Jennifer Brandel

CEO and Co-Founder


Jennifer has had many lives - from a psychometric test developer in Montreal to a grape picker in Tasmania. Her curiosity led her to journalism, and she’s reported for outlets including NPR, CBC, WBEZ, The New York Times and Vice, picking up awards along the way. In 2012 Jennifer launched the groundbreaking audience-first series, WBEZ's Curious City. The new model for inviting the public into reporting processes has landed numerous awards, grown WBEZ’s audience, and attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the station.

In 2015 she couldn’t help but wonder if this model could scale, and through participating in the competitive Matter VC accelerator, she developed her public-powered methodology alongside a supporting technology so more newsrooms could reap these benefits, and the public could be better served by journalism. Hearken was born. The company has since taken home awards of its own: Best Bootstrap Company at SXSX 2016 Accelerator and the 2017 News Media Alliance Accelerator prize.

Jennifer’s work spreading this model earned her the Media Changemaker Prize from the Center for Collaborative Journalism. She was a 2018 Sulzberger fellow in the Columbia Journalism School’s Punch Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program and named an RSA Fellow in 2019.

In trying to find aligned capital for Hearken, she co-founded Zebras Unite, a founder-led movement for entrepreneurs creating a more ethical and inclusive startup culture. Zebras have been featured in The New York Times, BBC, Techcrunch and are gaining traction as a new kind of company built for the 21st century economy. Jennifer was named one of 30 World-Changing Women 2018 in Conscious Business.

In trying to support the local civic information ecosystem in Chicago, where Hearken is based, Jennifer co-founded Civic Exchange - a coworking space and learning community for how news, information and technology can increase democracy and freedom.

And because life shouldn’t all work and no play, Jennifer still stops by the women’s only freestyle dance class she co-founded in 2006 and helped spread to dozens of countries around the world, Dance Dance Dance Party Party.

Jennifer can help you with:

  • Workshops and capacity-building around engagement: not sure where to start or which staff are best positioned to grow your engagement efforts? Jennifer can help you identify where to start, quick wins, and how to create measurable outcomes from collaborating with those you serve.   

  • Helping leadership connect the dots: it’s tough being a newsroom leader these days. It can be hard to see how engagement connects to revenue, marketing, audience growth and staff retention. Jennifer can facilitate and coach newsroom leaders in generating a practical, actionable plan to connect the dots toward real outcomes.  

  • Getting staff fired up: are your colleagues exhausted at the thought of trying something new? Jennifer can re-ignite their passion for why they got into journalism, and help them see possibility where none existed before.

  • Big picture, blue sky ideas: got a big idea and not sure how feasible, viable or desirable it is? Jennifer can help you separate the signal from the noise and make the most of your most precious resource: time.