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Dissecting Impact for Public Media

Dissection DThe Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) embarked over the last several months on a series of conversations around the country called Dissection, workshops “devoted to deepening our sense of what media impact is, how to measure it and why it matters.” They brought together key journalists, documentary filmmakers, industry leaders, foundations and academics, culminating in Dissection D: Impact, hosted at American University.

CIR is taking a leading role in the public media community through these events by inspiring practical conversation on clarifying streams of impact measurement, recognizing leaders in the filed, and sharing how public media can better track results. 

The workshop included a series of presentations peeling back the layers on how public media incorporates impact measurement on the ground, and perhaps most significantly, how various operations/individuals understand impact in the public media context.

CIR’s executive director Rob Rosenthal was able to pull a major common thread from among the diverse messages: measuring impact requires a culture change for public media. Pulling together themes from the presentations, this shift involves: thinking entrepreneurially; understanding community needs; creating a culture where the question of impact is defined at the highest levels and understood organizationally. This applies to news rooms, local stations and all other forms of public media.

Consensus also evolved around the need for coordinated analytics and the need for individuals to step up to the plate to develop that coordination--addressing the larger question of how we attain a higher level of performance in public media work. So what are the “new metrics of success?"

Here’s just a sampling of the ways public media leaders from Dissection D are defining these new metrics with links to some of their case studies (in no particular order):

Center for Investigative Reporting

Defines impact: as “change in the status quo as a result of a direct intervention” where the intervention is a live event, radio, text article or tv program.

Amy Pyle, Aaron Glantz, Lindsay Green-Barber


KETC/Nine Network

Defining community/collective impact: “A structured collaborative effort by a committed group of partners around a common goal, sustained over time with dedicated resources that creates positive change within a community/communities.”

Amy Shaw



Understanding impact for publics: strengthening the “P” in PBS means using big data for strategy and planning, “Your gut is wrong.”

Juan Sepulveda

Harmony Institute

Measuring aggregated impact: looking beyond individual case studies and analyzing how a variety of media products have combined to create impact with the goal of learning and doing better.

Debika Shome and Clint Beharry



Understanding impact through engagement: engagement as a ladder that starts with consuming content and builds to participating in change.

Kathy Merritt

Public Media Capital

Understanding impact at local stations: a new public media database tracking local station audience, revenue and engagement metrics can look for data equivalency, allowing stations to learn from each other for improved decision-making.

Erik Langner and Ken Ikeda



Understanding impact for public radio: impact is about fostering a mindset, not just an action. Impact is in attitudinal layers of awareness, curiosity, knowledge, empathy and insight.

Steve Mulder


Impact and ethics: to incorporate impact in good journalism emphasize dialogue and be transparent.

Jan Schaffer


Media Impact Project

Impact measurement: impact is how we are changing and affecting the knowledge, attitude and behavior of individuals and communities.

Todd Cunningham



Impact beyond traditional boundaries: partnering inspired independent producers with local radio and television stations to craft and carry public media to more citizens.

Noland Walker


Participant Index

Impact science: using social science research methods to capture and measure the social impact of entertainment that incorporates advance strategic planning.

Caty Borum Chattoo (Creative Director with the Center for Meida & Social Impact!)


For more takeaways from Dissection D: Impact, check out CIR's live blog coverage.