With Kent Collins
A team at a Missouri television station has combined its investigative reporting efforts with its public affairs initiative to engage viewers in the reporting process.
The main tool? Facebook Live.
After reporting a story about illegal drugs found at an in-home daycare — the site of earlier child endangerment charges — the Target 8 investigative team at KOMU-TV knew viewers needed answers about why authorities hadn’t closed the daycare after the first offense.
The story was part of the NBC affiliate’s Target 8 Town Square programming. Chief Investigator and Managing Editor Jamie Grey said she wanted to see if they could involve their audience in the investigative reporting efforts with only a 48-hour deadline.
Town Square has evolved since it was created in 2014 as a 20-minute segment during the noon broadcast. Viewers were asked to visit the station’s website and social media platforms to complete a survey about a topic such as bullying or vaccinations.
Viewers were then given up to a month to complete a survey, says Kent Collins, faculty chair of Radio-Television Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. Collins, who coached the KOMU-TV team, helped create a similar public affairs program at the Nine Network in St. Louis during his 2012-13 fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.
“The goal initially was to find out if social media can help the process of reporting on important topics,” says Jeimmie Nevalga, executive producer of the 20-minute segment. “Can we find sources that we wouldn’t normally be able to find through this process? So far, through the surveys and the process that we’ve kind of come up with, it’s been yes. People, who take part in the survey, are pretty much invested and are willing to talk.”
How Target 8 Town Square works
With plans for a follow-up story about Missouri daycare regulations and a 48-hour deadline, Grey jumped on the livestreaming platform to ask viewers to submit questions they would ask authorities. She also encouraged people to share their personal experiences when it came to selecting a daycare.
Forty-eight hours later a follow-up story aired that answered viewers’ questions from Facebook Live. Grey also shared one viewer’s personal story and people’s general comments from the livestreaming conversation.
At the end of the follow-up story, she invited viewers to tune in to a follow-up Facebook Live conversation with a representative from Child Care Aware, an agency that helps parents find childcare, about how daycare regulations differ between private and public daycares.
By involving viewers in the journalistic process, it makes good on the promise of social-media-driven journalism, says Collins.
“The technology allows for it to very much be a partnership and for us to listen as well as tell,” says KOMU Interactive Director Annie Hammock.
Grey agrees. “If you give viewers the chance to say, ‘I don’t understand this’ or, ‘Why don’t you look into this?’ then it helps us serve our viewers better,” she says.
The audience’s reaction
The initial livestream about the daycare facing illegal drug charges received 6,783 views and 199 comments. Facebook Live was new at the time, so this number includes comments from those who were unfamiliar with the streaming technology.
During the 30-minute follow-up livestream with the Child Care Aware representative, viewers asked questions about daycare regulations. The stream brought in 2,900 views. Anchor Brittany Pieper interviewed the representative during the noon hour when she knew viewers could watch a livestream during lunch. People showed their appreciation for the opportunity to ask their questions by sending in thank-you notes.
Grey says she encourages other stations to consider bringing in experts, whether it be a doctor to answer questions about flu season or an accountant to answer questions about tax season.
According to Grey, the daycare-regulation segment was one of KOMU’s most popular Target 8 Town Square segments. She attributes this to covering a topic that resonates with parents.
“When we have an issue that hits the mom-and-dad demographic and keeping your family, kids, home or pets safe, that’s when people have a lot of questions and have a lot they want you to look into,” she says.
After the Facebook Live sessions ended, Grey encouraged viewers to share their thoughts and questions, and the station continued to see high engagement.
Daycare regulations is just one of the topics reporters have covered for Target 8 Town Square.
They’ve also covered issues related to gun control, crime and state government.
Grey normally picks stories that have performed well on Facebook for Target 8 Town Square follow-up stories.
In addition, she says, she looks for topics that she believes could be an in-depth story with a “bigger issue at hand.” She also chooses stories she knows she’ll be able to quickly find data or public documents to include in the research process.
What didn’t work
Sometimes Grey doesn’t get as many personal stories as she would like to see to include in her follow-up story. She attributes this to various reasons. The Target 8 stories require a faster turnaround response time on investigative issues people may not have an immediate opinion about. Nevalga says they got more sources for stories for the 20-minute segments when viewers had weeks to respond to the surveys versus a same-day story.
Another reason: Grey has also found that some topics, such as a police chase, have a limited source base for those directly impacted.
The station plans to continue producing these segments, says Grey, because they not only allow viewers to engage with the station and be involved in the reporting process but also learn more about what goes into reporting these stories.