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KALW launches collaborative reporting project

Hey Area coordinators Audrey Dilling and Olivia Henry.

KALW News is launching a new, crowdsourced reporting project called Hey Area. What is crowdsourced reporting? And how does fit in KALW’s mission? General manager Matt Martin sat down with reporter-producer Audrey Dilling and digital strategist Olivia Henry to learn more.

How will Hey Area work?

Audrey Dilling: Hey Area is a project where KALW will collect questions that anybody in the community has that they want us to report on. If you want to know why all the stoplights face the wrong way on Fell Street, or how a certain part of city government works — or why anything in your area is the way it is, you can head to our website and there will be a straightforward tool where you can submit your question. We’ll collect and post the questions, and then people can cast a vote for the stories that interest them most — and we’ll report on the ones that rise to the top.

KALW News has a listener tipline you regularly announce on the air. How is this different?

AD: One major difference is that this will be a much more concerted effort to get out there. And the feedback that people can give when we put question to a vote definitely allows people to be even more involved in the process then they are now.

Olivia Henry: And not just that – whoever suggests a story, they can collaborate with KALW to report it. Of course, it depends on the story, but we’re hoping this can be a tool for not only crowdsourced reporting, but collaborative reporting.

This was actually pioneered at WBEZ in Chicago – what kind of results did they have?

AD: The tool underlying Hey Area was developed at WBEZ. It was trying to break down the wall between the newsroom and the public, to let the public get involved in news reporting earlier in the process. At WBEZ, it was a project called Curious City and they got a lot of responses. It brought in new kinds of stories, stories that really connected with people. The reporting would start with an initial conversation, getting deeper into the issue and understanding what prompted the original question.

OH: This project brings KALW in line with a larger movement in journalism to upend the traditional way journalists view reporting: "We in the newsroom decide what information and what kind of stories are worthy of broadcasting." I think this is a rightful upending of that view of the flow of information, because the best reporting is reporting that people want and need to hear. Journalists are only human, we’re fallible and stuck in our own worlds, so it is absolutely the right step for KALW.

Olivia, for the past few months, you’ve been working on a broader digital strategy for KALW News. What have you learned?

OH: I’ve always worked in nonprofit newsrooms that don’t have to chase traffic in the same way that other online news organizations do because we don’t depend on advertising. That allows us to focus on our voice and the quality of the journalism.

Rather than simply looking at the volume of visitors to our page, or our social media accounts, I’m interested in metrics of engagement: Are people talking back to you? Are our stories eliciting questions that we can respond to? Is there substantive feedback to our reporting?

I think the station has a unique voice. I like that KALW uses the word “joyful” in its mission statement, and it really is a joyful newsroom. And because the newsroom doesn’t do breaking news, we can do very thoughtful, in-depth, human-focused stories that are really meaningful, and I don’t know anyone else in our area making that their focus. I think of Hey Area as a natural extension of KALW’s mission.

What’s your dream about what Hey Area could be?

AD: My dream is that we’ll go to places we don’t usually go to, inside communities we don’t know a lot about, or where wouldn’t have the insight to know that something is a problem. This should be a way for people who feel very passionately to ask us a question and point us to the right places to follow up on the answers.

I’m also just excited about the kinds of questions people will ask. I think the regular person questions can often be better than the journalist questions in terms of the core “what’s going on here” questions. There are things people care about that may not have a “news hook” but that really affect their daily lives, or that make them ask: Why is this?

This interview originally appeared in KALW's Winter 2016 Program Guide

Matt Martin was KALW’s general manager from 2006 through 2018. Under his leadership, KALW grew into one of the most productive and innovative stations in public radio. Programs launched at KALW during Matt’s tenure as GM include the award-winning local newsmagazine Crosscurrents, the design podcast 99% Invisible, and the Spanish-language narrative journalism program Radio Ambulante. He helped create the station’s Audio Academy, a year-long program aimed at developing new talents in public radio, and led the first broad-based strategic planning process in the station’s history.