Friday, January 14, 2022

Sacramento radio station that connected with rural counties in early pandemic offers tips for other public newsrooms

Sacramento State University radio station CapRadio usually focuses coverage on local and state government, but when the pandemic began, the station realized its wide-ranging signal could reach and inform rural audiences that might not have much, if any, local news coverage on pandemic-related topics such as infection rates, economic impact, supply chains, and more, Jesikah Maria Ross and Olivia Henry report for Current, a newsroom focusing on public media.

Wikipedia map, adapted by The Rural Blog
So in the early months of the pandemic, the station built relationships in Plumas and Sierra counties, mountain communities about three hours away. "About a half-dozen planning conversations resulted in a seven-part feature series based on community feedback. Stories were shared back with residents through email newsletters, local Facebook groups and community newspapers," Ross and Henry report. "Back then, it was challenging for engagement practitioners in public radio to forge new connections because of the pandemic. And it still is. Not only are people and organizations exhausted, but in-person meetings can be risky in the face of Covid, extreme weather and wildfires."

Since Covid-19 caseloads are skyrocketing again, Ross and Henry offer ideas for how other public radio stations can build sustained relationships remotely:

  • Establish community partnerships with groups people trust for information and support.
  • Find an engagement tool (possibly surveys) that works with partners' networks and bandwidth.
  • Bring community partners and local journalists into the editorial process.
  • Plan for how to share the stories back with residents.

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