How KPCC mixed PIN & forums for a unique look back at the 1992 L.A. riots

Sharon McNary
Public Insight Network Analyst

Los Angeles artist Jill D'Agnenica marked the 20th anniversary of the city's race riots with an art project: Distributing nearly 5,000 magenta-colored plaster angels across the city. She called it the "Look for Angels" project.   (Photo by Kevin Ferguson | KPCC)KPCC’s extensive observance of the 20th anniversary of the L.A. Riots in April drew on sources, insights and material gathered through PIN together with other outreach and engagement tactics. See it here:  In this blog post I’ll describe how we brought the pieces together over the course of several months, with the pace of questions, responses, events and content accelerating in the weeks just before the anniversary.

I started in January doing public outreach at Kingdom Day Gospelfest street fair with the KPCC Street Team, signing people up for the network and doing short recorded interviews on topics of peoples’ choice. Then, in February and March I circulated questions to those individuals and to others in the PIN.

At the same time, KPCC’s live events producer was doing community outreach to gather participants in a series of five sessions about the riots. We cross-promoted each others’ question and RSVP links. By the end of our combined outreach, 111 people had responded to our questions.

The forum producers convened groups of Koreans, African-Americans, Latinos and “others” to talk about how they experienced the riots and the 20 years since. Those discussions helped to inform story choices by our reporters. Here is a description of those focus groups, which included Network sources.  Our immigration blogger wrote up the four sessions. This one, about Latinos, quotes three PIN sources.  The fifth and final event was open to the public and drew many of the original focus group participants.

Interestingly, one of the panelists described his own academic survey which reflected what people were already telling us in response to the PIN questions – that economic disparities, not racism, were the thing most dividing residents of the Los Angeles region today.

I attended that final event April 11, on the legacy of the riots, and signed up many of those present for the Public Insight Network. It was also a good time to meet some of the people who had already answered our questions online.

A couple of weeks before the anniversary our economics blogger Matt DeBord and I spoke about the economic issues I was hearing from sources and I shared a summary of what some were saying. He wrote about the economic underpinnings of the riots here.  (Not taking credit for that, he is an economics reporter, after all.)  A week before the anniversary our arts and culture program Off-Ramp featured a PIN source whose art project was to distribute plaster angels to every corner of Los Angeles on the one-year anniversary of the riots. (Photo: Kevin Ferguson)

With about a week to go before the riots anniversary, our social media specialist collaborated on a plan to surface some of the sources’ insights in a display that could also work for social media. She suggested a Projeqt slideshow to pair Network source quotes with news photos:

As part of this project, we used social media to circulate a new set of questions asking people to reflect on the past, present and future of L.A. Some responses to that also got rolled into the multi-media display.

Four sources were featured on AirTalk’s April 27 program, “Sifting through the ashes of the 1992 L.A. Riots.” They included an African-American LAPD officer who lived in South Los Angeles who criticized the lack of preparedness and response by the LAPD to rioting, and a black 9-1-1 operator who felt guilty that she could not send help to people who were asking for it. They had a Korean-American woman documentary filmmaker whose mother’s business burned in the riots. They also booked a Latino man who was nine years old at the time the riots broke out near his home and he recalled begging his mother to steal a piano.

Host Larry Mantle blogged his reflections on the PIN sources contributions to AirTalk’s riots segment.  Patt Morrison’s talk show featured a PIN source who is a high school teacher describing how he teaches the riots to his classes.

Our Washington correspondent wanted to interview a PIN source who had commented about the large number of liquor stores in 1992 and now in South Los Angeles. She was unable to find someone to collect live audio, so that source was not used. A source who is the Los Angeles city archivist provided us with complete, free mp3 audio files of city press conferences held during the emergency. That was used in this audio montage and possibly in other reports. A source who wrote a book about the riots was mentioned in reviewer David Kipen’s rundown of riot literature, although I’m pretty sure David found him on his own.

This coverage stream represents the most Network sources that have been used in a single effort.

[Top photo: Los Angeles artist Jill D'Agnenica marked the 20th anniversary of the city's race riots with an art project: Distributing nearly 5,000 magenta-colored plaster angels across the city. She called it the "Look for Angels" project.   (Photo by Kevin Ferguson | KPCC)]

Sharon McNary Public Insight Network Analyst
Sharon McNary runs KPCC’s Public Insight Network, a group of several thousand people who – by sharing their experiences and expertise -- help the newsroom cover Southern California. People who respond to Public Insight Network questions have been included in many KPCC award-winning news reports, including investigative coverage of prison conditions, long-form narratives, and talk show segments.