January 23, 2018

You may have heard of tools such as Hearken and GroundSource. And you may have thought, or even said aloud, we need to listen to our audiences more.

A new grant initiative announced Tuesday might help your newsroom go from talking about listening to really doing it.

The Community Listening and Engagement Fund brings together two tools for listening, Hearken and GroundSource, thanks to a collaboration from The News Integrity Initiative, The Democracy Fund, the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. (Disclosure: Knight funds my coverage of local news, and Lenfest is a funder of Poynter.)

Those tools aren’t the same, by the way. Here’s how the fund, CLEF for short, explains the differences: “Both are designed to help newsrooms make public-powered journalism — to listen to and share power with the public before and during reporting. Hearken’s technology is optimized for web-based interaction and GroundSource’s technology is optimized for mobile messaging and voice (SMS, Facebook Messenger, etc).”

Newsrooms based in the United States can apply to subsidize between 25 and 75 percent of the costs of using one or both tools. According to a press release, each costs about $8,500 annually. Newsrooms can apply for both or try one if they’re using the other.  

“Those who are going to have the most success with these grants are those who are curious and open-minded, willing to take some risks, and understand that building trust with the public takes patience, persistence and empathy,” said Molly de Aguiar, managing director of the News Integrity Initiative.

Who should apply? Nonprofit newsrooms, local for-profit newsrooms and newsrooms that haven’t yet tried either tool. The initial $650,000 grant will work with between 50 and 75 newsrooms during the next two years. 

"This is for those organizations that are ready, either through inspiration or desperation, to try a new way of thinking and working a touch differently and has management buy-in to do so," said Jennifer Brandel, co-founder and CEO of Hearken.

Going after volume and scale haven't worked, she said. Or relying on other platforms. Or pivoting to video. 

“I think we all feel we need to work differently, and stop chasing clicks and start listening better,” said Andrew Haeg, founder of GroundSource. “CLEF lowers the barrier to pursuing two-way engagement and will help newsrooms prove internally and externally that it's worth investing in tools and strategies like these.”

But this isn't listening and involving communities in the process of journalism because it sounds nice or feels good. Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, sees it as good business. 

“As news organizations turn increasingly to business models based on subscriptions and membership that are reliant on direct support from the communities they cover, they need to be able to listen to and respond to community needs,” he said. “Good listening is both a journalistic and a business imperative."

Want to know more? Check out this webinar on both on Jan. 31. Ready to apply? They’re listening.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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