By Linda Fantin
Director, Public Insight Journalism
Minnesota Public Radio
The Public Insight Network is a testament to how genuine audience engagement can build trust and credibility. Our sources regularly share personal and sensitive information with our journalists -- information they would not Tweet or post on Facebook -- because we take great care with what they share.
We are transparent; we strive to always say what we want to know, why we want to know it and what we plan to do with it. Everything sources tell us is confidential unless they give permission for their insights to be broadcast, published, shared publicly or with other news partners. We also read every response, comment and submission and do our best to thank every source and let them know how their insights shaped our news coverage, including links to related stories, videos, blog posts, etc. And we invite sources to call or email us directly with questions, concerns or ideas worth pursuing.
When sources sign up for PIN they give journalists permission to contact them, and we most certainly would try to contact any person who is the subject of a news story. In fact, this has occurred. However, we would not publish or disclose information to a third party for which the source had not given his/her consent. And we would fight any attempts to obtain such information via subpoena. In fact, there are clauses about this in our contracts with partner newsrooms.
This high-touch, high-care form of engagement is frequently cited by sources when asked what motivates them to participate in PIN, -- along with a desire to correct misinformation and a sense of civic duty. It also is a critical distinction between the Public Insight platform and profit-driven services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), ProfNet, and NewsBasis, which exist to connect PR companies and publicity-seeking professionals to journalists. Such services, while occasionally efficient and useful, undermine the transparency that is critical to establishing and maintaining credibility and trust.
For PIN newsrooms, journalistic audience engagement is more than a means for inviting the audience to “like,” comment on or suggest stories, or to disseminate them via email and social networks, or to become part of a newsroom fan club. It is not a method of recruiting citizen journalists to do the work of professionals for little or no pay.
By providing journalists with the tools and training to reach and tap diverse and deep knowledge networks, the Public Insight method strengthens journalistic virtues like independence, intellectual fairness and disciplined verification, the same principles articulated by The Committee for Concerned Journalists and codified by Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in his book “The Elements of Journalism.”
It also gives citizens all over the world a meaningful way to participate in newsgathering, to strengthen their own capacity to hold individuals and institutions accountable, and to affect change in their communities.
The author ( lfantin at americanpublicmedia dot org) wrote this explanation at the request of Bill Densmore as a supplement to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute white paper, "From Paper to Persona: Sustaining Journalism in the Attention Age." Before joining Minnesota Public Radio, Fantin spent 12 years at The Salt Lake Tribune, where she covered a number of national stories including the Olympic bribery scandal and the kidnapping saga of Elizabeth Smart. Before that, she managed weekly newspapers her my home state of Wyoming, including the Jackson Hole Guide.