Linda Lockhart has spent her journalism career asking people questions, researching topics, and digging deeper into issues. We sat down with her this month to learn more about how St. Louis Public Radio reporters find insight from “everyday people.”
So, you’re in charge of the Public Insight Network at STLPR. Can you explain what that means?
The Public Insight Network is a journalism tool we use to invite our audience to share what they know most about the issues we cover. We use this tool to help reporters find sources they can interview, to include the voices of “regular people” in our stories. We have almost 3,700 sources available to help us report on any given topic.
How do you choose which questions to ask?
I work closely with reporters and editors to find out what they are working on and who they want to include to help them tell those stories. I also suggest queries, based on what’s going around us locally or elsewhere. It’s like taking the pulse of our community, especially on the topics like politics, education, health and the arts.
How do you get word out about the current question? What happens next?
We post our PIN queries on our website, on Facebook and Twitter, and send them to any sources already in our network who have told us they have a particular insight into the issue we are covering. I share the responses with the reporters, who then choose who they want to interview. Even if a person doesn’t get interviewed, all responses we receive are very valuable in helping us gain a deeper understanding on the particular subject. These responses help reporters shape their stories and often raise other questions to consider.
Are there times you are surprised by the response you get?
Oh, yes. Some people tell us very personal stories. One time, reporter Camille Phillips was doing a story about a couple of St. Louis Public Schools that were facing being closed. One of our respondents shared that not only had his children attended one of the schools in question, but he and his mother had also attended. The closing was very emotional for this source because it had educated three generations of his family.
Let’s talk favorites:
- Person/entity to follow on social media:
I’m a news junkie, so I follow many. But mostly, I look to STLPR staffers like Jason Rosenbaum (@jrosenbaum) and Kameel Stanley (@cornandpotatoes). Outside of our staff, I like Debra Bass (@debrabass) and Kevin Johnson (@kevincjohnson) of the Post-Dispatch.
- NPR reporter:
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She’s from Ghana and reports for NPR News on issues and developments related to West Africa.
- Pandora/Spotify station:
My favorite on Pandora is a station I created called “Funk Jazz.” But I like to mix it up with a little Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Erykah Badu and B.B. King.
- STLPR event:
Well, I guess the Annual Dinner (Talk, Toast, Taste) is the best. Not only do we get to hear from NPR stars, but it is a chance to meet some of the wonderful people who support the station and make it possible for me to do the work I love.
- STLPR story/feature/article:
I loved one of the earliest We Live Here podcasts that introduced listeners to people living in various cities along Lindbergh Boulevard: 90 Cities, One Road, and a Whole Lot of Laws.
- Sports Team:
The Cardinals, of course!
What does your average day look like? Is there an average day?
No such thing. I always say one of the things I like best about being in this business is that I get to learn something new every day. In addition to overseeing the PIN, I also serve as copy editor for the website, so I begin and end my day editing stories. In between, I’m talking with reporters, researching topics, preparing queries, trying to find people to send them to, thanking people after they’ve responded, and then starting all over again. I also go out and speak to students at schools, and to people in professional organizations or civic groups. I talk about all the great work we’re doing at St. Louis Public Radio and then invite them to become sources in the PIN.
When you’re not working, what are you doing?
- Book you’ve read most recently:
“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration,” by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s not my most recent read, but it’s one of the most profound, and I recommend it highly to everyone.
- Last movie you watched:
“Fences,” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
- How do you take your coffee:
With a dash of creamer — or Irish Cream on special occasions.
- Favorite Pastime:
Taking a walk in a park. Any park.
I know that you have a long history of journalism in St. Louis. What have been the biggest changes in the way you do your job now vs. when you started?
I began as a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1974, when we were working with manual typewriters. So, from those days, on to even the early days of computers was a huge transition. Now, with cell phones and digital cameras and recorders, we can get information out much faster. But the same principles of journalism still apply: accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
Getting stories out faster is no good if the information is incorrect.
What are your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge is trying to keep up with new technology. I have learned a little bit of how to do audio editing — just enough to be dangerous. And when it comes to social media, as I say on Twitter: I’m still telling stories, just finding new ways to do it.
I think one of the cool things about technology is that you never know what’s coming next. I really enjoy the work I do and the work of the whole STLPR team. So I just want to keep on doing whatever I can to offer the best news reports to our audience, whether they consume us online, on the air, or through social media.