors on the palate at their disposal in their reporting and makes it possible for the news producer and the news consumer to collaborate.

Not everyone takes advantage of this. But the analysts at the Local Journalism Centers have, in an impressive way. Let me give you one example.

Sarah Alvarez is the public insight analyst at the Changing Gears local journalism center (based at Michigan Radio). Changing Gears’ mission is to cover the transformation of the Midwest economy. Alvarez uses the Changing Gears site to her fullest advantage, and with very few limits on what’s possible.  She incorporates the Public Insight Network approach and what she’s learning from PIN sources into her web content to create stories that inform — and provoke a conversation.

Alvarez tells stories in a variety of ways, from text to audio to multimedia slideshows, and creates subthemes for those stories, such as “Empty Places,” “Your Plan,” and “Your Story”.

For example, a PIN source shared with Alvarez pictures of vacant spaces in Gary, Indiana. The vacant properties were being used in unique ways, such as staging for film productions. Alvarez first asked to interview the PIN source. The source pointed her to the photographer, Ben Clement of the Gary-East Chicago-Hammond Empowerment Zone. Alvarez interviewed Clement, asked for additional pictures and went to the creative commons section of Flickr for further Gary photos. In the course of a day, she assembled an audio slideshow that told the story.

Alvarez then sent a note back to her pool of sources, telling them about Clement’s story and asking them what they’ve seen when it comes to vacant buildings. She used a direct marketing approach — for journalism.  Alvarez also combines storytelling with blog posts telling readers about other questions she’s pursuing, such as whether fracking is worth the gamble and what states should do to keep businesses from leaving.

Check out the Changing Gears website.  What other examples would you point to of newsrooms realizing the potential of this brave new web world?

Michael Caputo Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media
A belief that journalism could better connect with those who need the information led Mike to the Public Insight Network in 2006. He served as a PIN journalist for the Minnesota Public Radio newsroom, then he coached and counseled newsrooms around the country on the PIN tools and the PIN approach.

Now as engagement manager, he focuses on the sources in PIN by designing strategies to grow the network, directing engagement with sources and assessing the source experience. He specializes in planning and convening forums that serve journalism, from roundtable discussions to events that can fill a hall.