KQED — Facilitating dialogue and direction with their community
I don’t think we ever got as much valuable feedback, real engagement, or two-way conversation as we do now. — John Boland, President, KQED
I feel really, really energized and inspired by the way that we’ve been able to really integrate the Community Advisory Panel into the newsroom in ways that are meaningful and useful .- Holly Kernan, Vice President of News, KQED
I feel it’s important to show up right now. It’s not the time to punch the exit door. — KQED Community Advisory Panel member
Homelessness! College students living in subways or on buses.
Immigration! Families torn apart by government raids on local communities.
How many of us, after listening to or viewing stories like this, have been motivated to act but are frustrated not knowing how to help or who to contact?
How many of us living in communities, or as a member of a constituency directly impacted by these and other critical community issues, wonder whether what is actually happening on the ground is accurately being communicated to the public?
The dramatic refocusing of the public media model to better serve the needs of diverse 21st century audiences, combined with an increasing tide of civic activism and involvement with media organizations, is redefining traditional relationships between media and the community, and impacting how news and content are being shaped and communicated. At KQED, the station’s Community Advisory Panel, committed volunteers from across the Bay Area, are initiating innovative experiments to strengthen dialogue and communication between public media and the Bay Area community.
Community’s role to advise
Outside of some specific examples (e.g. state-owned station) any public media station receiving funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) must have some sort of a Community Advisory Board (CAB). A CAB’s role is advisory in nature, but cannot exercise any control over the daily management or operation of the station. CABs meet regularly to review programming goals established by the station, service provided by the station, and significant policy decisions rendered by the station that relate specific communities being served.
In part, because it is a requirement to have them, many public media stations have found it challenging to find a role for their CABs that is satisfying, provides a value to their organization, and worth the time of the community members who serve. As a outgrowth of their most recent strategic plan, and the infusion of activist community members, this has not been the case with KQED’s own Community Advisory Panel (CAP).
Historically, KQED’s CAP has served as a positive mechanism for community relations, with individual members serving as de facto station ambassadors within their respective communities. Over the past few years, spurred by KQED’s strategic emphasis on ‘audience first’, new staff leadership, and a greater connection with the station’s content and news divisions, the CAP has taken on a new energy and purpose. As opposed to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when the station had a difficult time recruiting and retaining members for CAP, recruitment is now much more competitive, and very few members are anxious to end their six year terms.
KQED has positioned itself as an organization that is deeply invested in its community. This shift is reflected in the types of individuals interested in serving as CAP members. The make-up of CAP includes community leaders and activists representing the Bay Area’s many diverse constituencies and geographic regions. Being deeply involved in community issues, CAP members are by their nature very proactive and action-oriented. They are passionate about public media, and eager to identify how they can best exercise their role as public ambassadors to raise awareness and effect solutions to issues within their community. In creating an agenda for CAP, Yo Ann Martinez, KQED’s Project Supervisor for External Affairs stresses the importance for its 24 members to feel that they are making the most of their time and providing value back to the community.
I really wanted CAP to be active in a way that they felt they were making the most contribution, considering the time and their talent, so I really push for something that is tangible, something that they can do, something they can be proud of, so they can continue, and I can retain them for the whole six years. — Yo Ann Martinez
This past year, CAP created an action plan to better focus the work on they hoped to accomplish. Three subcommittees were formed around specific topic or focus areas, Q-Cares, Content, and Nominating.
Q-Cares: Responding to the public’s desire to act
The Q-Cares group was created as a way to proactively respond to the community inquiries when interest is strong to a particular story or issue covered by KQED. The idea for this function came about as a result of conversations with Holly Kernan, KQED’s Vice President of News, during a retreat she attended with CAP members in 2016. Kernan was interested in exploring ways KQED could channel community interest or concern while maintaining a necessary separation between the journalists and the public’s desire to help.
Every few months we’ll do a story that really elicits a big outpouring of people asking what can I do, how can I help. In thinking how to respond to the public’s interest, the issue is you want to make sure that there are clear firewalls between the journalists and the community activism. As a community service organization, we didn’t want to always say to people well that’s not what we do. So the problem we grappled with was, is there a way we might figure out how we could serve these needs while making sure that the journalism is completely separated and insulated from any activism without having to send people away? — Holly Kernan
One story reported by KQED that particularly resonated with the public dealt with the predicament of Bay Area college students who were homeless.
Public response was exceptionally strong to the plight of Brittany, a Cal State undergraduate who, while attending classes, was living on BART. Soon after the program aired, KQED was flooded with inquiries from audience members wanting to know how they could provide funding or housing support for Brittany. One KQED viewer ultimately helped to provide Brittany with an apartment, but the sheer number of inquiries to this and other stories led Kernan to approach CAP for assistance.
CAP members saw Kernan’s conundrum as an opportunity for CAP to provide value to both KQED and the community in a manner that can separate the journalist from any action people in the community may want to take on an issue or concern addressed in that journalist’s news story. For CAP members, Q-cares provides a heightened sense of purpose.
When that change happened (Q-cares), I felt like I had a little bit more ownership and there was something more concrete that we needed to do rather than relying the news team to give us something to do.
As a result, a system is now in place whereby Kernan (or other reporters) can alert Q-Care team members when a particular story generates a strong public response to assist or contribute in some way. Any newsroom involvement begins and ends with these alerts.
All inquiries forwarded to Q-Care receive some level of response. Members of the community may want to donate an item to a homeless person, volunteer, provide a transportation voucher, or contribute to a non-profit organization. The Q-Care team reviews every inquiry and decides as a group how to address them. Having familiarity and experience in dealing with community issues, CAP members are uniquely qualified to connect members of the public with Bay Area organizations and resources positioned to help.
To accept funds from community members who may want to donate to a particular cause and to ensure a legal separation from KQED, CAP has established a Q-Cares Fund, a donor-advised fund managed by the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF). Funds donated through PVF are tax-deductible and can be earmarked by the donor for a specific purpose. Soon after establishing the relationship with PVF, Q-Cares had an immediate impact for one Bay Area immigrant family whose story was reported by KQED
The story dealt with immigrant family whose husband was arrested by ICE. The arrest left the man’s pregnant wife and young disabled child with no means of support. After the story aired, people began calling in and emailing to KQED asking what they could do to help. These inquiries were forwarded to the Q Cares committee. The family was already working with an organization providing legal services for the case. so Q-Care members referred people to them, or suggested going through PVF. The challenge was that since PVF is not able to write checks to individuals, Q-Cares identified Just Cause (Causa Justa) as a resource that could provide direct services to the family through the PVF money that was collected. Just Cause was able to provide rental assistance to the family for two months. In addition, a member of the Q Cares team who has their own family foundation was able to secure funds to provide groceries for the family.
Other initiatives facilitated through Q-Cares include support to secure housing and furniture for a homeless father and his son, and additional follow-up support for students profiled in the story on Bay Area homeless.
Q-Cares is still in its early stages, but CAP members and KQED are very enthusiastic about its long-term potential.
Q-Cares was a really exciting breakthrough. It was clear that they (CAP) could actually can solve this problem in a way that we are meeting community needs and be able to do journalism in the right way. — Holly Kernan
We’re trying to get the reporters to let us know,if there is a story that you think will tug at peoples’ hearts, because we want to be prepared if we need to look into different agencies that can help.- Grace Sonia-Melano (CAP member)
Content — Broadening the conversation
Advising stations on content, or pitching content ideas, is an area where many public media community advisory groups concentrate their efforts. While an occasional idea may actually make it into production, the majority of community-driven content suggestions often fall on deaf ears. Today’s news cycles are 24/7, leaving little time for producers or journalists to follow up on story ideas from the public. The demands of keeping up with rapid news cycles, however, can often result in reporting that lacks proper breadth or context especially when addressing complex issues impacting the community such as immigration, poverty, education and homelessness. Points of view from those most impacted may often be absent from a story’s narrative.
KQED’s CAP membership is made up of individuals who have experienced or know first-hand the impact of these social, economic and political issues on the people they serve. It is with this in mind that new members to CAP’s content subcommittee hoped to infuse new energy and purpose into this function.
At the outset, the absence of a systemic method for pitching story ideas to KQED’s content producers and journalists was a flaw that new members of the content subcommittee wanted to rectify. Rather than simply forward random ideas over e-mail to KQED staff, the CAP has incorporated Google docs as a tool to regularly alert and update KQED’s news department of breaking news, events, or concerns within Bay Area communities. This collaborative document sharing process allows everyone within CAP and KQED news to review, comment and share various story ideas.
A second, and potentially more directed and impactful role for CAP in connecting community with KQED is the development of what is at the moment referred to as the Breakfast of Legends, opportunities for KQED journalists to meet face to face with community leaders and influencers to engage in open discussions about critical issues affecting the broader Bay Area community. The concept, initially spearheaded by CAP member Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, President of the Latino Community Foundation came out of a briefing with KQED staff on elements of KQED strategic plan. What intrigued Ms. Garcel was the plan’s focus on audience.
They (KQED) walked us through the plan. One of the things they emphasized was wanting to have that ear to the ground, of expanding the market of who they are drawing stories from, and identifying and understanding the next generation of listeners. In California, Latinos are a plurality, we’re 39 percent of the population. I said to myself I don’t think a lot of our community partners are listening to KQED. Our donors may be, but not necessarily our community partners. How do we ensure that they know that KQED is trying to put out stories that reflect what is happening right now with a positive spin, not only moments of crisis? How do we make sure that the reporters that are trying to find resources, data, stories, are connected to these frontline leaders? That is where the idea of this Breakfast with Legends came up. — Jacqueline Martinez-Garcel
Garcel and other CAP members approached Holly Kernan with the idea of convening an informal meeting between KQED journalists and Bay Area community leaders to discuss the topic of immigration. After a few months of planning, the meeting was held at the Greenlighting Institute in June 2017. In addition to KQED journalists, approximately 50 community leaders from a diversity of Bay Area organizations addressing immigration issues were in attendance, including representatives from five different organizations serving five different audiences, comprising Latino, Asian and Muslim constituencies. These included a Latino social services organization, and two organizations that work directly legally with immigrants and ICE detention, including Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, Street Level Health in Oakland, and Services, Immigration Rights and Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose.
Those in attendance (journalists and community leaders) felt that the meeting was unique, informative, meaningful and consciousness raising.
It felt extremely productive and an excellent use of our time. We learned a lot about the work the people were doing and the way that they approached the work. It was a very informative, impactful and emotional kind of a gathering, the kind of thing that otherwise we wouldn’t have access to. What really came across was just how stressed out all of the people on the front lines were bearing witness to this kind of collective created trauma where families and communities are being torn apart. They’re really helping us be better informed. — Holly Kernan
I think that it went beyond my expectations. I figured this was going to be a dialogue for our community partners and the reporters, but they (reporters) went deep really fast, and were asking real substantive questions. They weren’t shying away from controversial issues like illegal immigration, even the words that reporters are using and how to address some of those issues. There was a real desire to listen and learn on both sides. They showed up willing to listen and engage with the audience and the panelists. It was an authentic engagement — Jacqueline Martinez Garcel
Both the reporters and community leaders are eager to continue their conversations. Many community representatives were unfamiliar with KQED’s coverage of immigration issues, and asked to be alerted to any past or future stories on immigration that affects their specific region. CAP and KQED are actively considering other topics for future meetings between reporters and community leaders.
Finding new leaders
CAP also serves as a fertile source for future leadership. There are direct connections between CAP and the KQED Board. CAP members are approved by KQED’s Board of Directors, which provides the board a direct link to CAP processes and activities. Members of CAP have presented at board meetings and retreats. Because CAP members are so much more involved and familiar with KQED operations than in previous years, the body has served as a feeder for the KQED Board itself. At least five former CAP chairs, including current board member Brian Cheu, have served on the KQED board. Unlike other new board members, who may take up to 2 years to fully understand KQED operations, CAP members who come on to the KQED board can hit the ground running
Creating a legacy
As KQED embarks its new strategic plan this fall, connecting with the community in these uncertain times will become increasingly important, as will the role of CAP. To continue to grow their audience in a manner that is agile and responsive to community needs, KQED will continue to rely on CAP to provide opportunities for dialogue and interaction to deepen the organization’s understanding of important community issues and concerns.
What encourages me, both as a CAP member and as someone who really wants to create these bridges is that we can do this with the confidence that it is going to work, because people are willing to make it work. I think it is a testament to the leadership internally having sat in KQED Board Meetings that it comes from the top down. The board is really committed to this. Having been in other community advisory groups, that is not always the case. — Jacqueline Martinez-Garcel