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KQED: Disrupting Public Media
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This monthly series explores KQED's journey to transform into a 21st century public media organization through disruptive innovation. Working with KQED, researchers Elizabeth Bandy and Scott Burg will cover new strategies and lessons learned in real time across topics such as audience engagement and sophisticated data analytics, education restructuring and expansion, the spread of design thinking and innovation initiatives, developments in local and digital journalism, and the adoption of new technologies to support these efforts.

Building Community Through Innovation

KQED’s partnership in Matter and the resulting collaborations with participating start-ups has proven to be a primary catalyst for accelerating new community-driven relationships. Matter’s goal is to support aspiring start-ups that espouse public media values, helping to create and foster informed communities through technology and entrepreneurship. Matter emphasizes the idea of ‘media as network,’ which situates public media as a kind of ‘connective tissue’ between media and their audiences to improve knowledge and raise awareness.

Both KQED and the Matter start-ups think deeply about audiences; KQED, as a public media entity, from a content delivery and programming perspective, and the start-ups, working with public media entities, in developing tools and platforms to facilitate community and engagement. Matter provides companies an opportunity to try out their ideas inside of KQED in an experimental way without necessarily being disruptive to KQED as an organization. Within the shared space of Matter, a synergy built around community was just waiting to happen.

KQED News, with the assistance of a Matter start-up company, is building community through their own unique audience-first strategy, however, stories covered by the media do not always match the kinds of things people are really interested in. How could the newsroom develop stories that increasingly reflect audiences’ interests in the media that they’re listening to? How could KQED shift reporters’ attitudes towards audience, and become more engaged with their community? 

Holly Kernan, Executive Editor for News at KQED, was familiar with an experimental news series at WBEZ in Chicago called Curious City, that at the time, was developing an open source tool for newsrooms to bring audiences into the news-story creating process. After unsuccessfully trying in-house to build their own toolset to approximate its features and functionality, Kernan was eager to investigate how the Curious City tool might be adapted for KQED. Fortuitously, Curious City, and its founder Jennifer Brandel were invited to interview for Matter’s fourth cohort. When Brandel came to San Francisco for her interview with Matter, Kernan invited her to KQED to make a presentation to staff. The connection was immediate.

Brandel’s experience with Matter provided the opportunity to rebuild the original open source Curious City platform and to refine her business model, spinning the reporting model and the tech she built with Curious City into the company currently known as Hearken.

Brandel’s time at Matter accelerated the relationship with KQED. Hearken shared and supported public media’s mission. Their product and editorial outlook aligned well with the ideals of KQED’s, and its audience-first strategic approach. KQED staff studied Hearken’s structural and editorial methods more closely, ultimately integrating specific features and functions that eventually evolved into a regular audience engagement feature known as Bay Curious.

Bay Curious has proven to be extremely popular and widely viewed, generating 11 to 15 times more page views than the newsroom’s other stories. These stories are responsible for more engagement with audiences than KQED typically sees in their other blog posts. Certain Bay Curious stories have reached close to one million people. Leveraging the power of individuals and their curiosity with KQED’s expertise in editorial has proven to be a good merger. This collaboration has made KQED smarter about what people in their community really want to know and what issues are the most important to them.

Learn more about how KQED is building community in news and education