Tips and Tools

Practical tips and tools to build your online community, including what you can do to help bring down the silos between the broadcast and digital platforms.

Recent posts

10 Tips For “Owning” An Issue: Take-Aways From StateImpact

The full StateImpact team in front of NPR's old HQ.

Becky Lettenberger / NPR

The full StateImpact team in front of NPR's old HQ.

Two years ago, StateImpact launched with a goal to train the next generation of public radio journalists. With an editorial lens focused on explaining state policy, our reporters would be as comfortable blogging, shooting pictures, using social media and creating data visualizations as they are reporting with a microphone.

As NPR winds down the two-year pilot that initiated the project and our states continue StateImpact on their own, it’s the network of reporters who now cover issues “StateImpact style” that is the project’s most important legacy.

We learned a lot from StateImpact — both at NPR and at our partner stations. If you’re thinking of starting a similar project, or just refocusing your newsroom, here are our top takeaways. Continue reading

Animated Explainer Adds Color to Gas Tax Debate

Three cheers for StateImpact New Hampshire’s Emily Corwin, who found a way to take conversations in the state legislatures about raising the gas tax to improve the state’s roads and found a way to make it interesting, engaging and even, dare I say, adorable. Emily collaborated with New Hampshire Public Radio’s Sara Plourde, digital producer extraordinaire, to create this animated video:

How on earth did they do it, you ask?

Well… Emily wrote the script and added notes throughout, denoting what sorts of visuals she imagined might help illustrate each segment.  Sara then worked her magic and added her own style to Continue reading

Network News: November 26 – December 2

A Little Help From Your Friends (and Followers)

Here at StateImpact, we’re constantly seeking out new ways to get ahead of the curve and  adapt to the ever-changing ways that people are receiving and interacting with the news. That’s why, in recent weeks, we’ve discussed adapting to a sideways world. We’ve worked with all of our reporters to identify our core audiences so that we can find out where the conversations are taking place and building meaningful engagement.

A key part of that is using social media wisely—as a promotional tool, yes–but also as a reporting and engagement tool. (And if you don’t believe us, check out this piece by senior editor Alexis Madigral at the Atlantic.)

Last week’s webinar (now available in our Reporter’s Toolbox!) breaks down several ready-to-use ways to do just that. Check it, take some of these tips out for a test drive out and let us know how it works for you and your blog or station.

For more resources, including the plain-ol’ slideshow without all of the chitchat, go to the Toolbox post.
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Network News: September 24-30

Lessons Learned From Ohio’s Data-Palooza

Test score posts get lots of traffic. All of the time. In all of our education states.

And in almost every other StateImpact state, there is some version of test score data (e.g., gas well data, unemployment figures) that keeps them coming back.

So, we decided that it was time to iron out some rules of the road that might help us all improve the experience of sifting through these massive data dumps. We imagined who might be interested in the data, what they might want to know and how we might be able provide them with it, given the tools we have. What we developed was a series of posts, sortable tables, links and pathways that we think will help users quickly find what they are looking for and interpret what it means–and give reporters some solid resources for future stories.

With the help of data maven and StateImpact Ohio reporter Molly Bloom, here are a few maxims that we landed on:

  • Keep things as simple as possible. If you are dealing with an annual data release, put the name of the year (or years) up front in the title so that readers can easily find what they are looking for.
  • Present only the most crucial information in your sortable table(s). Link out to that bigger data set for further information or, better yet, create other, secondary tables with subsets of the info. Similarly, if the dataset is too large to fit into a filterable table, break it up into smaller chunks (e.g., traditional public vs. charter school)
  • Put short, simple, plain-English definitions for your fields (and any institutional jargon) up top, in bullet points, and make the terms bold. Continue reading

Network News: August 13-19

In the Spotlight: Guest Blogging Pays off in Florida

StateImpact Florida was the first state to take our new guest blogging tools, developed last month, for a spin. In their recent series, “The Secret Lives of Students,” the Florida team accepted submissions from area students about issues they selected in a summer learning program. Reporter Sarah Gonzalez describes the team’s experiences with their young guest bloggers below.

From Sarah Gonzalez:

Sarah Gonzalez /StateImpact Florida

Over the summer break, StateImpact Florida partnered up with Breakthrough Miami, which offers summer school classes to students considered “at risk.” We asked the elementary, middle and high school students to write about any school topic they wanted to, as either a short news article or an opinion piece. 

We agreed that StateImpact Florida would edit the articles, but not the opinion pieces. Since we were often hearing from elementary-aged children, we decided not to correct any spelling or grammar. The posts really remained in their voices. We did, however, reserve the right not to post blogs, and to make cuts if something they wrote was factually incorrect about Florida education. 

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Network News: July 2 – 8

Happy Birthday, StateImpact!

Can you believe it’s been a year? And what a first year it has been!

Danny Debelius / NPR

Celebration! StateImpact cake.

With three state sites launched, StateImpact was officially announced through social media and traditional press on July 11, 2011. Now in eight states, we’re building an impressive following by telling explanatory, data-driven stories focused on how state issues and policy affect people’s lives.

We’ve won numerous local, regional and even national journalism awards – amazing for a new project! Our broadcast stories are being heard on public radio stations across our states, our digital stories and interactives are being shared on Twitter and Facebook, and our local stories are being heard – and recognized – on NPR shows. “StateImpact, I’ve heard of that,” is a response we’re all hearing more and more! Feels good, doesn’t it?

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Network News: June 25 – July 1

In the Spotlight: Social Growth

Social media engage­ment continued it’s upward trend this week. In raw numbers, the number of people finding us through Facebook alone has grown by more than 400% over the past month.
What is working?

  1. Your self-contained posts are the most shareable, providing just enough context to position the first-timer while still providing the regular with new and interesting information.
  2. Posting to Facebook with gusto! A minor tip: Help your best posts stand out with a short intro, to encourage click through.  Continue reading

Inside Our Latest News App: How It Works and How We Worked Together to Build It

Click the image to view the application.

A key part of the editorial mission on the StateImpact project is to focus our stories on how state policy affects people’s lives. That’s true for for our digital posts and our radio pieces, and also for our interactive news applications.

In our latest news app, Dried Out, we visualized how a historic drought consumed Texas in 2011 and how the dry conditions compared to recent memory. But we paid as much attention to the impact of the drought, which was devastating, and on state policy choices that could mitigate future droughts, which might become more common and more severe.

We sought to tell a story, in short, not just to wow readers with beautiful visuals. (Though we hope to do that, too).

We contained the interactive to one largely static page, and the result is something approaching the vanishing “double truck” newspaper layouts that contain lots of graphics, images and narrative content. We broke the story into four buckets: the history, and the drought’s progression; the impact, and its devastation; the policy choices, and their limitations; and the Texans, who we hope will tell us their stories. Continue reading

Four Quick Story Types To Help Keep Up Your Daily Momentum

Elise Hu

StateImpact Indiana reporters Ben Skirvin (left) and Kyle Stokes (right).

To follow up on my last post, StateImpact bloggers should be following a regimen of at least five posts a day, but ideally, even more than that. This is key to maintaining vibrancy and life to your site. If you are going to be the definitive destination for a public policy area in your state, there should be no shortage of analysis, explanation and information worth bringing to your readers attention, whether its originated from your reporting or someone else’s.

But I know y’all are balancing a lot of expectations at once. So don’t overthink it. Keep in mind that of your five posts a day, at least two are curated, you have the help of a broadcast partner and the original work you do can come in non-narrative formats. Here are some story types to help get you through the day:

Continue reading