This Small News Team Used a Key Question to Create #DroughtVoices

May 9, 2014

A photo from The Friant-Kern Canal is supposed to be a centerpiece of the original Central Valley Project plan. The canal "was reduced to a trickle" when reporter Ezra David Romero took this picture.
Credit Ezra David Romero, Valley Public Radio

Valley Public Radio’s series Voices of the Drought explores the impacts of California’s historic drought by showcasing the many people that the drought touches, from snow surveyors to farmers.

Knowing that the drought is a story that all other news outlets would be covering, Valley Public Radio’s newsroom asked themselves a question before coming up with the series: how can we cover this differently? 

This question helped the three-person newsroom focus on telling individual stories, and on getting the community involved in that storytelling, reporter Ezra David Romero recently told me. This also freed them to say no to certain types of stories that other organizations were already doing.

“Knowing who we are and what we have time to do is important,” Romero said. “We can tell people’s stories really well here. We can go to communities, we can find those people.”

An important part of this for Valley Public Radio is enabling the community to share their own stories using the hashtag #droughtvoices.

The Voices of the Drought Tumblr is a mix of photos and stories from reporter Ezra David Romero, and submitted images from student reporters
“I originally thought it would be organic and people would do it on their own,” Romero said. “But I found you have to put effort into it to get collaborators involved.”

The extra effort of reaching out to groups has paid off thanks to a partnership with The kNOw Youth Media. Several teenagers from the youth media group have partnered with Valley Public Radio to share photos and captions that are featured on the project’s Tumblr.

MJ Vang, a youth reporter with The kNOw, a youth media organization in Fresno, Calif. took this photo for the project Voices of the Drought, a collaboration with Valley Public Radio.
Credit MJ Vang, The kNOw Youth Media

This photo of a young boy relaxing in his backyard pool is one of Romero's favorite contributions from the students so far. It is one of many that showcase the little things that all add up to a continuous narrative about life during a drought. 

That narrative is going to keep going. The drought isn't going anywhere, so Romero has no plans to stop the series. Another youth group, We'Ced Youth Media, has started sharing images on Instagram, and there are plans for local farmers to start contributing, as well. 

Follow along with Valley Public Radio's collaboration with their communities at the Voices of the Drought Tumblr, Instagram, and their site. Follow Romero on Twitter and on Instagram.