August 27, 2019
How Capital Public Radio puts the public at the center of storytelling
This case study on how Capital Public Radio (Sacramento, Calif.) engages audience throughout the production process is from the Wyncote Foundation’s 2019 Building Stronger Communities Through Media report. It is the fifth in a series on innovations in local journalism, public media and storytelling we’re republishing with their permission and the permission of the authors.
What are public radio newsrooms doing to reach beyond their traditional audiences and learn from the communities they cover?
Capital Public Radio’s broadcasts reach the halls of California’s state government in Sacramento and also bring news and public affairs programming to Central Valley farmlands and to the resorts and wilderness areas of the Sierra Nevada. CapRadio’s innovative community engagement efforts intentionally reach out to and draw insights from these diverse regions.
Newsrooms produce daily news in a fast-paced environment. Deep community engagement takes time.jesikah maria ross, senior community engagement strategist
CapRadio puts the public at the center of news gathering even before reporters start to develop stories. For example, the newsroom’s recent Place and Privilege project began with a newsroom field trip to an affordable housing complex and convening a regional housing summit to listen to and learn from people on the front lines of Sacramento’s housing shortage. Going deeper, CapRadio gathered community members to identify housing needs, barriers, and solutions and then organized “story circles” in partnership with nonprofits around the region, providing an opportunity for on-the-ground conversations to shape and inform reporting.
Place and Privilege delivered an hour-long radio documentary, eight podcast segments, photojournalism, and an interactive website that profiled families’ and individuals’ stories.
After the Story
CapRadio shared its news stories with communities via participatory “PostCast” events that spurred both reflection and action. An evaluation by Impact Architects shows that Place and Privilege had unusually wide reach—beyond traditional public radio audiences—and resulted in increased empathy among the project’s participants.
Asked what’s hard about the work, jesikah maria ross, senior community engagement strategist, says that, “Newsrooms produce daily news in a fast-paced environment. Deep community engagement takes time. News is often deadline-driven; engagement is relationship-driven. Bridging these different orientations is at the heart of what we are trying to do, to make engagement a wraparound approach and not a sidebar.”
CapRadio is doing careful work in documentation and evaluation, writing about and sharing their learning. “Local funders have played a critical role in supporting our innovations. Without them we can’t move the field,” ross says.
At a Glance
- Organization Type: Public radio station
- Operating Budget: $9.5 million for the year ending June 30, 2016
- Key Funders: The California Endowment, Sierra Health Foundation
- Contact: jesikah maria ross, senior community engagement strategist: jmross (at) capradio.org
- Designing Powerful Public Conversations – jesikah maria ross
- Redistributing power in communities through involved journalism – Kim Bui
- Trust, understanding and reward: Ongoing effects of the public-powered journalism approach – Hearken
- Agora Journalism Center to host engaged journalism workshops – University of Oregon
About Wyncote Foundation
The Wyncote Foundation’s Public Media and Journalism Program is a place-based philanthropy in Philadelphia that works to further a thriving public media ecosystem that is vital to animating and sustaining democracy’s public sphere.
About the Author
Sarah Lutman is founder of 8 Bridges Workshop, a St. Paul-based consulting and program development firm, and serves as senior advisor to Wyncote Foundation’s Public Media and Journalism Program.
About Local News Lab
Here on the Local News Lab, we regularly highlight collaborations between journalists, newsrooms, and communities that help build healthy news and information ecosystems. Click here to subscribe to the Local Fix, a weekly roundup of the best writing on journalism, paired with concrete advice, tools and resources for people who care about local news.