If you haven’t heard of it, Hearken is something to check out.
It’s a company that’s out to streamline a process in which journalists ask people to submit ideas for questions they should answer in their reporting, allow them to vote on the top answers, and then select a story to pursue, with the public’s help:
Hearken is the evolution of Curious City, a project from Chicago public media station WBEZ that its founder, Jennifer Brandel, has taken from a local success to a national template.
Several public media stations around the country are using Hearken to get people involved in story selection and reporting. Several news organizations have actually asked the people who submit winning story ideas to join reporters out in the field, and learn a ton in the process.
The company’s two main products are its curiosity module and its voting module. Those work on tapping a local community’s curiosity about local goings-on and turning it into a process that helps newsrooms select stories to report that often fall outside the typical definition of news: It may not be particularly timely. It may not be particular newsy. But hey. People around you are curious. And if you follow that curiosity, they’re bound to pay attention, and follow reporters’ efforts to satisfy it.
As Hearken’s site explains:
MUCH IN THE WAY THREADLESS FIGURED OUT HOW TO PRE-SELL T-SHIRTS, AND HOW KICKSTARTER BUILDS COMMUNITY AND DEMAND IN ADVANCE OF A PROJECT, HEARKEN SOURCES INTEREST FOR ARTICLES BEFORE A JOURNALIST EVER PUTS PEN TO PAPER (OR FINGER TO KEYBOARD). READERS CAN TELL JOURNALISTS WHAT THEY WANT TO READ AND VOTE ON THE BEST IDEAS, VALIDATING INTEREST IN THOSE IDEAS BEFORE EFFORT IS PUT INTO REPORTING.
Ultimately, Hearken helps journalists engage the public. It’s difficult to know how best to involve people in the reporting process. But with the right method and the right reward, they can be motivated to share their deepest curiosities about their communities, giving reporters a direction that is hard to beat.
After all: What could be more relevant than answering your readers’ most important questions?