With the recent shifts in the journalism landscape, including the explosion of content and platforms, there’s an expectation that media institutions will deliver stories to a multifaceted audience’s individual interests. People expect to actively contribute to the conversation, no matter where it appears. To further complicate matters, what gets presented as “news” continues to edge away from traditional journalistic standards.
Curious City is an experiment in news gathering that harnesses the power of the crowd and technology in the service of better journalism. By turning to the community at the start of the editorial process, Curious City opens a new space for the public to ask questions and get answers. Journalists and editors guide the process throughout, so the finished products meet high standards of craft, expertise and accessibility.
Participants are rewarded for their contributions, appearing on air, in stories, and often coming along for the adventure of reporting - taking photos, asking questions and having a real, meaningful hand in shaping the outcome.
We show our process as we go along, allowing the fascinating tangents that invariably come with reporting to have lives of their own on social media. This whole approach and process has made for some very powerful results, including directly learning more about our audiences, and them directly learning more about us and how journalism is made.
“I can't believe the amount of production time and effort that goes into these! And the quality of the web feature, with the timeline format, is really impressive. It's been a great experience.” - Jim Brady (Curious Citizen)
Curious City stories regularly appear on the WBEZ broadcast signal 91.5FM and have earned broadcast slots during the most-listened to dayparts. They expand into larger conversations on talk shows, are accessible worldwide in a sponsored podcast, and via a hub of activity on wbez.org. This is where participants vote, ask new questions, learn answers and follow ongoing investigations. Any given question can spur multi-platform content and social media interaction. Curious City stories are among wbez.org's most popular content, and remain popular, oftentimes even months after having been pubished and broadcast.
“Great job, all of you, in covering this magnificent, unforgiving, devouring place where the prairie, lake and river meet. Thank you, too, for keeping alive the Spirits of Studs, Royko, Algren, et. al. to keep us connected to our past.” - Jeff Osman - WBEZ Listener
Reporters who have engaged in the process have not only enjoyed it, but also walk away with a renewed sense of the power of journalism.
"Working with Curious City brings the reporting process full circle-from an inkling of wonder to a reality that makes you feel closer to your city. When I reported on the origin of Chicago's street names, I worked closely with a question asker and we learned together. There was no pretense of authority, we arrived at the answer as a team." - Carrie Shepherd, Senior Producer, WBEZ.
Curious City is designed to extend into the community at large. Whether it’s member event or a partnership with an educational institution or your local public television station, Curious City is made to interact with the community.
Member Events. Curious City is a perfect way to get friend and fans of your station together. We did a Pub Quiz for WBEZ members featuring questions that had been answered through the Crrious City model. Each table of five team mates were joined by a WBEZ reporter or producer to try and guess the right answers for the night. A great way to bring our best friends into the process.
Media Literacy. The project partnered with the Illinois Humanities Council to explore the infinite ways that the media can tell the same story. We took a recent Curious City question, "How will climate change impact Chicago?" and brought together a panel of experts in front of a live audience, got five teams of young journalists together and asked them to interpret and make original media pieces in real time to be reported back. See that event in action.
Educational collaborations. Curious City teamed up with an undergraduate class at the University of Chicago to explore answering public questions with students as reporters. We ended up with six stories, many of which made it both on air and online and social-media-savvy students and the University of Chicago passed their stories around, exposing our work to a wider audience.
Institutional collaborations. To complement the artists' visions of Chicago presented in the exhibit CITY SELF, the Museum of Contermporary Art partnered with WBEZ to offer selected stories from the Curious City series. For CITY SELF, topics of interest about Chicago have been matched to artworks that explore similar themes.
Cross-media brand partnerships. Curious City partnered with the first season of the TV show "In the Loop" on PBS affiliate WYCC, providing short videos that answered questions at the end of each episode. Curious City content that was formerly made just for the web ended up on TV sets around Chicago, exposing the content and brand to new audiences. WYCC.org also hosted the Curious City voting and question asking widget, allowing us to gather questions from another media destination site.
Other newsrooms are catching on to the power of the Curious City model and it’s starting to expand. The first adopter is WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio with their series, WYSO Curious. This is what General Manager Neenah Ellis has to say:
Bringing WYSO Curious to our airwaves is a logical step for us. The listener engagement in the model ...is a central part of our public service mission. It’s an approach that also leads our reporters into stories that they most likely would not cover. While many stations claim that they want listener input, in fact it can be hard to institutionalize. This model makes it easy for listeners to reach out to us and for us to reach back. - Neenah Ellis, General Manager, WYSO
Both WYSO in Ohio and KUOW in Washington have had all-time top web stories for their respective sites by using the Curious City process. Other stations are in the process of joining our network, too.
The model is flexible and can accommodate a variety of staffing configurations, distribution channels and story output/volume. And we'd love to help you get your chapter started.
Please, don't hesitate to get in touch with Bea Bosco, Business Development Analyst at WBEZ Chicago Public Media: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious City was born out of the mind and experiences of Jennifer Brandel, who, when having to report up to five different stories a day, says she knew, “There is always going to be someone smarter than I am, someone with a deeper understanding of a subject with a better question to pose. I wondered if I could create a structured opportunity for anyone to funnel their questions to people in positions of power, not only to sources, but to journalists, too?”
Brandel had always been interested in new kinds of relationships with audiences, but wanted to create a series that still adhered to journalistic and quality standards. She wanted to harness the technology, filter out the noise and co-create stories that maintained authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
Curious City is one of 10 projects to emerge from the 2012 Localore initiative from AIR (the Association of Independents in Radio). The goal of the nationwide Localore production is to accelerate innovation at public radio and TV stations as well as sink taproots into new communities and experiment with new storytelling tools.
Jennifer Brandel: Founder and Senior Producer
Jennifer produces the series and occasionally sees daylight while reporting for it, too. Prior to Curious City, Jennifer reported for WBEZ’s newsdesk, All Things Considered, Day to Day, Weekend America, Latino USA and Interfaith Voices and collected some awards along the way. Her work has also appeared on Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, Transom.org, WireTap, Love + Radio, How To Do Everything, the Third Coast International Audio Festival’s Best of the Best broadcast and in the New York Times, Vice Magazine and music videos.
Shawn Allee: Editor
Shawn edits whatever the minds of Curious City’s producers, reporters and other contributors might dream up. His favorite saying is, “Follow your heart, then get an edit.” His own radio work landed him on NPR’s On The Media, All Things Considered, This American Life, Marketplace and other public radio outlets. His investigations earned him top honors from the Illinois Associated Press, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
Logan Jaffe: Multimedia Producer
Logan shoots and produces photo, video, interactive and web content for Curious City. Somewhat of a multimedia ninja, she's previously worked as a photojournalist, reporter and web/graphic designer, but couldn't pick just one. Her first independent documentary, The Road to Somewhere Else (Highway 127 & The World's Longest Yard Sale) appeared in Digital Americana's Fall 2013 issue. She's been a finalist in KCRW's 24-hour radio race and in the Third Coast International Audio Festival's ShortDocs challenge.
Articles: Curious City is a digital first series. We post to the web before we broadcast. Our latest articles are at wbez.org. Question asking, voting and checking out our question archive happens at CuriousCity.wbez.org. We frequently show our work in reporting as we're doing it over on our Tumblr.
Listen: Curious City can be heard on WBEZ 91.5FM on Thursdays during during All Things Considered as well as Weekend Edition Saturday. And anytime online. Our podcast is available via iTunes, Feedburner, SoundCloud and on the Stitcher App.
Videos: Curious City uses video to answer questions as well. Find these on YouTube
January 30, 2012: Current: Localore backs crowdsourcing, collaborative doc projects.
May 29, 2012: AIR Media: Curious and Curiouser: Localore Project Aims to Open Up WBEZ's Editorial Process
Novemeber 16, 2012: Current: Curious City brings its inquisitive audience into the reporting action
February 12, 2013: Current: New Chicago pubTV program to include segment produced by Localore project
February 13, 2013: How Sound: Curious City
June 20, 2013 Current: Expansion of 'Curious City' among five prototype projects backed by Knight
June 24, 2013: MIT Center of Civic Media: What's so curious about Curious City?
July 2, 2013: Current: Transom, Curious City to develop new technology tools with Knight Aid
Nov 1, 2013: Columbia Journalism Review: Curious Tales: Journalism at Scale
Nov 11, 2013: Maximum Fun: Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Curious City
Dec 16, 2013: Nieman Lab: Predictions for Journalism 2014
Jan 8, 2014: AIR Media: Why So Curious?
Jan 14, 2014: Current: Curious City expands beyond Chicago with WYSO Curious