Monday, July 19, 2010

Knight-Batten Award Winner, Sourcing Through Texting and Broadening the Conversation in Storytelling

Over the years, a great passion of mine has been the power of storytelling in media and how it can engage people. 

Recently, I have been particularly excited by how the momentum of social networking and mobile technology can/could change who is telling the story, to whom and who can be moved by it. And I have some exciting progress to report!

First a bit of background:

There is quite a bit of angst within some media circles that given trends in social media, and how quality journalism and storytelling is often practiced, that the American conversation on important topics (or any conversation bounded by a geographic or issue boundaries) doesn't become a medium of the elite, or speaking to the choirs, but a place where diverse people and points of view on the world can come together and enlighten us all in new ways.

Ethan Zuckerman in his recent TEDTalk at TED Global, points this problem out very eloquently, Listening to Global Voices

Now the progress:

Last fall, I began looking for a way to combine texting and content in public radio and reaching new users and listeners in new ways.

Lets be clear, I LOVE smart phones and apps a plenty (I have too many to count). 

But if we talk about how to really open the flood-gates to add people to the conversation, regardless of status in society, texting is a much more equalizing medium. Nearly 300 million US mobile phones have the ability to text. So how can we incorporate a texting component into our story telling and engagement process, that is more than just,"tell us if you like something or vote for this or that"? It was a creative challenge that I was really intrigued with tackling.

This is when I met Jed Alpert of Mobile Commons, a platform for mobile phones and texting. We got talking, and I was impressed with their work, which included working with content creators. But given PRI's role as innovator in content in public media and an organization that is built its operating model on partnership, I thought there could be ways that we could take this platform and take it to the next level, across PRI's programs, including The World and The Takeaway.

We entered into a deal with Global Commons earlier this spring. Most recently, our program The Takeaway (co produced with WNYC and in collaboration with The New York Times, the BBC World Service and WGBH Boston), developed a pilot to reach out and engage new people into public radio, build community, and tell stories not told before first in Detroit and then in Miami.

Detriot SMS might be mightier than the Sword (original story)
Little Haiti and Sourcing through Texting

And here are some blog posts written by Michael Skoler, PRI's VP of Interactive Media on both of these pilots:
The Takeaway seeks to engage diverse communities
PRI using media to create shade in Little Haiti in Miami

And here is a link to a video of a prototype idea we uncovered working together with the community in Miami. 
Texting Prototype 5

See more of these on PRI's YouTube Channel.

And it was just announced that our work received a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism!

Sourcing Through Texting
The Takeaway, WNYC and Public Radio International, New York, N.Y.
Special Distinction Award

A team from The Takeaway radio show joined journalists from WDET Detroit in a successful experiment that prompted residents to text tips about particular stories from Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit.  Residents texted information about trucks illegally barreling down their side streets, and in another experiment, they sent keywords describing their neighborhoods.  The result: non-listeners became engaged and more informed.  The experiment has continued in Miami’s Little Haiti.
From the judges: “The experiment opened doors for engaging non-listeners in ways they liked.”

It is exciting to see how a small idea or hypothesis can come together fairly quickly and show  promising results and perhaps more importantly, expand our learning. We obviously have more work to do, but it is great to see that this new way of reaching out and building stories is gaining recognition.

We look forwarding to testing this further!