Power to the People

Hearken 101

Public-powered journalism is a new concept to many in the news industry. These details about Hearken will help you better understand who we are and what we do, so we can spend our time together addressing your unique needs and allowing plenty of time to answer your questions.

What is Hearken?

Hearken means “listen.” We help news organizations listen to their audience, engaging the public as a story develops from pitch through publication.

Using Hearken’s consulting and software services, our partners get deep audience engagement that leads to original, high-performing content, along with valuable data and insights.

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Hearken’s platform is called the Engagement Management System (EMS). The EMS includes multiple tools to engage your audience in the editorial process and keep their contributions organized:

  • Using the Submission Embed (placed on your website or in Facebook Instant Articles), you can solicit audience questions on topics you choose.

  • The Vote Embed allows you to curate great questions and invite your audience to vote for their favorite.

  • List Embeds draw in your audience to see what questions other people have asked, what questions you’re working on, and what questions you’ve answered.

  • Notebook will give your audience the chance to see a story come together and contribute their expertise during reporting.

You have total control over which of these tools you use and how you present them to your audience.

The EMS is a hosted service that’s easy to use and designed for journalists and community engagers, not expert coders. The most important factor in your successful use of Hearken is your engagement strategy, which is why our expert consulting services are bundled with the software.

In short: Newsrooms love Hearken because:

+ It drives engagement

+ It provides actionable insight into what their audience needs

+ Resulting stories consistently outperform other stories, as shown in this study from KQED

+ Hearken helps newsrooms acquire new users for subscriptions (newsletters and paid membership)

So is the Hearken tech just an online form?

To your audience, the Hearken platform is a simple and direct way for them to be heard, by using tools to submit questions, vote on their favorite topics and see what others are curious about.

To your editorial team, Hearken is a powerful strategy and system for serving the knowledge needs of your public. The EMS is your team’s newsroom console, synthesizing all the data that it pulls in from your audience’s engagement.

To your newsroom's leadership, Hearken is a proven methodology to grow and acquire audience that leads to bigger reach and revenue. 

Our groundbreaking public-powered process and consulting combined with the supporting EMS is what separates Hearken from survey forms—and from traditional journalism.


Okay, what’s the process?

When someone submits a question, you have control over what happens next. For example:

  1. Newsroom staff review the questions and decide to take one as the assignment. Simple.

  2. Newsroom staff curate a few of the best questions and invite your audience to vote on which question they want answered. Interesting.

This is where Hearken really starts to show its value.

Behind the scenes, the editorial team has a powerful interface to monitor audience engagement,  identify trends and organize plans for action in a centralized location—the EMS. The newsroom invites the people who submitted questions to promote them on their social channels—they want their question to be selected! Now your audience is driving their friends, family and followers to your website. An audience development dream come true.

Next, a reporter takes the assignment and contacts the person who submitted the question to find out what prompted them to ask it. That person often serves as a great source or character, and may even be invited to become a deeper part of the story. This is often the most rewarding part for both the reporter and the audience member: putting the “quest” in “question” and working collaboratively to discover the answer.  

Newsrooms have the opportunity to partner with more than the question-asker. With Open Notebook, reporters can share their work as they go, opening up their reporting to participation by the people most excited and helpful on the subject.  

All of our tools and processes allow you to collect audience emails, which means you can be in touch with your community directly, and convert the interested readers and participants into financial supporters of your outlet. 


How do we know where to start?

We at Hearken are committed to your success. We get our kicks by seeing the fantastic, award-winning stories that our partners are reporting every day.

When you sign up, we match you with an expert engagement consultant (who's also a journalist!) to help you plan and execute the strategy and workflow that best suits your goals. The secret to a deeper relationship with your audience is not simply new technology, it’s new ways of thinking and behaving, which is why consulting is always included in your subscription. We are committed to creating powerful new connections between your staff and audience, and between your content and the bottom line.


Who is behind Hearken?

Hearken is run by Jennifer Brandel, an award-winning former reporter and producer at WBEZ-Chicago, an NPR station. At WBEZ, she came up with this idea for public-powered journalism and in 2012 started their audience’s favorite series: Curious City. She has been continually developing and refining the process and supporting technology ever since.

Jennifer has built an experienced team of journalists, technologists and strategists who are committed to this vision of a better model for journalism, and who are dedicated to making every partnership a success. They work together closely to make sure Hearken remains the best service it can be, without equal.

Working with Hearken, you get access to the deep knowledge, best practices and sophisticated strategies Jennifer and the Hearken team have compiled through more than 80 implementations across multiple countries and languages, and with every kind of newsroom focus (from local to international, topic-based) and format (TV, newspaper, podcast, broadcast, digital-only).


What do I get for my annual subscription?

Hearken services

First and foremost, you get our team’s commitment to your success. Included in every Hearken annual subscription are the following:

Engagement Consulting
Personalized coaching and support from our ace team of journalists with deep engagement chops. Consider us as another arm of your newsroom ready to jump into designing series, projects, and ongoing initiatives.     

Engagement Management System (EMS) 
Hearken’s cloud-based platform is built specifically for soliciting and organizing audience engagement. Collaborate with colleagues in one centralized location, optimize lead generation and ensure your public’s interest is represented in your editorial decision-making.                     

The EMS includes a variety of customizable, embeds for deeply connecting with your public:

  • Submission Embed: Invite your audience to ask the types of questions your reporters will jump at the chance to answer
  • Vote Embed: Enable your audience to validate interest in story ideas before you invest resources into reporting
  • List Embed: Connect your audience to one another and to your process by showcasing questions that have been asked, answered or are being investigated
  • Notebook: Invite your audience to participate as a story develops, show your work and earn their trust  

Progress Reports
We’ll send you detailed reports on the engagement you’ve received through Hearken, along with recommendations for other strategies and features you can use to derive value from our process and tech.

Community of Best Practices
You will be connected to a global community of Hearken journalists from Helsinki to Hungary, Australia to Alaska. Apply their successful experiments to your newsroom and leap ahead in your market.             


Sounds great! What’s next?

There’s so much more to say about the value Hearken can deliver to your newsroom, but we’ll leave that to our upcoming demo. We recommend you invite members of your editorial team, staff from marketing or audience development, an IT representative, and other key decision-makers on your leadership team to attend the demo, because Hearken has benefits for multiple newsroom departments. The more people who are involved from the start, the better.

Please share the link to this page with attendees ahead of the demo, so we can make the most of our time together. Any additional questions, please contact: info@wearehearken.com

We look forward to connecting soon!