The people’s agenda revealed in Colorado

Michael Caputo
Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media

The idea of collaboration with an audience doesn’t mean much until that starts showing up in the work you do. Doing that online is essential, and should be the first order of business since the news real estate is endless.

But it’s more of a challenge to get that collaboration to permeate the work you do on-air. The opportunities are scarce — after all, how much time does a local public radio station’s news team have in the midst of Morning Edition or All Things Considered? Convincing those who produce articles or news shows can be a high barrier, since they have to focus on producing and not a lengthy sermon on the necessity of having the on-the-ground expertise in their program. That’s not to say you don’t need to evangelize leadership on the necessity of having PIN drive news coverage. Just that you need to show how it can work — don’t just tell.

Enter Lee Hill, Public Insight analyst and reporter at Colorado Public Radio. He and Kelley Griffin, CPR news director, have worked hard at making PIN part of what Coloradans hear.

Their latest – and most ambitious example – came this week. Hill sent out a PIN query to small business owners and asked them a series of questions with a single goal: To find out what business owners really need from government to create jobs. Believe it or not, this is a politics query. The idea was to hear from the “actual job creators” and allow them to tell the politicians and candidates what is necessary to get people working. Here’s Hill explaining that to Ryan Warner of CPR’s flagship talk program Colorado Matters:

“(M)ost elected officials and candidates we hear all think they have a formula to create more (jobs). Well, earlier this year we put out a call to local business owners and, we specifically wanted to hear from that group because they are the ones so many of the policies and ideas are aimed at. We wanted to hear firsthand what works and what doesn’t…”

Hill talked on-air about this project on Monday because CPR has decided to get these business owners speaking directly to the rest of their audience.

This week they debuted a series on these job creators on Colorado Matters. Working with show producer, Ben Markus, Hill will get network sources involved in these half-hour long conversations, which will show up periodically from now until the November elections (have a listen to the first segment).

Could there be a better way for CPR to address the hot political topic of jobs? It is also a textbook case for involving sources from the Public Insight Network.

Check out this brief example of the Colorado Matters discussion between Amanda O’Connor, the owner of a civil engineering firm, and Wy Livingston, who owns a tea restaurant and store:

Amanda – “I had two women that I wanted to hire, and they were both on unemployment at the time. (L)ater in the year, my tax accountant came to me and said ‘there is this tax incentive in place if I had hired new employees and taken them off unemployment within a certain amount of time in 2010′. And then a few days later my tax guy called me back and said, ‘I’m sorry Amanda but these people don’t qualify.’

Wy – “This is a classic example of programs put in place by people, I dare to say, that have never run businesses before.”

This, Hill said, is an example of government’s good intentions thwarted by the execution of the policies. These business owners also talked about health care costs, how government spends on education, and more real-world blockades to hiring – from high workers compensation costs in Colorado to the lack of skilled job applicants.

I love it when reporters and producers say that people are uninterested in hearing about politics… that most folks are jaded and cynical when it comes to election promises and debates. Often that’s because of a failure by the media to make a connection between people and the policies from Washington (or Denver or St. Paul or any other state capital). Instead we hear horse-race reports or campaign tactic exposes.

Let the people start the conversation and it’s so obvious how policy matters. Let the PIN start those people talking and you have an ample supply of real-world political fodder. Hill’s approach shows how you can make the political conversation a different one – and demonstrate that collaborative spirit.


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.