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October 01 2010


KETC Works with Community on 'Homeland' Immigration Project

Fresh from their ambitious multi-city Facing the Mortgage Crisis project, KETC/Channel 9 in St. Louis has launched a new community-based news project on another hot topic: immigration.

Homeland aims to "apply public media sensibilities, expertise and capacity to address a complicated and polarizing issue," said Amy Shaw, KETC's vice president of education and community engagement. The project includes a website that will feature original content created by community members and KETC staff, a series of facilitated community meetings in the St. Louis area and across Missouri, and a four-hour nationally broadcast television series. This combination, said Shaw, is designed to "push the boundaries of what public media can do."

According to the site:

The Homeland initiative is the embodiment of what public media can do well -- we generate awareness around the important and complex issues that need to be addressed in our communities, and then we create impact by mobilizing people to address these issues. In the process of talking to people throughout our region, we want to show, analyze and present what we learn. We're not going to tell people what we think about immigration or what is right or wrong, good or bad. We intend to help people embrace and understand the complexity of important issues to help communities address them in a more authentic, rational way.

NineAcademy Trains Community Members

Shaw said the project is "rooted in needs of the community," and it is clear that KETC takes community engagement seriously. Homeland is teaming up with KETC's NineAcademy, a free community media program that trains locals in shooting, editing, and storytelling. The best productions will be featured on the Homeland site and on KETC.

Although NineAcademy has already trained community members ranging from middle schoolers to senior citizens, KETC is intent on "meeting people where they are." Aware that some community members lack internet access, KETC staff has made sure that phone, face-to-face and snail-mailed correspondence is valued as much as online interaction. For example, KETC is experimenting with the idea of "conversations in a box" -- mobile storytelling kits, including inexpensive digital video recorders, that are mailed to community members. When they have finished recording their stories, they send the kits back to KETC for redistribution.

So far, according to Shaw, promotion for the project has been minimal, as the project website is still developing.

Five Sections of Site

At present, the site includes five sections that demonstrate the participatory and collaborative nature of Public Media 2.0, in varying degrees.

360 Degree Perspectives is a blog that explores multiple perspectives on immigration issues, based on KETC's meetings with community members from all spots on the political spectrum, including Tea Party members, far-left groups, and the very wide swath of Americans who don't currently identify with a particular political point of view.

Fact vs. Myth takes a nuanced look at some of the common information and misinformation surrounding the immigration debate. Check out this Fact vs. Myth video created by a NineAcademy graduate DeAnna Tipton:

Your Voice is a discussion forum for community members. Right now, the conversation is heavily populated by KETC staff, but Shaw is confident that the balance will shift over time to allow for more user-directed conversation.

Homeland Series is a behind-the-scene look at the making of the four-hour series that will air in 2011. The broadcast element of this project is, as Shaw explained, "a piece of puzzle," not the be-all end-all culmination of the project. In fact, no pieces related to the project have aired yet, although there has been much activity both online and face-to-face. Community meetings have shaped the entire direction of the project, including the decision to create the four-hour broadcast piece.

Finally, From the Beacon showcases related work from KETC's newspaper partner, the St. Louis Beacon. The Beacon was a partner in the Facing the Mortgage Crisis project as well, providing cross-platform news coverage to the benefit of both organizations.


Although the project is developing smoothly, Shaw said that, "We were a bit naive in considering how challenging it would be to take on one of the most difficult and challenging issues of our time." As polarizing as this issue may be, the tone on Homeland remains congenial with only minimal moderation, indicating perhaps that people are tired of the sensationalized, black-and-white coverage of the issue that is often provided by traditional media.

In addition to the polarizing nature of the subject matter, KETC is also dealing with the fact that the station has not traditionally been a news organization. Now, as they experiment with community-based public affairs coverage, the team must constantly evaluate what works and what doesn't or, as Shaw put it, "go through a daily recalibration." The lessons that KETC's staff learn through this project could very well inform a powerful community engagement model for other stations around the country.

In the coming months, the Homeland team will continue to tweak the design and engagement aspects of the project in order to make the site more community-oriented. KETC is also working on some major internal shifting, and a rebranding effort to highlight the station's overall push toward public engagement. In the future, KETC will be taking on more than one in-depth community engagement project at a time. The subject matter for these future projects will come from -- where else? -- the community.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 14 2009


KETC's Mortgage Crisis Project Brings Public into Public Media

Facing the Mortgage Crisis, a multi-platform community outreach project spearheaded by KETC/Channel 9 in St. Louis, has become a model for public broadcasting stations nationwide.

Launched July 1, 2008, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the project connects financially struggling residents with appropriate resources. St. Louis was hit hard by the mortgage crisis, and this, along with KETC's proven track record of community engagement, led CPB to select KETC as the project's producer.


Facing the Mortgage Crisis combines traditional news reporting, mortgage crisis-related video segments, and social media resources, including a blog, Twitter account, YouTube Channel, Facebook page, and a map of community resources.

The project embraces a strong community engagement approach, bolstered by KETC's partnerships with local online news publication the St. Louis Beacon and 26 community organizations. KETC also hired consultant Robert Paterson, who provides another layer of insight on the project on several blogs.

According to the project's site:

Public media is in a unique position to have a profound impact on critical issues such as the mortgage crisis. By raising public awareness, mobilizing networks of trusted community partners, and by aggregating community resources, public media organizations can make a significant difference in the communities they serve. Collectively, the impact will be felt across America.

This video also provides an overview of KETC's accomplishments with Facing the Mortgage Crisis:

Expanding into Other Markets

In light of KETC's success with this project, CPB provided additional funding for public broadcasting stations around the country to replicate KETC's model. The new projects are targeted to reach 32 markets identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as being severely affected by the mortgage crisis. KETC is managing the wider initiative. (Participating stations are mapped here.)

The participating stations' project websites show varying levels of sophistication in the content they're creating. As a result, it may seem as though stations have different levels of commitment to the project. Amy Shaw, KETC's vice president of education and community engagement, said the websites are not always reflective of their success with community engagement. While leveraging social media is a part of the project, she said an even larger part involves "facilitating grassroots dialogue" and "forming networks of trusted community partners."

In many locations, the project's success relies on collaboration among public broadcasters, in addition to community partners. For example, in hard-hit Detroit, Michigan Radio and Detroit Public TV created a comprehensive site with a frequently updated blog. Cleveland's ideastream also includes comprehensive television and radio resources, and has had great success with community outreach.

Some stations also teamed up with commercial outlets. South Florida's WUSF and Bay News 9 worked together to put a human face on the mortgage crisis. Their site emphasizes independently produced videos of local importance to South Florida residents. Dayton's public television station also partnered with a local commercial station and actually won their local ratings the night their mortgage crisis special aired. This is an incredible achievement, although Shaw was quick to point out that ratings aren't always the most accurate measure of success in a public media project.

Facing the Mortgage Crisis also partnered with United Way's 2-1-1 service, a call-in number that connects people with the resources they need, including emergency services, financial assistance, and health-related information. Many of the local station sites feature a prominent link to regional 2-1-1 centers. (For example, KETC's site links to United Way of Missouri.)


In a blog post, Paterson explained some of the metrics KETC used to measure the project's success. Notably, 2-1-1 calls increased 400 percent after KETC began the mortgage crisis initiative. Shaw also noted that an extremely effective campaign in Cleveland resulted in a "2-1-1 deluge."

New Model of Participatory Public Media

Developing appropriate metrics for this kind of engagement projects is a challenge. The national project is currently being analyzed, both internally and by two outside assessment firms. The results of these reports won't be released until February, but Shaw was able to provide some interim takeaways.

Most notably, the project has found that in order for public media to thrive, "stations need time to build internal capacity." Stations that are used to being "the voice out" to the people need to adjust to a new model of participatory public media. Stations also need to work on building internal competencies, placing an intentional focus on outcomes, and allowing relationships to drive work in the future.

Here's what KETC President and CEO Jack Galmiche wrote in a letter to CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison:

Stations are making the breakthrough in understanding that they can leverage Web 2.0. The costs of going here are not financial, they are cultural. Through Facing the Mortgage Crisis, there is a core group of stations who are discovering how to use the online space to amplify the value of our traditional content and to use it to offer a voice to the American people.

Stations are learning by experience how to connect social media and digital content in all that they do -- making it possible for the public to have a much deeper relationship and an identity connection with the station, while at the same time having a "safe and trusted place" to ask questions, have conversations, and build connections. The stations that are making this possible are also learning how to use their online space to converge national, local and public content on the web and are beginning to understand how to use the web to listen to every whisper in their communities and to reflect back what they have heard.

The project officially ended last month, but some stations have made a significant commitment to press on and transition to the next level of the project. Ideally, Shaw said, Facing the Mortgage Crisis will serve as a "gateway to a broader conversation."

"This is a concerted, national public media effort," she said. "It's not just about the mortgage crisis, it's about how to make the public see public media as significant, relevant and worth supporting."

In many ways, said Shaw, the project has spearheaded participating stations to "make the transition from public broadcasting to public media."

Katie Donnelly is a research fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media. With a background in media literacy education, Katie previously worked as a Research Associate at Temple University's Media Education Lab in Philadelphia. When she's not researching media, Katie spends her time working in the environmental field and blogging about food.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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