Taking PIN on the road, turning sources into storytellers

Annie Anderson
Engagement and Inclusion Manager
Public Insight Network

Editor’s note: We’re highlighting the work being done in partner newsrooms that have received Public Insight Network engagement funding. |  Follow the progress of our coverage as we go.


Public Insight Journalist

Sarah Alvarez, public insight journalist

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Alvarez has been using PIN to empower sources to tell their own stories online and on the air. For State of Opportunity, a Michigan Radio reporting project that’s focused on telling the stories of at-risk kids and their families, Alvarez outfitted a mobile storytelling booth, similar to a voting booth, to collect stories from across the state.

The station sends the booth around Michigan: to community events where there are stories to be told, and anywhere there’s an issue that can be better understood by hearing from the people affected. Storytellers participate through a PIN query and record their insights to SoundCloud.

Sarah answered a few questions about the project.

What’s your role in this project?

I thought a mobile storytelling booth would help us better do our jobs and increase the amount of community engagement in the State of Opportunity project. It’s an easy way to offer something to people who may not otherwise be interested in participating in a story.

Where did the idea for this topic come from?

I wish I could remember. I was just trying to think of a way to record more stories and not have to sit in front of people, staring at them while they’re trying to think of something to say. After I submitted the proposal to PIN for funding, I started seeing stuff about mobile storytelling booths — maybe it had gotten into my subconscious somehow. Or, maybe it’s just such an easy fix that a bunch of people arrived at a pretty simple idea at about the same time.

What communities or groups are you focused on engaging with? Why? 

I focus on engaging with at-risk kids and the people around them — either families or institutions. State of Opportunity is a three-year project focused on at-risk kids.

How are you planning to engage with your audience around this topic? What do you think they’ll find compelling about these stories?

I expect people will respond pretty well to this content — it’s compelling. And I hope we expand our audience when people who are not in our station’s main demographic (white, older and affluent) realize we are interested hearing in their stories, from their mouths.

Right now I’m booked into July with the booth. I’ve been taking it out once a week since I set it up in early May. We’re offering people a real look at the state and communities they live in, giving them an opportunity to connect to people they might not otherwise connect with.

What are you hoping the impact of this project will be?

I expect empowerment, connection and education. Nothing less than great radio.



Annie Anderson Engagement and Inclusion Manager
Public Insight Network

Annie Anderson has the privilege of working with PIN partners around the country, providing training, coaching and support. In the last two years she has focused on diversifying and growing the Network. She specializes in community engagement opportunities and counseling.

While earning a master’s in public policy from the Humphrey School, she yearned for journalism by the people that could inform and respond to policy. Enter PIN: journalistic civic agency at its finest. She deeply believes that everyone is an expert and knows their own experience better than anyone else.