Lay a Strong Foundation: Lessons from WYSO’s Localore Project, Reinvention Stories

By AIR Media Strategist Jessica Clark



While Dayton, Ohio is home to award-winning filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, over the past year they’ve traversed some unfamiliar territory. For one of the 10 public media transformation projects that comprise AIR’s national Localore production, the pair worked with Dayton-based WYSO to develop a first-of-its-kind interactive documentary about how locals are reimagining themselves and their community: Reinvention Stories.




Developed in collaboration with interactive storytelling team Zeega, the site has rolled out over the course of the spring, revealing stories of eight Dayton residents in three parts: who they were before the bottom fell out of the city’s economy, what happened next, and how they are reinventing themselves.

Untitled3Each act offers interactive features, inviting audience members to explore further and contribute their own reflections on the city’s prospects. In addition, WYSO is producing a series of paired stories—audio and video on the same subjects—profiling other residents who have taken a leap to change their lives.

WYSO General Manager, Neenah Ellis, is a Peabody-winning reporter who has worked in public radio for more than three decades. In the following interview, she describes what it was like to collaborate on this cutting-edge multimedia production, and how the station engaged community members in documenting their own transformations.

Q: The final act of the interactive documentary launched a few weeks ago. What kind of response are you anticipating?



Ellis: The response overall has been great. The multimedia portion has been a huge experiment for all of us—we had no way of knowing what would happen because we’d never done it before. Parts I and II have been extremely well received, and we’ve gotten a lot of press. We think it’ll stay the same for part III, which means that we’ll be able to sustain high-volume interest for 6 months.

Act III also has a new interactive capability: a beautiful map of the Dayton area, with all of the neighborhoods and the people who have been interviewed represented by a dot. Users can also upload photos and stories, and become part of the documentary.


This interactive piece is what makes the project unique, and what will give it a long life. It helps us imagine the project in the future, find new people to interview, anticipate trends—for WYSO it has a million uses, so we’re really excited about that. It’s been hard…but I think it’s well worth it.

Q: How do you anticipate extending the project?

Ellis: Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert got funding from the MacArthur Foundation, so we’re planning a second year now. We’ll pull together another team as we did with the first one, and analyze what worked and what didn’t so that when we roll it out again it will be more streamlined.

The stories from year two will probably launch in January 2014, and WYSO is raising money for a third year. Also right now, we’re still airing the paired radio/video stories—Wednesdays during Morning Edition at 6:30 and 8:30.

We’re working right now on pieces for early May, and trying to decide on how many to do overall. Then, will re-run them, so we’ll get a full year’s worth of programming

Q: Do you feel as though this documentary is bringing new kinds of listeners to the station?

Ellis: Not only did it get my staff physically out into neighborhoods, but once they get there, their consciousness is different. This summer we’ll pick new neighborhoods, so it will extend us out even further. Anecdotally, we’ve gotten a lot of good responses from listeners, but we are still trying to match new members up with the neighborhoods.

As the stories air on the radio, we also see a lot of Facebook and email traffic, so we know that people are sending it out to their friends. So, there’s that great social media expansion of awareness as well.

Debbie Bradley from Reinvention on Vimeo.

One woman named Debbie Bradley, a former General Motors worker, started a discussion [online] among the GM workers about whether many of them have been able to reinvent themselves. She’s a real success story…became a nurse, and fulfilled her dream. We told her story and it kindled a conversation.

Q: What have you learned about the relationship between film production and radio production?

Ellis: The short films are different from the radio pieces, in some cases quite dramatically. The radio stories tend to go deep very fast, and the video stories tend to go wider. You get a different feeling about a person’s life with family photos, for example, while the radio pieces are deeper and more contemplative.

We’re hoping to bring all of the radio and film producers together and ask them what they’ve learned and share it.

Q: What lessons would you share with other stations?

Ellis: I do believe strongly that this project has really increased our capacity as a pretty small station to innovate…but it’s not a given.

You really have to have a vision, to have done the foundational work. We invested in a webmaster, have a high-functioning web platform, began community media training a couple of years before we began Reinvention Stories, had good media contacts—so the project allowed us to build on all that previous work.

We also leveraged Reinvention Stories to create a new team of volunteer media makers in combination with our paid staff, building on the Community Voices program. Now, in its third year, it has a cumulative effect, because people keep coming back. It encompasses a lot of projects, including Reinvention Stories—if we didn’t have that umbrella, we’d have a harder time perpetuating it.

But, as a small station, there are trade-offs. In a bigger station, there’s a bigger cushion, more people. There weren’t as many news stories this year because reporters were out walking out streets. So we had to decide that it was worth it.

I’m just so proud and happy that CPB and all of the other funders stepped up and recognized the potential for independent producers working in public stations. I hope the other nine Localore stations had as good an experience as we did, and that other stations open their doors to local makers, and realize that they’re a great resource.

Curious to learn how the other Localore stations built new storytelling strategies to engage communities? Read previous posts in this NCME series and visit to experience them for yourselves.

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The Kitchen Sisters Reveal the Power of Collaborative Production Via Localore’s The Making Of…

By AIR Media Strategist Jessica Clark

Kitchen Sisters hats“Some people are hat people,” Olivia Rose Griffin told Lauren Benichou, who reported on her 100-year-old hat shop for Localore project The Making Of…

It’s because they’ve been doing it a long time. And then there are some people who are like ‘oh, I don’t look good in any hat.’ They just have to practice. They’ve just got to throw hats on and get comfortable.”

For many public stations, collaborative production might feel similarly awkward. But award-winning producing duo Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva—known jointly as The Kitchen Sisters—have honed the practice to a fine craft. Over the past year, they’ve headed up The Making Of… at Bay area station KQED, mastering a series of increasingly ambitious collaborations—with the public, storytelling innovators, and local organizations. Their work offers models for stations seeking to update their style.

Cooperation at the Core

KitchenSisters nikki & davia“So much of the impulse to collaborate with an array of people and organizations comes from the fact that Nikki and I work collaboratively,” says Nelson.

Together, they’ve produced more than 300 stories for public broadcast, including a string of award-winning NPR series: Hidden Kitchens, Lost & Found Sound, The Sonic Memorial Project and The Hidden World of Girls. Nelson attributes their approach to previous work in team-focused environments— Silva’s in museums with a strong community focus and her own in filmmaking, where she says working with crews is “like being with an orchestra and bringing everyone to the highest level of their craft.”

Collaboration is also intrinsic to the design of AIR’s distributed Localore production, a 10-station public media innovation initiative with primary funding from CPB. In a unique three-way arrangement, each project is jointly produced by the lead producer, a public station, and AIR. Localore producers lead multidisciplinary teams that include designers, developers, reporters and station staff. In addition, AIR has encouraged these teams to work in tandem with audience members to document their lives and communities, in the process expanding the station’s reach into untapped corners.

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 11.11.44 AMFor the Kitchen Sisters, that meant reframing audience members as fellow makers, and inviting them to share their stories online and via a call-in line. Over the last several months, they have gathered more than 200 such stories. From this pool, they produce broadcasts, videos, and multimedia explorations on topics including the making of bespoke prosthetics, a jar of jam, data sculptures, a senior dog rescue service and others—some quite abstract and profound.



Tapping Fellow Innovators

To help explore Bay area creativity in all of its variegated glory, they’ve also worked with others who are forging new storytelling forms.

SoundCloud event

In January, the Kitchen Sisters co-produced a packed event at the offices of social audio platform SoundCloud to launch The Making Of…Studio with Zeega and KQED. An interactive storytelling team led by Jesse Shapins, Kara Oehler and James Burns, Zeega has co-produced several of the Localore projects. They’re building an open platform that allows to users help “remake the internet” by creating immersive productions drawn from audio, video and images in the cloud. The Making Of… site invites participants to make their own “strange, beautiful experience,” and share it with others in the community.

In another experiment, the Kitchen Sisters partnered with reporter Charla Bear, illustrator Wendy MacNaughton and digital storytelling platform Cowbird to tell the story of Ignacio Gonzales. Better known as “Notch,” he builds hot rods in his shop, Top Notch Kustoms, plus tiki bars on the side. He explains that his craft is “all about the stance and the style.”

Joining Forces With Cultural Hubs

Along the way, the Kitchen Sisters have shared The Making Of… stories at a series of events—including a feature slot in a sold-out Pop-Up Magazine live event last April, and a stint as hosts at the Third Coast Competition awards.

But all of this has just been been a warmup for what looks to be their biggest collaboration yet: a two-day celebration to mark the closing of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for a three-year expansion process. On May 30-31, The Making Of…@ SFMOMA will attract an estimated 12,000 people a day to a pop-up-style event featuring local makers of all stripes.

Magical Cinema Snowglobe from JD Beltran on Vimeo.

Artists who have been featured in the series will be on hand to demo their inventions, such as Evan Holm, whose Submerged Turntable simultaneously celebrates human culture and mourns its eventual loss, or JD Beltran and Scott Minneman, whose Cinema Snowglobe marries digital video technology with nostalgic tourist tchotchkes. SFMOMA architects and designers will also reveal the story of The Making Of…a Museum.

A smorgasbord of locally produced delicacies will be available—from underground Korean restaurant FuseBOX, karaoke ice cream truck TreatBot, cheesemakers Cowgirl Creamery, heirloom jam-maker The Still-Room, and others—and creators will share culinary origin stories. In addition, KQED and the Kitchen Sisters will invite locals to submit videos about what they are making for the chance to demo their productions at the event in a series of hour-long sessions.

Nelson says that co-producing this event with SFMOMA “is like coming full circle,” after many years of making “cinematic audio” that aims to tell stories visually. “We were always gathering 3D materials,” she says—a topic the pair wrote about for Transom. Now, they are able to bring The Making Of… to life in a way that celebrates, as so many of their stories do, “people who are possessed, with a passion, with a mission—people who are building something new.”

Want to learn about how other Localore producers are connecting with publics and community partners in fresh and surprising ways? Catch up on the monthly series featured on the NCME blog, and join us for a webinar on April 10th at 2:00 EST for Go Outside: New Visions For Community Engagement from AIR’s Localore. 

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Radical Collaboration: Engagement inspiration from Santa Cruz

April 2, 2013 by Jess Main under Audience Engagement, Creative Practices, Engagement Trends

Collaborating with your community is key to building an ethos of community engagement at your organization. We take inspiration on best practices for engagement from many sources: this recent post from Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog is a terrific example of what authentic collaboration looks like and how it can be achieved. Simon is the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH), and for this post she and her colleagues put together excellent examples, tools and pointers for how to collaborate with community members.

So your organization isn’t a museum? It doesn’t matter. The basic principles are the same. Some great highlights from the MAH team:

  • Collaborate with collaborators: Look for partners who have “A genuine enthusiasm for sharing their skills, building knowledge and developing relationships in the community even if they haven’t done it before.”
  • Transparency rules: “On your website: share your programming goals, solicit collaborations in general and for specific events, provide easily accessible staff contact information, give thanks and acknowledgement to your collaborators….”
  • Value your collaborators: Showing your appreciation for the relationship can come in many forms, and doesn’t have to be monetary. Meaningful gestures during and after the collaboration continue to build the relationship.

Check out the full post here.

For more engagement inspiration from Nina Simon, check out her recent TedxSantaCruz talk on “Opening up the Museum” – including her demonstration of the connection between engagement and sustainability for an organization:

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Learning by the Numbers

March 5, 2013 by Charles Meyer under Engagement Trends, Impact

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 1.27.40 PMImpact assessment has gained significant prominence in the non-profit sector, including for public media organizations. Increasingly, those inside and outside public media, who recognize and support public media’s value, are looking for better and more precise methods of measuring local impact.

 To better understand what types of tools and resources are available for public media to measure impact and demonstrate the value of their work, we enlisted LFA Group: Learning for Action to conduct an environmental scan. LFA Group is highly respected in evaluation services that enhance the impact and sustainability of social sector organizations across the U.S. and beyond.

The detailed findings are available in a report that you can download and read. We hope the paper contributes to advancing public media’s thinking on one of the important issues facing public media and the non-profit sector in general.

The NCME report establishes findings about the state of impact assessment in public media, four key lessons for moving forward, and three recommendations for public media to effectively tell the story of their role, value, and potential in more quantifiable and effective ways.  In addition, the paper, and our online link, provide access to a wealth of tools that can help in impact assessment.

We are grateful to the many people in public media who supported this work, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Though this paper, and its accompanying inventory of impact assessment tools, is only a first step, we hope you will find it helpful if you are thinking about assessing the impact of your work.

We welcome your feedback about the paper and your insights about impact assessment. Together, we can advance public media’s ability to measure, understand, and articulate public media’s impact.

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An Engaging Approach

March 1, 2013 by Amir Zaman under Engagement Trends

Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) in Minnesota engages deeply with its community by giving partners a broader role in helping raise funds for local programming.

On February 25, the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) presented Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) with a 2013 EDGE Award for the Minnesota Channel (MN Channel), which features a variety of local programming, with groundbreaking local partners, that are from or about Minnesota and its close neighbors.

A conversation with Bill Hanley, Vice President, TPT

By Amir A. Zaman, Communications Director, NCME

Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) considers engaging community partners essential to its success, and for its ability to serve its mission. TPT’s approach to working with community organizations, however, gives a lot of the responsibility to the partners it’s working with.

“We’ve been doing this for quite a while,” says Bill Hanley, Vice President at TPT. “But years ago, we decided that instead of us controlling every aspect of the project, we would invite our partners in and give them a bigger role.”

While that approach may not work for everyone, according to Hanley, it has worked very well for TPT.

As an example, says Hanley, TPT has worked on several projects that received close to a $1 million dollars in financing from partners.

“The ideas come from all over the community,” Hanley says. “But if we find partners with a common goal and approach, and if the partners can agree to abide by our editorial guidelines, we frequently can agree to move forward together.”

“It’s a somewhat unusual model in the sense that we plan the project with our partners, we contribute huge amounts of broadcast time, and our partners raise the needed production funding.”

One such project, “Honoring Choices Minnesota,” in which TPT worked with its long-term partners at the Twin Cities Medical Society, won the station and its partners the 2012 “Making A Difference” Emmy® Award. The award honors the use of video story-telling to change individual lives.

“The ‘Honoring Choices Minnesota’ is a perfect example of the type of engagement work we do with our community partners,” Hanley says.

The project was an effort of the Twin Cities Medical Society and its Foundation to inspire and support family conversations regarding end-of-life care planning. The society wanted to explore issues with different ethnic groups, different religious groups, and other groups to ensure that the views for end-of-life planning reflected the diversity of the community. To date, TPT has produced six full documentaries for broadcast exploring the subject of end-of-life planning.

“Honoring Choices is truly the perfect intersection of an important mission, real family need, and a wonderful partnership between health care and public television,” Hanley said.

Kent Wilson, MD, Medical Director of “Honoring Choices Minnesota,” said of the work and the award, “It’s breathtaking to win such an honor! The award is testament to an idea whose time has come and the superb creativity the TPT team demonstrated.”

This was a two-year project, Hanley said, emphasizing the long-term nature of the engagement the station has with its community partners. He said partners are often delighted with the resources and knowledge TPT brings, and are happy to raise the funds to bring the programming to life.

For the “Honoring Choices Minnesota” project, for example, the Medical Society raised money from its medical partners, including Mayo Clinic. And the partners were very happy with the results. Which meant the next time TPT wanted to partner up with them, the institutions were happy to help.

“FRONTLINE was going to do a show on Parkinson’s,” Hanley said. “We called Mayo about possibly exploring the topic locally and within a few days we had an agreement with Mayo to do a follow up story on Parkinson’s. We explained our editorial guidelines to them and they were happy to work with us on it. They raised the funds for the local programming.”

“My role is to reach out to community members and establish relationships and work with them,” Hanley said. “And the model that we have developed – of giving our partners greater responsibility for fundraising – works very well for us.”

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Three Insights for Stations From AIR’s iSeeChange Crowdsourced Reporting Project

By Jessica Clark, Association of Independents in Radio

Usually it’s snowing when Amber McDaniel throws her son a birthday party. This year, partygoers had to dodge puddles while hitting the piñata. “Why,” she asks, “is it raining in January?”

Alone, her question may seem humdrum. But when added to the growing archive of crowdsourced weather observations at, it illuminates a larger story: how climate shifts are affecting Americans’ everyday lives. Listen to what others noticed that same week in the “ChangeCast”:

Launched in January at Colorado station KVNF by Julia Kumari Drapkin, the iSeeChange Almanac is the culmination of one of the ten Localore projects that AIR is producing across U.S. The site combines multimedia submissions from local listeners, long-term and breaking weather data, and Drapkin’s radio stories on environmental shifts. Prompted by participants’ questions and observations, Drapkin brings scientists on air to discuss what might be causing climate fluctuations. The result is a real-time Farmers’ Almanac, reimagined for a social era.

Developing this concept was a deeply collaborative process that holds many lessons for stations seeking fresh ways to involve their communities. Drapkin worked not only with production partners AIR and KVNF, but with interactive storytelling team Zeega, a local designer, digital developers in New Orleans, an international network of scientists, and a dedicated group of local contributors.

Here are just a few insights that emerged:

1) A single inventive producer can help turbocharge a newsroom

When Drapkin arrived at KVNF, she doubled the reporting staff of the community station located in Paonia—population less than 2,000. A seasoned multiplatform reporter, Drapkin has travelled the world in search of environmental stories. But after AIR matched her with the station, she had a few doubts: “I designed iSeeChange for urban spaces affected by climate change,” she explains in this “Reporter’s Notebook”. “New Orleans, Boston, or Chicago. Places I knew, places with big radio stations, places with people!”

Starting from scratch in an unfamiliar community meant Drapkin had no choice but experiment with new methods of connecting with listeners. She hit the streets—and the fields, and the slopes—gathering vox pops at community events, placing promos in the local theater, encouraging local ranchers and firefighters to submit weather observations via SMS, and rounding up conservative “old-timers” for a call-in show exploring global warming skepticism.

Drapkin’s method of “flipping the script” on science reporting has repeatedly demonstrated how collaborating with audiences can help reporters get in front of news ahead of national outlets. “Phones and Facebook led to face-to-face reporting and prescient leads about the extraordinary weather and climate events of 2012,” writes Drapkin, including the earliest spring ever recorded since written records started in 1895, epic summer wildfires and drought, and a surge in the mosquito population that has been linked to outbreaks of West Nile Virus.

2) Small stations can own big stories if they fill a gap

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 1.29.08 PMThe iSeeChange project has inspired active participation among both local citizens and global scientists because it provides an opportunity for dialogue about the hard decisions posed by climate extremes.

As it turns out, Colorado is one of the nation’s hotspots for weather-watchers. Farmers, ranchers, recreationists and coal miners all make the region their home, as well as a clutch of climate scientists headquartered at national labs in Boulder. Drapkin discovered that many community members were already keeping weather records “in composition notebooks, scrawled in the margins of calendars. Yet to date, these records have never been shared, archived, or pooled.”

Combined with quantitative climate data, they offer a valuable record of local shifts that was not previously available. This new hybrid of public media and public science has significance well beyond KVNF’s broadcast range or even the state’s borders. It demonstrates how, as innovation expert Clayton Christensen advises, newsrooms can thrive by focusing on the jobs that audiences want done—i.e., by putting the “service” in “public service media.”

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 1.46.23 PM

The almanac provides a model for both stations and scientists that is gaining traction. In December, Drapkin presented on iSeeChange at the world’s largest gathering of earth scientists, and earlier this month this month in DC at a seminar on how media shapes public understanding of environmental issues.

3) Innovation requires buy-in from the top

KVNF Localore from Hutman Media on Vimeo.

Drapkin’s success in launching a new prototype for environmental reporting has been bolstered by general manager Sally Kane’s strong involvement in all phases of the project. The video above that KVNF submitted in response to AIR’s Localore call last fall demonstrates Kane’s ongoing commitment to weaving disparate community perspectives together to tell complex environmental stories.

“We’re at the energy epicenter,” she explains. “We have both carbon fuel and a major push for renewables in our area. We’re also at the epicenter of a local food movement, because this is the breadbasket of the state of Colorado. And so we feel change all around us. How do we make this tapestry vibrant through inclusivity and not through polarization?”

As Drapkin’s project evolved, Kane called on community members to “come together around a topic that, I believe, is the most critical conversation that people on the planet can be having at this moment.” Now that the Almanac is launched, she’s working on ways for the station to continue cultivating contributors and reporters.

With iSeeChange, Kane says, “We were able to engage with a broader spectrum of the community than we ever have before.” What’s more, “it’s wonderful how interested the scientific community got in this.…It gave them a mechanism to interact with us beyond the typical exchange of us calling up for a sound bite.”

This post is one in a monthly series exploring lessons surfaced by AIR’s Localore production, designed to catalyze stations’ capacity for invention and produced with principal support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Catch up with previous posts and check back here for more updates.

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Digital Magazines: A New Home for Multimedia Storytelling

Staff members from KQED and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) – which have created an e-book and e-magazine, respectively – will be talking more on this topic at an upcoming iMA webinar on Wednesday, February 13.  To register for the iMA webinar, click here.

by Amir A. Zaman, Communications Director, NCME

Magazine Banner Promo.jpgJust a few months ago, Oregon Public Broadcasting launched OPB Magazine, a free digital magazine available through Apple Newsstand, to showcase the organization’s wide variety of multimedia content and storytelling.

According to Lynne Pollard, Vice President of New Media at Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), creating digital content is intrinsic to OPB’s work.

“We create a lot of digital and multimedia content,” Pollard says. “We also make that content available through a variety of channels. Creating a digital magazine was a natural progression for us because we already had the content.”

Steve Bass, OPB’s president & CEO, began seriously considering the development of a digital magazine after a visit to the University of Oregon (UO). In the spring of 2011, students at the UO School of Journalism and Communication created its first interactive tablet magazine, OR Magazine. Upon seeing how the UO presented multimedia storytelling in this digital format, Bass decided to explore the iPad as a delivery channel for OPB’s content.

Jason Bernert, a graduate from the University of Oregon who played a key role in the production of OR Magazine, now works as a digital producer for OPB. Bernert’s primary responsibility is to develop and produce monthly issues of OPB Magazine, which is created completely in-house.

“We didn’t necessarily want to re-create our print member guide in digital format,” Pollard says. “We were interested in being able to give people a true multimedia experience. On a monthly basis, we create a lot of content through our TV properties (Oregon Field Guide, Oregon Art Beat, and our history series, Oregon Experience), our radio reporting and programs, our Earthfix local journalism center, as well as online content that we create for the web on arts and culture topics. We know no one can or will see or hear everything we do, so we believe there’s a great opportunity to re-version content for new uses.”

In order to provide users with a fully immersive experience, OPB selects and features stories that really stand out and are worth re-visiting, such as its cross-platform feature on Mount Hood.

Users can download the OPB Magazine through the iTunes store. If they subscribe to the magazine, it’s downloaded automatically to their iPad every month.

“We’ve only been doing the magazine for a few months. We launched it last December in celebration of the station’s 90th anniversary. We thought it was fitting to continue our service to the community that started with radio at the beginning of the 20th century, with the latest digital innovation at the beginning of the 21st century.” Pollard says. “We promoted the magazine through radio, as well as our newsletter, Facebook and other social media channels.”Section.jpg

To date, the digital magazine has more than 900 regular subscribers, and Pollard expects that number to increase after OPB begins running TV spots promoting the publication.

“It’s definitely trending up,” she says.

And what has OPB discovered about OPB Magazine?

“We are able to look at what stories people are opening. Highly visual stories are very popular.”

You can check out OPB Magazine here or search for OPB Magazine in the iTunes app store.

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At the Touch of a Fingertip: Engaging educators and students in 21st Century Learning

Staff members from KQED and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) – which have created an e-book and e-magazine, respectively – will be talking more on this topic at an upcoming iMA webinar on Wednesday, February 13.  To register for the iMA webinar, click here.

By Amir A. Zaman, Communications Director, NCME

When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to answer.  In the case of KQED, when the pieces came together, they took the initiative to create a different kind of e-book.

Andrea Swensrud, Project Supervisor for Science Education at KQED, says developing KQED’s first e-book was a natural next step in KQED’s production of original content for the education market.

“We had been creating explainers, pieces of purpose-built media for the classroom that explain different science concepts, and had just finished a project focused on earthquakes.”

One of the advisors for the earthquake explainers was from the California Academy of Sciences, which at the time was developing a new exhibit on earthquakes.

“Around the same time, Apple released iBooks Author, an app that allows anyone to create an interactive book for the iPad,” Andrea says. “Jenny Oh, our Interactive Producer for Science and Environment, started to think about how we might be able to use the app to deliver content.”

KQED is very interested in finding innovative ways to reach teachers and students, Andrea says. As more schools bring tablets into the classroom, using that medium to engage students with media-rich educational resources seems like a natural fit.  For public media stations, providing educational resources is a great way to engage the community and develop relationships.

iBookscreenshot2“This gave us an opportunity to take content from KQED and the Academy, and package it for use on iPads,” Andrea said.

“We also worked with the California Academy of Sciences to develop an iTunes U course on earthquakes; our e-book is the ‘text’ book for the iTunes course.”

“This is really more than an electronic book—it’s a multi-touch book. It provides middle and high-school teachers with a dynamic tool to learn from and to use with their students.”

What the collaboration also shows is that if you have established successful relationships with community partners, you can leverage those relationships to serve the community when opportunity knocks.

Download the KQED Earthquake e-Book at

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Part II: More Lessons from Ed Zed Omega – Get Collaborative, Take Risks, Be Nimble

The Twin Cities Public Television’s (TPT) Ed Zed Omega project, in collaboration with Localore, is part of the larger American Graduate initiative through NCME’s American Graduate Engagement Grant program. The American Graduate initiative seeks to address and offer solutions to the high school dropout crisis.

By Jessica Clark, Association of Independents in Radio

Part I of this post unpacked the concept and goals of Ed Zed Omega (EZO), a cutting-edge, “authentic fiction” project featuring six fictional teens crowdsourcing responses to the question: “What’s in a diploma?”

Game designer Ken Eklund has been producing EZO throughout the fall, in collaboration with TPT and AIR for the national Localore initiative. Eklund, and TPT Interactive Producer, Andi McDaniel, reveal more lessons gleaned from the project:

Lesson 3: “Involve community partners from the get-go.”— McDaniel

Once the EZO team realized how powerful in-person encounters with the Zed Omegas could be, they stepped up their plans for face-to-face engagement. In particular, two events at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis revealed the Zed Omegas’ power to spark discussion.

The first challenged visitors to stand on a map of the “World of School Issues,” and use cell phones to call in their reflections. Watch them in action above, and then listen to one of several contributions.

By the time Eklund brought me in via Skype to experience EZO’s second event at the Walker Art Center, the actors had learned how to fully inhabit their characters. “Identity crisis” was the theme of the museum’s student open house — the Zed Omegas created a series of life-sized paper cutouts, designed to spur conversation about high school stereotypes.

At first, I stayed in comfortable reporter mode, a disembodied observer on a laptop, snapping screenshots and taking notes. But as I was passed from character to character, I got it. Participation meant simply having a conversation.

One Zed Omega, Jeremy, told me he’d decided to quit school, move away from his small town, and work at a bookstore near a university in Minneapolis. I began to quiz him, and he answered like a smart but impatient teen would — he’d hated his hometown, “everyone thinks the same things.” He wanted to meet other aspiring writers, to be in a place where “people think differently, where people argue.” In that moment, I didn’t agree with his choices, but he became real to me. (Watch Jeremy’s end-of-semester video to see what happened next.)

The Walker events were successful, says McDaniel, because “It was a natural fit…people walk into a museum ready to play. They’re willing to participate because they’re looking to have their minds expanded.”

This was an unusual type of partnership for TPT— one that extended the station’s brand in a new way. EZO events have also strengthened TPT’s relationships with other partner organizations searching for authentic and original ways to engage teens. McDaniel reflects that the project has taught her to make community partners integral to participatory story development, and even to involve them as early as the recruitment stage.

Lesson 4: “Prepare to be challenged”— Eklund

While EZO was exciting and creative, there has also been a steep learning curve. “It was only through doing the project that we figured out how we should do it,” says McDaniel. “We were building the plane while we were flying it.”

One persistent challenge was figuring out ways for the fictional students to interact with audience members online. Real teenagers would naturally have their own social media accounts, so the team had the actors set up Facebook pages, plus, in some cases, blog or Twitter accounts.

But as fictional characters, the Zed Omegas did not have the deep bench of friends, relatives and classmates that would allow them to easily grow their networks. Plus, the characters needed to spend time crafting updates and conversing with others on the same platforms. The takeaway: “Choose a particular platform, and learn the language of it,” McDaniel says.

The overall project site was built using Tumblr, a blog-hosting platform that has robust tools for content sharing among users. On the one hand, this made sense: it was free, easy to set up, allowed for content to feed in from other social sites, and plugged into an existing online network already popular with teens. Three of the Zed Omegas created Tumblrs of their own which fed into the main site, and EZO did end up gaining some traction when Lizzie jumped into one education thread.

Eklund was also intrigued by the “visual economy” of Tumblr, in which users appropriate and share images and snippets of pop culture to construct their online persona. This approach is reflected on the EZO site, which is rich with photos, videos, quotes, and the animated gifs that have become Tumblr’s currency in trade. Could EZO reflect the “soul of an issue,” he wondered, the same way that Tumblr users express a “part of their soul” through their posts?

However, the team found, Tumblr’s structure makes it difficult to thread related conversations together, and the platform’s tools for including content from elsewhere aren’t always consistent.

Each game he’s run presents similar challenges, says Eklund. He chooses a platform that speaks to the networks of users who care about a topic, but then “there’s always this bleeding edge headache.” The takeaway: Dealing with such uncertainties is the cost of working in an emerging storytelling space.

Lesson 5: Practice “leaping before you look”— McDaniel

It’s exactly these types of challenges, that stations looking to adapt to today’s media environment, need to take on, says McDaniel. “We know there’s a mass disruption, but it’s really hard to know precisely how to change if you don’t have a visceral example. This pushed up against our barriers in ways that made them more visible.”

TPT is ramping up for more projects that will engage younger audiences. EZO has taught them that “we need to be nimble and playful and experimental,” She says. “This has given us really good practice in leaping before we’ve looked at every possible outcome.”

And while the Zed Omegas have made their decisions, there’s more to learn from the project.

“We have a bit of curation in front of us,” says Eklund. “We’re trying to bring the stories and the site in for a nice, safe landing, looking at what has been accumulated through this interesting process…and marveling at how unique this collection is.”

Experience it for yourself with this list of “top tens” selected by the characters.

This post is one in a series offering insights from the Localore initiative, produced by AIR with support from CPB.


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Learning from Ed Zed Omega: TPT’s Leap into “Authentic Fiction” | Part I

The Twin Cities Public Television’s (TPT) Ed Zed Omega project, in collaboration with Localore, is part of the larger American Graduate initiative through NCME’s American Graduate Engagement Grant program. The American Graduate initiative seeks to address and offer solutions to the high school dropout crisis.

By Jessica Clark, Association of Independents in Radio

The semester is ending for Ed Zed Omega (EZO)—Localore’s “collaborative thought experiment” at Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) exploring education reform. But lead producer Ken Eklund and his team at TPT are still rounding up the lessons from the groundbreaking project.

In this video, see the six fictional high-schoolers who have been crowdsourcing advice on whether they should drop out: Edwina, Nicole, Xavier, Lizzie, Clare, and Jeremy. Played by actors, these central characters are joined by two others who provide context and commentary: guidance counselor Mary Johnson, who assigned the teens this semester of independent study to explore their educational options, and Nora Rose, a home-schooler who is considering her own future.

Blending on-air promotion with digital, mobile, and face-to-face engagement, EZO is one of 10 Localore projects that AIR is producing across the country to increase stations’ capacity to innovate. The project has given TPT staffers a chance to work with bleeding-edge platforms and storytelling strategies.

I spoke with Eklund, TPT Interactive Producer Andi McDaniel, and EZO writer/producer Maggie Ryan Sanford about what they’ve learned along the way. In this blog post (Part I) we explore the project’s concept and evolution; and Part II looks at how other stations might take such a leap.

Lesson 1: It’s easier to play than to explain”—Eklund

Ken Eklund

EZO’s design reflects its goal of surfacing real issues encountered by today’s youth. The students’ stories are not scripted. They’ve evolved organically, shaped by the actors (aged 16-26) through feedback from participants, conversations with Eklund’s team, and experiences from their own lives.

A game and experience designer known for an earlier participatory public media project, World Without Oil, Eklund has coined a new term for this fluid storytelling genre: “authentic fiction.”  Such projects, he explains, create a safe space for participants to grapple with and play through thorny issues in a way that traditional reporting or community forums don’t.

The team discovered, however, that such conceptual explanations often fell flat. Instead, what brought EZO to life was direct interaction with the characters.

This dynamic surfaced early on, explains McDaniel, at a small TPT staff lunch. A discussion led by Jeremy and Nicole led to a “tense and interesting conversation about where our education system isn’t delivering,” she says. “The energy in the room was electric,” and the encounter led to a similarly engaged all-staff meeting.

Online and via phone, participants also stepped into the fray. Ray Kimball, who identified himself as a career army officer pursuing a graduate degree in educational tech, urged the students via email to consider the economic consequences of dropping out. Via Twitter, Shauna contacted Clare with a detailed list of suggestions for presenting her “unschooling” plans to her parents, which led to a lively exchange. Linda wrote in to express sympathy, noting that “high school was the worst experience in my life.”

Routinely, such exchanges elicited personal responses—which in turn led to talk about the role of education in work, society, and personal development.  These complex discussions challenge facile assumptions about who drops out and why.

Lesson 2: “The golden rule is: listen to the kids.”—Sanford

Unlike many explorations of the drop-out issue, The project focuses on a set of voices that often gets lost in the cacophony that pervades the education discussion: the voices of those most directly affected by our education systems, the people currently subject to the state of ‘being educated,’ “observes Brandie Minchew in Wired.


For the EZO team, that meant allowing the young actors to drive the narrative. Sanford was tasked with talking them through plot twists. While working without a script can be scary sometimes, she says, “the project is supposed to be giving voice to teenagers, and we have to walk the talk.”

As a result, the characters’ storylines took some unexpected turns. “We think we have one thing,” Sanford explains, “and then something better comes out of the kid’s mouth.” This loose structure allowed them to explore other educational alternatives freely. While the characters began “zed omega”— a slang term for “so over”— about their high school experiences, they eagerly sought out information on charter schools, “rising out,” online coursework and GEDs.

Visits to local high schools for conversations with real students also pushed the actors to deepen their characters. In one exchange between students from the High School for Recording Arts and Zed Omegas Nicole and Xavier, the students reject Nicole’s complaints about bullying as a reason to leave school. “If you give into it, then basically you let them win,” one tells her.

“They read her the riot act,” says Sanford. “You can see her sitting there, the gears turning like crazy…and she brings it up in her exit video.” Ultimately, Nicole decided to go back to school.

Read more about EZO’s evolution in the next post for lessons on working with partners, navigating social media, and taking productive risks. This post is one in a series offering insights from the Localore initiative, produced by AIR with support from CPB.

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