Summer Fields

Engagement Strategist and Strategic Partnerships Lead


Summer Fields has been on the Hearken team since 2016. As an engagement strategist, she has worked with more than 50 of our partner news organizations around the world to incorporate engagement efforts into daily workflows and their audiences into decision making. She specializes in getting new partners started with their engagement efforts and driving adoption of engagement across multi-newsroom organizations.

She first learned about Hearken back when she was at the University of Chicago writing a sociology thesis on the experiences of underrepresented and marginalized folks in public media, and the fraught concept of "diversity" in the industry. So when she heard about Hearken’s mission to expand the filters of whose questions and concerns make it into journalism, she saw it as an exciting potential solution, and she has been devoted to that ever since.

Previously, she held a fellowship at ABC News Politics ahead of the 2016 presidential election. She has been producing podcasts since 2014 and has trained many other folks on how to create audio stories. She’s an award-winning public speaker and a past volunteer health teacher for ninth graders in Chicago Public Schools, so she’s happy to take on any audience.

A selection of Hearken partners Summer has helped:

  • Summer worked with the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, NY to launch Time to Educate, an initiative looking to point the way toward solutions to end educational inequity in their community. Through Hearken’s public-powered process gathering questions from their audience, the staff was able to work with a long-time critic, Howard. This process left him feeling at least a bit heard, and improved their project by incorporating his knowledge.  It shows a new way newsrooms can collaborate with and listen to community members who may be critical of their work, and how they can begin to slowly recover the distrust their organization may have caused with members of marginalized communities. You can read Summer’s case study on the project / story here.

  • Summer has supported KPCC in Southern California since they started with Hearken in 2017. In its first year, the public radio station launched #SoCalSoCurious to gather general curiosities about the region, and planned live events around the input they got through Hearken. Since then, they have expanded in their use of Hearken’s public-powered principles, deepening and spreading the model across their work on- and offline. They’re fueling beat coverage, breaking news, and live events, and connecting Hearken with their overall engagement strategy. In 2018, they joined forces with LAist. In summer 2019, KPCC/LAist published updated mission statements for every reporter to make their work transparent to the communities they serve, and all of the reporters are now inviting questions from the audience on the topics they're focusing on. To date, the newsroom has received over 3,000 questions with Hearken. Learn more about them from our 2018 Champions of Curiosity awards roundup.

Summer can help you with:

  • Hiring practices: Summer has worked to create inclusive and intentional hiring practices at Hearken with a mind to creating a diverse team, and has run many of our past searches. She can help you to design and manage your hiring process for any role.

  • Funding ideas: Are you worried how to pay for new engagement projects? She can strategize with you about how others are doing it, and we can see what you already have available to you and you don't even know yet.

  • Getting projects launched: She can help you reorient capacity and break down internal silos to enable your success at engagement. She can guide your newsroom to launch your own engagement effort and assess its progress over time. She can work with you to develop engagement strategy across platforms and products, from your digital outreach to podcasts.

  • Diversifying communities you reach: She’s worked with many of our partners to take stock of their existing audiences and pinpoint opportunities to reach new communities with their engagement work. She can help you reach new audiences and design your engagement efforts with a mind to the information needs and experiences of marginalized communities.

Catch Summer in person:

  • PRPD19 Conference: August 26-29 in Minneapolis. She’s speaking at a supersession: Election 2020: Coverage that Matters to our Audience.