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October 23, 2019

How Southern California Public Radio uses live events to connect with communities

This case study on Southern California Public Radio is from the Wyncote Foundation’s 2019 Building Stronger Communities Through Media report. It is the ninth in a series on innovations in local journalism, public media and storytelling we’re republishing with their permission and the permission of the authors.

How can newsrooms build consistent and meaningful new community relationships by engaging directly with citizens?

Unheard LA with KPCC builds community through public storytelling events
Russ Fega presenting at Unheard LA, 2018. (Image by Louis Felix/KPCC)

Southern California Public Radio, known by its call letters KPCC, brings the public into the news gathering and reporting process through community engagement and live events. Dedicated events and engagement staff facilitate public forums on civic affairs topics, produce civic and cultural events programming, and develop customized community engagement activities in partnership with newsroom editors, producers, and reporters.

We’ve been given the space to experiment and succeed. Our organizational mandate is to strive to reflect the community we serve.

Ashley Alvarado, KPCC director of community engagement

Recent examples include a public panel discussion on the black infant mortality rate in Los Angeles; an in-person conversation with pianist and composer Nicholas Britell; the Feeding the Conversation series, which brings together reporters, editors, and community members for discussion over lunch; and a live taping of the national program, 1A. Additionally, KPCC convenes open public forums such as an event for parents to ask early childhood education questions of a panel of child development experts, allowing reporters to learn more about community concerns.

Elevating local experiences through live storytelling

Unheard LA: The Stories of Where You Live is KPCC’s signature engagement-driven series. A 2017 pilot season in three geographically diverse settings offered Angelenos the opportunity to share their experiences through storytelling, poetry, and music before a live audience. To encourage people to participate, engagement staff reached beyond KPCC’s existing audiences and networks, using community bulletin boards, local libraries, a text messaging platform, dedicated newsletters, and in-person engagement. More than 250 people responded. KPCC staff worked with participants to help them prepare for the public event.

The pilot series was successful in terms of attendance but even more so in terms of reaching new, diverse audience members who are now contributing to KPCC’s journalism. A second season of six programs concluded in September 2018, with two additional seasons in the planning stages.

“We are a newsroom that is audience first and engagement first, with a creative set of engagement resources and strategies,” says Ashley Alvarado, director of community engagement. “Unheard LA is the physical manifestation of our organization’s mission and has led us to deeper community relationships and deeper community service. We’ve been given the space to experiment and succeed. Our organizational mandate is
to strive to reflect the community we serve.”

At a Glance

  • Organization Type: Independent nonprofit organization
  • Operating Budget: approximately $27.6 Million in 2018
  • Key Funder: California Wellness Foundation
  • Contact: Ashley Alvarado, aalvarado (at) scpr (dot) 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.