Here our next in the series of Q & A with scholars researching topics relevant to our division.

Prepared by Amber Hinsley, PF&R Chair

Q: How are Arizona State University students involved with the Public Insight Network (PIN) to help media organizations connect with sources?

The Cronkite School’s PIN bureau has been in “soft launch” mode during the spring semester. We have three students who have been working with about a dozen media clients around the country, which include television stations, newspapers, news websites and radio stations. They work under the direction of Rebecca Blatt, who came to the Cronkite School from WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., where she was senior editor for special projects and managed PIN operations for the station.

As with all of our professional programs, students commit to at least two full days a week in the bureau, making it a truly immersive experience for them. They are working directly with editors at client news organizations, constructing queries, mining the network for stories and sources, and engaging with both clients and sources. So far their work has produced stories on topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act and health care to the gas boom and its impact on communities. They also have assisted with stories on the ramifications of growing economic disparity, problems facing veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the buying and selling of guns.

Not all of the stories are serious: Students also have helped news organizations develop stories on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to the U.S., the pros and cons of various kinds of mattresses and the best places to go sledding after a snow storm.

We’ll have four or five students working in the bureau this summer, and in the fall we’ll have a full contingent of about a dozen students assigned to the bureau, working with even more media organizations across the country.

Q: Another component of the project at ASU is to develop business models for PIN. What have you learned so far in the “soft launch” that looks promising?

The work students are doing now is key to assessing what services news organizations most need and how we might respond to those needs. Students have learned a lot already about how to manage work flow, communicate effectively with clients and follow the PIN procedures and protocols established by American Public Media, where PIN resides.

Next, they’ll delve into the business side of the operation. This week a professor from ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business will be visiting the bureau to talk to the students about how to go about creating a business plan. Developing business and marketing plans as well as a pricing structure for services will be a priority for this summer. Students are really excited about this as they will be essentially helping to launch a small business. Our plan is for all of this to be done by the fall semester, when the bureau will be in full operation with paying clients.

Q: Looking ahead, what are some other projects the PIN bureau might undertake?

We’re learning something new every day, and we’re very open to where clients might lead us. We want to develop visualization templates, for example, that help news organizations display information in an appealing and accessible way. We’re working on an engagement platform that would allow people within the PIN to talk to each other around specific topics and interest areas. We want to bring PIN into local television news, which has not used the network extensively but clearly is committed to the principles of community building and audience engagement. We’ll be building use of PIN into our own professional programs so that our students learn to report more deeply and meaningfully. And we’re considering how to teach audience engagement more fully in our traditional reporting classes so that students emerge with an audience-first mindset and the skills they will need to succeed in the new digital media world.

We have three years under a grant from the Knight Foundation and APM to experiment with the PIN bureau and see what works. Our hope is that we will be able to sustain PIN long term, deepen and broaden an understanding of audience engagement in both the academy and the professional, and perhaps develop some new ways to connect with audiences in the shaping and delivery of news.

Kristin Gilger is associate dean in charge of professional programs for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She directs the school’s 70-plus part-time faculty members, oversees a growing roster of professional programs and serves as a liaison to the news industry, in addition to teaching. Gilger was director of Student Media at ASU from 2002-2007, directing student publications. Prior to coming to ASU, she spent 21 years in various reporting and editing roles at newspapers across the country. She was deputy managing editor for news at The Arizona Republic, managing editor of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal, and served in several editing roles at the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, La. She has done training in media management, leadership, ethics and writing around the country and the world for the Poynter Institute, Associated Press Managing Editors and the U.S. State Department as well as a number of individual news organizations. Gilger holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in journalism from the University of Nebraska. She is the winner of numerous awards, including the National Headliner Award for a project on race relations in Louisiana. Additionally, she has supervised a number of student projects that have won awards that include three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for reporting on social justice.

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