2020 Gather Award in Community-Centered Journalism, Overall Excellence winner

Engaged Journalism


About the Project

The collection of projects in this entry reflect Southern California Public Radio’s commitment to engaged journalism that centers community members’ information needs—and habits—and reflects the diversity and complexity of the region we serve. They also demonstrate our commitment to share what we’ve learned with the growing community of practice.

Mission statements: In June 2019, SCPR journalists debuted individual mission statements at the bottom of each story, along with an invitation to ask your questions to the reporter about his or her coverage area. The goal? To narrow the gap between our newsroom and the communities we serve, and to find stories that matter to people. We know that we can’t report for Southern Californians if we’re not reporting with Southern Californians, and the mission statements—and the resulting questions—provide a clarifying framework for not only readers but also staff as they make decisions about which stories to pursue.

COVID-19 mailers: In L.A. County, a quarter of all households with school-aged kids do not have broadband internet and a computer. In order to reach families with important COVID-19 information, we worked to create something that would make parents pause, decide to open, and hopefully keep. This mailer went out in English and Spanish to 12,670 households in zip codes where only 40–50 percent of households have access to a computer and fixed broadband.

Answering COVID-19 questions: Since early March, our newsroom has received more than 3,300 pandemic-related questions from Angelenos. To date, we have personally answered more than 3,000 questions, leveraging our newsroom’s reporting. Our volume-to-response ratio is unlike anything any other newsroom is taking on, according to Hearken (the web-based technology platform that allows audience members to ask questions directly to journalists). This work has also included launching a text-message newsletter through the SMS engagement platform GroundSource (300 people have subscribed) and collaborating with Hearken to explore how we can apply machine learning to reduce the amount of time it takes us to process questions into thematic buckets based on their content.

“FACING THE MUSIC: The Uncertain Future of the Orange County School of the Arts” is an in-depth radio series and web piece that explores why the school was on the brink of losing its charter and the larger questions of who gets access to high-quality schools. Reporter Carla Javier spent months engaging current and former students, going back over two decades of documents, and incorporating trust indicators recommended by Trusting News’ Joy Mayer. We also created a dedicated email service for those who wanted updates on developments.

Human Voter Guide: Voting is hard and not getting any easier. In early 2020, L.A. unveiled a new approach to voting: replacing polling places with regional voting centers. The confusion was palpable during the primaries, and SCPR continued to offer Human Voter Guide, essentially the voter’s version of the Butterball Turkey Hotline. Leveraging Hearken and GroundSource, our journalists have received and answered more than 1,000 questions about the mechanics of voting.

Lightning Chat

All finalists for the Gather Award in Engaged Journalism were invited by the award sponsor, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s Agora Journalism Center, to participate in a Lightning Chat where they were given the opportunity to talk more about the impact of their OJA finalist engaged journalism project. Check out this finalists Lightning Chat below.