The Radio Television Digital News Association has awarded Regional and National Murrow Awards to more than a dozen Hearken partners for their public-powered journalism. The awards span many categories, including Overall Excellence, Excellence in Innovation, Best Use of Sound, Best News Documentary, Feature Reporting, News Series, Excellence in Writing, Excellence in Social Media, and Best Website.
So, how do these newsrooms leverage the power of their audience to lead them to produce such impressive journalism? And what can your newsroom experiment with today to do the same?
To start, all of these newsrooms invited their audience to ask them questions. For some, they invited general questions (“What question do you have about Austin’s people, places or culture that you want KUT to investigate?” “What have you always wanted to know about the Milwaukee area that you’d like WUWM to explore?”). Other newsrooms invited questions around a particular topic or breaking news (“What questions do you have about the fires burning in Southern California?”).
The newsrooms considered the questions the audience submitted as part of their normal pitch process. Some newsrooms took select questions back to the audience to vote on. This is particularly useful for questions that you know would take significant reporting resources to answer. For example, a woman asked Vermont Public Radio, “What is the status of the Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont today?” The newsroom put that question up for a vote against two others, and it won:
Because VPR knew that its audience was hungry for this story, they were able to commit a good amount of reporter and production time to it, and the published piece went on to win a 2017 National Murrow Award for News Documentary.
The final piece of the public-powered journalism puzzle that makes these stories so unique and compelling is how they include the question-asker in the reporting process. Sometimes the stories are light and fun, and it makes great audio and visuals to have them learning the answer along with the reporter: Listen to “Is The Northeast Kingdom Really So 'Different'?” from Vermont Public Radio, part of its 2019 winning entry for regional Overall Excellence. Other times, the subjects are heavy or emotional, and having the question-asker included in the story to share why they care about the answer to this question can help other audience members connect to the story more: Listen to “West Texas Wonders:
Without Hospice, Who Gets To Die In The Big Bend?” from Marfa Public Radio, winner of a 2019 National Murrow for Feature Reporting.
These newsrooms used Hearken’s tech, consulting and methodology to build this engagement with their audience into their editorial workflow, and several have won awards multiple years in a row for their public-powered journalism. Hearken is proud to have supported these journalists who are serving their audiences in so many ways, and grateful to RTDNA for recognizing their hard work.
And while awards are nice, the real reward of public-powered journalism is the fulfilling feeling you get hearing from an audience member that they appreciate your hard work to answer their question.
Go behind the scenes of Murrow Award winning work on RTDNA.org each week with Murrow Mondays.