In August 2020, the Decibel project at Austin PBS relaunched with a new mission – community-led journalism. We vowed to instead of generating story ideas and coverage on our own, to work with the communities we cover. We also vowed to amplify diverse voices in Central Texas by listening to people who are often underrepresented in news media and have that listening inform our storytelling.
We developed a new editorial strategy to support this mission. The method is adapted from the Listening Post Collective and breaks down into five steps: Step 1: Choose a community; Step 2: Visit & Listen; Step 3: Survey & Document; Step 4: Create Content; Step 5: Keep the conversation going. The first community we decided to focus on was the Asian American community in Austin since an audit of our sources revealed only 3% of sources identified as Asian American. We hosted virtual listening sessions and published stories generated from those sessions for about 8 months. Now, we are currently reporting in another community called Del Valle, which is an unincorporated territory just southeast of Austin that is considered a food desert, child care desert and health care desert. The community is primarily Black and Latinx.
Throughout our reporting we have hosted multiple listening sessions to both generate story ideas and to get feedback about our reporting from the communities we cover. We use polls during these sessions to allow community members to rank our stories on a scale from 1-to-5. We also host open office hours with the community so members can sign up for one-on-one time with our staff to discuss our work. Every story we’ve published since we launched our new mission has started with community input. We also post listening session recaps on our website as another accountability measure.
In addition to the listening sessions, we also have a source survey that gets sent out to every source in a story. We ask for race, ethnicity and gender, but also expand to zip code info, household income and more. We use this data to inform what is still lacking from our coverage and to inform which community we cover next. We used this info to select Del Valle as our next community along with input from our Community Advisory Board.
We believe in order for the news media, especially community-supported public media, to truly reflect the communities we serve, our newsrooms have to include communities in the process of our work. That is at the heart of Decibel’s mission.