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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?

Capitol Public Radio’s Insight podcast Host Beth Ruyak with reporters Amy Westervelt, Pauline Bartolone, Cosmo Garvin, and Amy Quinton. (Image courtesy of Capital Public Radio)

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

Audience-Centered Storytelling

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

Related Links

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 writes about people and organizations making journalism more democratic

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.



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