Our Team



Jennifer Brandel began her career in journalism in the early 2000s, reporting for outlets including WBEZ, NPR, APM, PRI, CBC, Radiotopia, The New York Times and Vice, picking up awards along the way. In 2011 she founded the groundbreaking audience-first series, Curious City at WBEZ in Chicago.  Hearken was awarded a spot in Matter.vc's accelerator and took home the prize for "Best Bootstrap Company" at SXSW 2016. Brandel was awarded the 2016 Media Changemaker Prize from the Center for Collaborative Journalism and named one of 30 world-changing women in conscious business. 

She’s a dog person.


ANNA nirmala

Anna Nirmala joins Hearken after being a management consultant for a big 4 firm, focusing on strategy and operations. After realizing that almost all of her free time was spent obsessing over journalism and the media in general, the opportunity at Hearken ended up being the perfect place to transition into a mission driven career and workplace. In her spare time you'll find her debating between listening to new vs. old school hip hop, cooking, reading, traveling, playing the piano, and trying to check out the latest TV "must see" series. 

She is most definitely a dog person.

Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis has spent more than 20 years leading operations and revenue generation for several entertainment and news media companies, including Variety, The Wrap and Hollywood.com. Most recently, Kevin was the inaugural Executive Director and CEO of INN, the Institute for Nonprofit News (formerly the Investigative News Network). In addition to his work for Hearken, Kevin is the founder and CEO of KLJD Consulting and is a guest lecturer at the Stockholm School of Economics – Riga where he teaches marketing and business strategy to media managers and journalists from all over Europe.



Alex started her career in the world of nonprofits and community organizing. She eventually made her way to Yelp where she helped small business owners learn the ins and outs of online marketing. After, she started her own personal development company before joining Hearken in 2017. 

You can find her obsessing over yoga, bacon, and the color yellow.  

She is a cat person, although she lives with a beautiful boxer named Greta.


Summer Fields has worked with news organizations on serving their audiences' curiosity with Hearken since 2016. Before that, she wrote a sociology thesis at the University of Chicago on the fraught concept of "diversity" within public media, and interviewed dozens of minority producers and podcasters on their experiences in the industry. She's a self-taught audio producer who has trained many other folks on the craft, and was named a 2015 Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) New Voices Scholar.

She is decidedly a dog person: Shiba inus over everything.



Julia Haslanger comes to Hearken with ink-stained hands. She's worked recently as an audience engagement editor at The Wall Street Journal, and as a web producer and page designer at Politico. She earned her master's degree in Social Journalism from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. On weekends, you'll find her watching Packers football and baking something delicious.

She is also a cat person (her cat's hashtag is #PicaTheCat).


Stephanie Snyder
Engagement consultant

Stephanie’s career in local journalism has spanned newsrooms ranging from for-profit and nonprofit startups to traditional daily newspapers, where she gradually shifted from multimedia reporting to a focus on audience development and community engagement through public-powered journalism, events, social media and connecting with readers.

Like a quickly-growing number of people, she is an enthusiastic Denver transplant (mountains! breweries! erratic weather!) after working as a journalist in New York City, Southern California, Washington, D.C., and her hometown — Phoenix. 

Stephanie loves both cats and dogs, but she’ll only make this face for the latter. 



Janine Anderson built a career out of community journalism, at small weeklies, mid-size dailies and hyperlocal websites. She encountered Hearken's public-powered journalism model at a conference in December 2013, and fell in love. 

She loves journalism that helps build community through a better understanding of the people within it and the stories they have to share, like this gem from a past life

Janine grew up in small-town Wisconsin but is decidedly a city girl. When she's not writing (or reading), she's knitting, dancing or helping her favorite local theater company.

She is on team cat, though her life is pet free.


Bridget Thoreson  Engagement      Consultant

Connecting audiences with what matters most to them has been Bridget's goal throughout her career, from working in the newsroom of a community daily to guiding audience development strategy at a national magazine publisher. She earned her master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School at Northwestern University, and is a member of ONA and NLGJA.

An Illinois-to-Wisconsin transplant, she was a Cubs fan way before it was cool. When not at work, there's a good chance you'll find her with her nose buried in a book. 

She's a confirmed dog person.


Krystina Martinez Engagement consultant

Krystina Martinez comes to Hearken from public radio. At KERA, she was an award-winning producer and worked nearly every job in the newsroom. Her work has been heard on NPR, Marketplace, and various podcasts. She was named an AIR New Voice Scholar in 2016, awarded to emerging talent changing the face of public media. She first got her start as an intern at NPR's Weekend Edition, where she once returned a CD for Susan Stamberg. 

Krystina’s a Texas native and calls Dallas home. In her free time, she enjoys powerlifting, dancing, sewing, reading, and most importantly – napping.

Krystina thinks cats are suspicious. She’s a dog person.



Sam Withrow has been working all up and down the stack on web applications, services, and ops / infrastructure for two decades. He is an experimental guitarist/composer and loves trains.  

He's very much an animal miniatures person.


Alison Jones Developer

Alison Jones had a wide-ranging career in the nonprofit world before learning to code, including working on several volunteer engagement projects with Habitat for Humanity International. Over the course of about a decade, she went from building houses to building teams to building web apps. Most recently, she has worked as a software developer at startups in Boulder, CO. Alison likes to read books, watch birds, and explore outside.

She's a dog person.

Hearken’s Extended Team

Hearken helps keep its books up thanks to Afable Consulting

Hearken improves its culture and teamwork with Malii Carolyn from Engage Between

Hearken is represented by the "there's no such thing as a dumb question" counsel of Darren Green

Our Backstory

Hearken's roots began with WBEZ's Curious City, which Hearken Co-founder and CEO Jennifer Brandel founded as part of AIR's innovative Localore initiative in 2012.  Curious City was made possible by AIRWBEZ Chicago and with seed funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for Curious City came from The Knight FoundationThe McCormick Foundation, and the Doris and Howard Conant Fund for Journalism. (Huge thanks go out to Torey Malatia for believing that the public had the right to play a role in journalism beyond consuming it, or having it happen to them. And for giving Brandel the opportunity to test her thesis at WBEZ.)

Hearken got its start with support from The New Enterprise Fund for StoryMakers from AIRWBEZ Chicago and Matter. Hearken is also funded by New Media Ventures.

Our business model is simple: media companies pay us for our consulting and technology. We help our partners better design and execute successful strategies to better connect with the public. Unlike other many other engagement companies, we do not sell or profit off of the data our customers collect or advertising.

Our Values


  • Serving the public’s curiosity

  • Sound, fact-based reporting principles

  • Information created and delivered according to what your community is asking for

  • Accountability and responsiveness to the public

  • Transparency with one’s audience about financial support

  • Transparency with one’s audience about one’s mission and ethical guidelines


  • Organizations who see their role (or are transforming toward seeing their role) as one of serving a community’s self-identified needs.

  • Organizations committed to building trusting and loyal relationships with their audience, through the creation of content in response to audience members’ identified information needs.


  • Any organization that advocates or enables the advocation of (including by providing a platform to those who do) bigotry, violence, or hatred. This includes prejudice based on race, religion, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual preference, reproductive choices, age, military status, citizenship, ability or impairment.

  • Any organization that is in conflict with facilitating an informed and empowered citizenry; increasing divisions in society, decreasing civic and community involvement; and contributing to a lack of trust in relationships.