Civic Catalyst Newsletter
Spring 2002

What's Happening in Pew Projects

Huntington, WV
The Herald-Dispatch, West Virginia Public Broadcasting
The paper created a virtual Web focus group of 18- to 34-year-old former West Virginians to explore the exodus of young people from the state. At Christmas time - hoping to capitalize on holiday visits - the paper persuaded publications and college alumni groups around the state to run notices asking people in the target group to contact the Herald-Dispatch and fill out a brief questionnaire. The paper got 400 responses and e-mailed each person a link to a longer survey, which asked why they left and how their new state compares with West Virginia. Managing Editor Len LaCara said 130 people filled out the longer survey, giving the paper a trove of information it would have been impossible to acquire any other way.

It's not a scientific survey. It skews upward because college graduates are over-represented. But LaCara said that is the very group the state needs to retain to fix the state's "brain drain," so it's important to understand why they left. Virtually everyone said they left for better jobs or educational opportunities and less than half would come back even if they could find equivalent work in West Virginia. The partners' series is scheduled to begin in late April and culminate in a May 2 statewide broadcast.

Indianapolis, IN
WTHR Channel 13 (CBS), The Indianapolis Star, WFYI TV 20 (PBS)
The "People's Agenda" initiative to involve citizens in the state legislative process will add a new broadcast partner and a more scientific approach to gathering public input for legislators in 2002.

Public television's WFYI has joined the effort and the partners used the last of their Pew funding to conduct a scientific poll to determine the most important issues to Indiana citizens for the coming year.

Last year, the partners used online surveys and newspaper ballots to invite citizens to rank a number of issues by importance, but some viewers and readers criticized those techniques as not sufficiently scientific, WTHR special projects coordinator Young-Hee Yedinak said. This year's survey showed, not surprisingly, taxes and education leading the list of citizen concerns.

In January, citizens and state legislators met at a televised town hall to discuss the results and the partners delivered the entire survey, along with a tape of the meeting, to every lawmaker in the General Assembly.

The partners decided to continue because of the positive response to last year's inaugural effort, which sought public input via town halls on such topics as education, race relations and homeland security and tracked legislation on the public's top issues. One concern, intrusive telemarketing, resulted in the state creating a "do not call" list of residents. Yedinak says more than 2 million Hoosiers have put their names on it.

Washington, DC
Black Entertainment Television's Web site has been helping the new nightly news operation get the real stories of ordinary people for its weekly series on black families, "Under One Roof." Each week, the Web site asks users to tell their personal stories about the issues being spotlighted. There are links, for example, for "families who believe vestiges of slavery affect them today" and for "college-bound students who will be the first in their family to go."

Not just the stories themselves but the idea of telling the stories is generating a positive response. "This is a wonderful thing to do so that we can take a look at the state of Black America," wrote one visitor to the "Under One Roof" bulletin board. The series recently won an award for Outstanding News Coverage in Cable Positive's inaugural Positively Outstanding Performance (POP) awards.

Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2KDKA-TV (CBS), KDKA AM 1020, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association
The paper's First Amendment Web site got 700 page views during its first two days, March 6 and 7. Education Editor Jane Elizabeth also received a flurry of e-mails and phone calls responding to the new forum, which includes tips and resources for citizens wanting access to public records. One feature is a series of stories about ordinary citizens attempting to hold government more accountable through Pennsylvania's open-meeting and open-records laws.

One of the first e-mails was from a citizen complaining about secret meetings concerning the construction of a new hockey arena in downtown Pittsburgh. "We didn't even know this was going on," Elizabeth said.

The site includes information about federal Right-to-Know laws and links to other sites with a wealth of public information. Go to

Boston, MA
WGBH radio and television, The Boston Globe, WRCA Rhumba1330 AM
The "Eye on Education" initiative this year has addressed such issues as character education, vouchers, charter schools and high-stakes testing. In addition to regular reports, the initiative featured a special week of TV programming, March 28 to April 4, culminating with "A Day in the Life," a one-hour verite film that documented a single day at Jeremiah Burke High School from different perspectives.

By presenting personal and revealing moments, the film went beyond the headlines to depict the impact of school reform in the classroom. On Oct. 15, the day the film was made, 63% of the Class of 2003 faced not graduating because they had failed Massachusetts' MCAS exams. This statistic raises a question that runs throughout the production: What does it really take to leave no child behind in public education?

Meanwhile, WGBH-FM listeners heard behind-the-scenes views of Boston public schools on April 1, when "Teen and Teacher Radio Diaries" began airing. High school students and teachers have been recording the diaries throughout the year to give listeners a first-hand account of how they experience school. In addition, one Spanish-speaking teacher and three Spanish-speaking students recorded audio diaries that are airing on Rhumba 1330, a Spanish-language AM station. Both the English and Spanish reports are available at

Cincinnati, OH
The Cincinnati Enquirer, WCET-TV (PBS), WCPO-TV 9News (ABC), Kettering Foundation, National Issues Forums
The "Neighbor to Neighbor" initiative, launched in November, continues to generate discussions on race in Cincinnati neighborhoods. In the first four months, more than 2,000 people had attended one of 130 meetings on the subject. The meetings are aimed at developing individual solutions to problems of racial tension in the city, which saw an outbreak of race-related violence a year ago. Enquirer Managing Editor Rosemary Goudreau reports that nearly half the participants have agreed to meet again to act on their recommendations and some have already held follow-up meetings.

"Some groups have really taken the ball and run with it," Goudreau said. "One has already met five times to act on the things they wanted to do. They've gone to the school board and brought in someone to talk about police-community relations."

As another way of generating conversation, the citywide media consortium started a book project, "On the Same Page," aimed at getting many people to read the same book and attend one of several discussion groups about it. A group of librarians and other avid readers selected "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines.

"The next step is to figure out where to go from here," said Goudreau. "We now have a network of people, 2,000 strong, who have the energy to make a difference and have already started to make a difference in their neighborhoods."

Decatur, IL
Herald & Review, WILL-TV (PBS)
A survey probing Decatur's alarming high-school drop-out rate found that students increasingly are leaving over issues schools can control, such as boredom or poor relations with teachers and other students. Though pregnancy and marriage remain the number-one reason Decatur students fail to complete school, one third of the African-American men polled said they would have stayed in school if they had been encouraged by a teacher or administrator.

A January series on the findings, published in the Herald & Review and aired on WILL-TV, dovetailed with the announcement of a new drop-out prevention effort by the Decatur Joint Dropout Task Force, a community coalition that will focus on providing at-risk youth with the support they need to stay in school.

Associate Editor Jan Touney said the project has prompted a great deal of community discussion, including a search for solutions at a community meeting the partners co-sponsored in March with the local NAACP.

In April, the paper will make computer time available to all Decatur drop-outs to write about their reasons for dropping out and their experiences since doing so. They will also be offered the chance to link up with agencies that can assist them in areas such as job training, getting their GED or helping their children who may be at risk.

Lincoln, NE
Lincoln Journal Star, Nebraska ETV, KMTV3 (CBS)
The Nebraska legislature has once again sidelined a bill that would ban the use of fetal tissue for research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the subject of the partners' 2001 poll and project. Journal Star Editor Kathleen Rutledge said the partners have not measured whether the newspaper, Web and television coverage affected the legislators' decision but she adds, "It's fair to surmise that legislators had more dispassionate information on which to base their decisions because of the project."

"Medical Ethics: Tough Choices," included a statewide poll on the issue and a series of newspaper and television reports. The project won first place for enterprise reporting in the 2001 Nebraska AP contest.

La Crosse, WI
La Crosse Tribune
The stray voltage project, which examined the controversial issue of how stray electrical voltage affects farmers, continues to generate interest nearly a year and a half after it launched. The Web site,, receives daily visits from users around the world and Tribune local news editor Chris Hardie gets regular e-mails from people with questions and comments.

The project has won five awards - three in 2000 from the Milwaukee Press Club, including first place for the story or series making a contribution to the welfare of the community or state, and two in 2001 from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, including first place for enterprise reporting.

"Using today's technology, we brought together an audience of people from all over the world who are facing this issue," Hardie said. "This project shows our impact does not end when the ink is dry."

Philadelphia, PA
The Philadelphia Daily News, WHYY-TV (PBS)
A series of spring town meetings on school reform with public television station WHYY-TV will wrap up a year-long effort on improving Philadelphia public schools. The paper hopes the town meetings will provide citizens with enough information to participate in planning for the future of the school district, which was taken over by the state mid-way through the project. "Because much of the criticism is uninformed, it's easy for public officials to simply ignore what parents, teachers and students are saying," said New Initiatives Editor Debi Licklider. "Yet these are the very people who will be affected most directly by school reform and they should be heard."

In March, the paper co-sponsored a forum with the Chamber of Commerce for members of the business community to hear directly from the School Reform Commission, which the state created to replace the school board.

Tacoma, WA
The News Tribune, KCTS (PBS), KPLU (NPR)
Almost half of Washington citizens consider the state's parole system below average, according to a poll the partners commissioned with Pew support. The poll was the basis for a three-part series in January on the crisis-ridden system. The poll and a series of focus groups helped get citizen views into the discussion of whether and how the state should overhaul the system.

The project was triggered by a series of lawsuits by victims of crimes committed by felons on parole. Judgments and settlements cost the state $53 million - almost what the state was spending to supervise parolees. A state task force had recommended some steps to address the runaway liability verdicts but it had not recommended making the state immune from lawsuits or imposing caps on judgments. The poll found most Washington residents opposed granting the state immunity but about half favored putting a $1 million cap on damages.

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