The Koch Principle and the PIN philosophy

Michael Caputo
Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, who died this month, celebrated his 85th birthday in the city in November 2009. He was well-known during his time running the city for bringing New Yorkers into the governing process by asking, simply: “How am I doing?” (Photo by Getty Images)

When Ed Koch, the inimitable former mayor of New York, died Feb. 1, plenty was written about him as an outspoken politician. But if you lived in or around New York when Koch ran the Big Apple, you’ll remember how the mayor would walk in parades or visit pizza parlors and ask his constituents one question: “How am I doing?”

And if you know anything about New Yorkers, you know they’d tell him exactly what they thought. Koch didn’t mind. He knew that opening up a channel of communication meant more than seeking input on issues he was interested in.

He invited New Yorkers to help set the agenda.

As a newsroom, when you seek information and the expertise of the audience using the Public Insight Network, you’re making a promise of sorts. Sure, you’re asking people to provide answers to questions on the topic of the day. But you’re also promising to bring them closer to your journalism – to suggest the topics, the trends and the stories that make up the news. 

You want the sources to weigh in on your newsroom’s coverage.

PIN becomes the means to signal that you are willing to listen; to ask not only “How are we doing?” but “What are we missing?” and “What information makes a difference in your day-to-day life?”

Stefania Ferro, Miami Herald PIN analyst

Stefania Ferro, Miami Herald/WLRN PIN analyst

That’s why we’re thrilled to hear about The Miami Herald and WLRN’s latest push to find their community’s uber-sources. Stefania Ferro, PIN analyst for the Herald and WLRN, wants to identify sources in her network who have responded to four or more queries — because, it seems, they are most inclined to share with the newsroom.

From there, Ferro plans to use the Koch approach with these sources. The effort, she believes, will also bring her uber-sources “into our journey of the reporting process.”

If you are one of the nearly 70 PIN partner newsrooms, I’ll share with you the key to finding your own uber-sources at the bottom of this post (if you are not, but want to be click here). But first, one more thought on applying the Koch principle to your network: You don’t necessarily have to find the most committed sources to establish a line of communication. You can identify affinity groups within your newsroom’s Public Insight Network and establish deep relationships with them.

Identify, for example, an interest area that the newsroom wants to pursue more deeply in its reporting. WAMU in Washington, D.C., has reached out to its PIN sources who are active in the Capitol region’s arts and culture scene. This is something that places like Minnesota Public Radio and Vermont Public Radio have also done with their newsrooms’ respective Art Hounds projects.

By doing this, these newsrooms certainly get information about their local arts scenes. But the relationship goes deeper: Their arts and culture sources could also have non-arts-related day jobs — or maybe they have children who attend local schools or might very well be active members in other parts of their communities.

Imagine what might happen if your newsroom were to engage a group like that with a larger question related to your news coverage. Surely your newsroom’s interest in the arts — a topic this group is passionate about — has sparked a relationship with these sources. Now: Just ask the question.

“How are we doing?”



How to find an Uber-source in AIR (screenshot)Want to find your uber-sources? How to do it in AIR:

The key is a simple search term: “response_sets.count”.

You’ll want to search for primary sources — those who identify your newsroom as their home PIN organization.

Now, you’ll simply apply a number range to the search term.

Let’s say you want to find those who have given 4 to 9 responses. You would enter  “response_sets.count=4..9″. (You need the two dots in between the numbers to indicate you’re searching for a range.)

There is one quirk with the string: After single-digit numbers, you can only do a range search where the 10′s place is the same. So, you can search “10..19″ or “30..39″ — but not “40..50″.



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.