How St. Louis Public Radio uses community voices to steer their Ferguson coverage

By Jacob Caggiano

The story of Michael Brown’s death and subsequent headlines of rioting, tear gas, looting, and arrests have grabbed national and international attention. Journalists have become part of the story too, with the tear gassing of Al-Jazeera English, and the arrests of at least 8 reporters and photographers.

There’s a difference between covering a story and surfacing the deeper issues that bring value to the communities who are most affected by them. The lines between being a reporter and being a community agent are blurred, and we want to forge a set of best practices for performing the latter.

The team at St. Louis Public Radio have been working around the clock to include the voices of those who are most affected by the civil unrest in Ferguson. Here’s how:

1) Curating Social Media

Poring through social media and using ScribbleLive to highlight the updates that are most relevant, they are keeping a live feed and linking to it from their homepage

2) Using the Public Insight Network

The Public Insight Network is a service from American Public Media which allows journalists to collect and draw from a database of sources with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Linda Lockhart sent out a query over PIN that asked “How have you been touched by the police-community turmoil in Ferguson?

Among others, heard back from a minister at Ferguson’s Wellspring Church, who held a prayer gathering that was featured in their story on turning the rage over Brown’s death into productive change.

Her query also generated the story “How Can We Move Forward? St. Louisans Speak Out About Ferguson

3) Hosting a public forum to bring together community leaders

Beyond their standard reporting, the station has organized a public forum (see our followup story on how it came together) that will be moderated by National Public Radio’s Michel Martin and features a good selection of panelists from various backgrounds:

  • Daniel Isom, professor of policing and the community at UMSL and retired St. Louis police chief
  • Rita Days, Democratic director of the St. Louis County Election Board and former Missouri state senator
  • Kimberly McKinney, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis
  • The Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson
  • James Knowles, mayor of Ferguson

In addition to recording and airing the forum on the radio, they also created their own hashtag, #BeyondFerguson, to talk about the event on Twitter and monitor community feedback.

How has the Ferguson story inspired you to engage with your community? We are collecting “Lessons from Ferguson” here, please share your story!

Related story:
How St. Louis Public Radio pulled off an amazing #BeyondFerguson event

Photo by Kathryn Banks of St. Louis Public Radio
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