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Houston Public Media takes off as new PIN partner

Filed by KOSU News in Public Insight Network.
December 8, 2012

Houston Public Media became a PIN partner in September — and the newsroom already has nearly 400 new sources in its network. KUHF’s launch with PIN has been remarkable, so I would like to highlight some of the successes, ambitions and approaches the station has built. Even if you are not a new PIN partner, you’ll find some good ideas for energizing the network in your newsroom.

Shomial Ahmad, PIN analyst

Shomial Ahmad, PIN analyst

While I was in Houston for PIN training with KUHF, I made an offhand remark about Texas being part of the South. “Well, as part of the South, Texas…blah, blah, blah…” I thought it was an obvious statement. But — whoa. KUHF’s PIN analyst, Shomial, stopped me mid-sentence to shake her head and explain to me the error of my thinking. She said, in fact, that Texas is not part of the South.

I’m Minnesotan. I had no idea. So we put it to the room full of PIN trainees, a mix of native and non-native Texans, only to discover that the debate got lively, fast — it was clearly a question that mattered to people, and their perspectives were shaped by personal experiences: A perfect PIN question!

So KUHF decided to build its first PIN query and find out what others in the community think about it. Give it a listen to learn what they discovered.


The KUHF staff used its “Is Texas part of the South?” query to explain PIN and ask listeners to join the Network, taking a cue from an example I shared from Lee Hill (PIN analyst at Colorado Public Radio), when he asked sources about what makes a great nation.

KUHF recruited more than 250 new sources that way, by pointing listeners to a place online where they could join the network as they answered a very basic, general query.

RT @kamichat: PIN and local NPR stations like @kuhfnews and @shomial are looking for everyday sources. Be one!……

— KUHF News (@KUHFNews) October 25, 2012

Other new sources have joined the network after seeing queries of interest that the newsroom has posted on social media or by receiving emails promoting one of the several queries Shomial has already produced.

But a successful launch isn’t only about recruiting sources — it’s also about integrating PIN engagement into the way journalists report stories. And there’s good news there, too: Six KUHF reporters have already seen the value of their newsroom’s PIN integration and have requested queries to use for projects and topics they are exploring.

Shomial also told me that the little efforts here and there are paying off, too:

A Prairie Home Companion came to Houston. Before the event, while people were mingling about, I went out with my clipboard (rather than being trapped behind the ticket table) and approached people to sign up for PIN. I got about ten people in a half-hour.”

Shomial has found a recipe for success at Houston Public Media by asking compelling questions while promoting PIN  through on-air and online callouts. She’s gained newsroom buy-in and has combined many good habits, each of them seemingly small, but crucial. Together, these things are making editorial engagement a part of how her newsroom works. They’re also the kinds of best practices that I recommend to all new and current PIN partners as they build their networks and engage their communities:

  • Embody transparency and relevancy for your audience and your sources;
  • Candidly share with the audience what PIN is and why people would want to become sources for the news; and
  • Create queries and projects around ideas and concerns that are relevant to the community you’re asking to respond.

Do these three things, and you create an environment conducive to building trust. It’s a trifecta for success.

WAMU in Washington, D.C., accomplished an equally successful launch with PIN about a year ago by employing many of these same techniques. They built about 600 new sources in a little more than a month. Of course, long-term success hinges on PIN-informed content, which both WAMU and KUHF are creating in spades.

I suspect their success will only grow as plans for new projects take shape and new sources keep joining their networks.

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