How Community Listening Sessions Can Help Stations Reach New Audiences

Jul 18, 2014

KCUR's Up To Date Host Steve Kraske, left, leads a discussion with community members during a listening session in March.
Credit Alyson Raletz KCUR

We often hear questions like this one: how can our station reach new audiences? One way to start is with community listening sessions.

In a recent webinar, we heard from two stations that have sessions to build relationships in communities that are underserved by the media.

KCUR community engagement director Ron Jones shared how community listening sessions have helped form the reporting initiative Beyond Our Borders, a multi-platform look at how geographic borders affect the daily lives of people in Kansas City.

WUWM's Project Milwaukee Executive Producer Ann-Elise Henzl, Lake Effect producer Stephanie Lecci and digital editor Michelle Maternowski discussed how a community listening session helped them build trust in their community around a series about Wisconsin's high rate of black male incarceration, including a special project called More Than My Record.

Here are a few highlights from the session, but don't miss the full webinar video and slides at the end of the post.


How to Prepare for a Listening Session
KCUR partners with neighborhood associations to hold community listening sessions. They use posters like this one, as well as social media and emails to promote the sessions.

  • Identify a neighborhood or issue to focus on, then identify collaborators. KCUR often connects with neighborhood groups that make sense editorially to partner with. WUWM worked with a local professor with experience with listening sessions on the topic they worked on to vet questions and recruit attendees.
  • Find a gathering place. Is it accessible by public transit? Is it a neutral place for everyone to meet?
  • Promote the listening session if it’s open to the neighborhood, or recruit attendees if it is for a specific issue.
  • Don't forget to provide refreshments.


How to Make the Session Productive and Useful
It might be hard, but resisting your radio urge to record will help make attendants more comfortable and ready to open up with you.

  • Give yourself extra time in the beginning and the end for casual greetings and goodbyes. Don’t forget a sign in sheet, and delegate who will help moderate and take notes.
  • Don’t record. Keep it off-the-record.
  • Start off honestly - say why you’re there, what your goals are and feel ok saying that media, including your own, hasn’t always covered this issue or this area enough, and this is an effort to work on that.
  • Keep the conversation focused by using only one or two questions. 
  • KCUR uses: What do you want metro Kansas City to know about your community? and How engaged are you, and how engaged do you want to be, in your community?


What Next After a Listening Session?
KCUR debriefs after every community listening session to compare notes and brainstorms stories and talk show segments.
Credit Ron Jones, KCUR

  • Do a debrief - plan stories, follow-ups, and talk show segments.
  • Don’t parachute in - make sure to continue attending community events and holding conversations.

Key Takeaways

  • Believe in the process: This can take a lot of planning at first, and is a different way to approach storytelling. But it will be worth it.
  • Don’t have a preconceived notion of what you’ll get or hear
  • Include everyone at your station: this type of initiative shouldn't be considered an add-on. To be truly successful everyone has a part to play, from the receptionist to the general manager.
  • The success of listening sessions leads to buy-in and closer relationships with the community



How Community Listening Sessions Can Help Stations Reach Audiences and Tell Stories from NPR Digital Services on Vimeo.


Listening sessions from nprdigital