making media, making change: a conversation with jesse hardman

making media, making change: a conversation with jesse hardman

In early September, we were excited to welcome our friend and newest collaborator Jesse Hardman when he visited our offices in Seattle. Jesse is a reporter and media developer currently working in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he manages and curates a community media engagement project called the Listening Post. Using text messages, public signs and roving recording stations equipped with microphones, the Listening Post provides the opportunity for people to capture and share information, opinions and news about the local issues they feel are most important.

Before starting the Listening Post, Jesse and his voice recorder travelled around the globe experimenting with different ways of gathering and delivering information in local communities. He shared stories about teaching radio classes at an all-girls Catholic school in South Chicago, building an information exchange in war-torn Sri Lanka, working with tribal radio stations in the Southwest United States, and establishing a two-way conversation about important issues with community members in New Orleans. He understands how to listen, how to get important information to people who need it the most and how that information is a lifeline for communities to thrive.

He sat down with us to share stories about his travels and his work, and to talk about the transformative experiences that changed the way he looked at media, information and social change—and how it led him to where he is today. I decided to take a page from Jesse’s playbook and experiment with audio recordings from his visit. Be sure to click through and listen! Here are some highlights from our conversation:

  • Media can be a powerful tool in catalyzing community development. While teaching radio classes in South Chicago, Jesse saw that his young students responded intuitively to their assignments and used the power of narrative to create change messages that reflected their personal experiences and environment. “What they did was intuitive.”
  • Having a clear understanding of what people want to know drastically influences the process of gathering news. Jesse traveled to Sri Lanka in 2007 to join a humanitarian information initiative funded by Internews. While there, he trained and worked with a team of local reporters to create a newspaper and radio show that shared information with the country’s war-displaced population. “We asked people, ‘What do you need to know?'”
  • To adapt the way we communicate in different situations, we need to first consider the factors that influence the effectiveness of our messaging. For example, to adapt your communication style effectively, you need to understand who you are talking to, how they listen, where they are located, and what their point of view may be. Messaging needs to be impactful, clear and relatable to your audience. Whether it’s engaging a classroom of young students or appealing to a group of people who have survived a war, the way you communicate information can drastically influence an audience’s response and the overall outcome. In Sri Lanka, Jesse discovered quickly that the framework he was used to, having worked in public radio in the U.S., did not work well and he had to adapt. “Couldn’t play more than three minutes of informational radio without a Bollywood song in between.”

Lifeline

  • Media not only offers new opportunities to engage directly with people and communities, but it also transforms the ways in which people can take part in the process of information sharing. People should feel empowered to assess the information needs of their communities and think creatively about solutions for their own environment. Jesse visited with about 40 tribal radio stations across Arizona, New Mexico and California to learn more about how they share their information and the support role they play in Native American communities. Here and elsewhere in the U.S., media, storytelling and the sharing of information are tools for transformation and progress—an everyone should have a voice. “These community radio stations [. . .] are the lifeline.”
  • Public radio needs more diverse voices and perspectives if they are to facilitate important conversations in cities and communities. For example, 78 percent of the audience for public radio is white and upper middle class while New Orleans is more than 60 percent black and middle to working class. “78% of audience for public radio is white, upper middle class.”
  • Don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with information, especially when there is a lack of funding and manpower. Jesse applied the concept of citizen journalism to focus on the capacity of community members in New Orleans to create narratives, share perspectives, and start a discussion about public concerns, visions and plans. “I was down in New Orleans [. . .] and seeing things that you see in developing countries.”
  • To engage an audience, you have to think about what would get their attention and why they would want to participate. Understanding your audience has profound implications for any strategy. It is an important step in the process to discover what will reach an audience most effectively and what will appeal to them. The Listening Post uses text messages and funky microphones designed by a local artist to attract the attention of passersby who are likely to be interested in what it is and how they can participate. “In New Orleans, [. . .] people are used to being weird and creative.”

listening post fish

  • The challenge in having a meaningful conversation lies in crafting the right question. That is, thinking about the words you use, how you phrase it, the sentiment behind it, and the way it is delivered. Sometimes changing a single word can alter the way people view your approach and their decision to engage with it. For example, the Listening Post endeavored to have a conversation with New Orleans residents about their feelings towards gentrification. To do so, they decided to present questions as real life situations or scenarios—such as what they would do with a blighted property if they had an opportunity to buy it—rather than use the word “gentrification.” “How do you ask a question that gets you stories and experiences?”

To learn more about Jesse, visit his website at jessehardman.com or find him on Twitter @jesseahardman. To hear what people are talking about on the Listening Post in NOLA, visit listeningpostnola.com and follow them on Twitter @lp_nola.

measure of all things at true/false

measure of all things at true/false

Earlier this month, Aggregate was honored to sponsor two performances of Sam Green’s live documentary, The Measure of All Things, at the True/False Film Fest.

Thank you to True/False and photographer, Whitney Buckner, for the photos from the Friday night performance.

Sam was joined onstage for both performances by musicians Brendan Canty, Todd Griffin and Catherine McRae, who perform the live film score.

Check out the dates for future performances of The Measure of All Things. You might just see one of us there.

Copy of TF15-The Measure of All Things-WB-4

Copy of TF15-The Measure of All Things-WB-5
Copy of TF15-The Measure of All Things-WB-7

Copy of TF15-The Measure of All Things-WB-6

sharing our good fortune

sharing our good fortune

Selecting the organizations with which we share our good fortune is a group effort that includes our full time staff as well as the collaborators with whom we work. My request to them is that they share ideas that reflect who we are as a company: we want to support organizations that are unapologetic about their passion, who use storytelling as a strategy to achieve their goals, or have simply reached us with a powerful story about their work.

I’m proud of the people who have joined me in building Aggregate and of the ideas they shared this year. I hope you’ll consider joining us in supporting the following organizations.

We believe in justice.

We have now made our third annual donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights, which provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails and improves legal representation for people who are low-income. We made the donation in the name of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

After reading about Lenzi Sheible, the 20-year old founder of Fund Texas Choice in The New York Times, we felt compelled to make a donation to enable her to do her important work. Because of legislation passed in the state of Texas—as well as in a number of other states—women often must travel long distances to access abortion services and many cannot afford to do so. So our donation will support Lenzi and Fund Texas Choice to cover those costs.

In July, we paid a Detroit resident’s overdue water bill  to prevent their water from being turned off thanks to the quick organizing and deft communication skills of the Detroit Water Project. We admire them for jumping in to address a need and for ensuring others both understood what was happening and that they could do something to help.

And in September, we made a donation to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation after they successfully worked to enable the exoneration of two men—Henry McCollum and Leon Brown—who had been on death row for 30 years in North Carolina for a rape and murder they did not commit.

We love filmmakers. 

Because 1) we like working with Josh Simon, 2) because criminal justice should be just, and 3) because Josh asked, we made a donation to support the production of This Place is Dirty. This new documentary—currently in production—is about Jon Burge, a former Chicago Police detective who was convicted of torturing criminal suspects for nearly twenty years.

For the second year in a row we are supporting the True/False Film Fest‘s Pay the Artist program to enable the festival to support the filmmakers who screen their films at the Fest (beyond travel costs) and to encourage others to invest in independent documentary filmmaking. (We’ll  be announcing additional support for the festival soon, so stay tuned.)

We made additional donations to support the re-release of Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer as well as the Sarah Jacobsen Film Grant, which is a grant for young women filmmakers “whose work embodies some of the things that Sarah stood for: a fierce DIY approach to filmmaking, a radical social critique, and a thoroughly underground sensibility.”

We think young people deserve better.

This year was also the third year we made a donation to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides services to LGBTQ youth. And for the third year in a row, we made the donation in the name of Spencer Cox, the great AIDS activist who died in 2012.

Closer to home, the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle works with homeless and street youth to enable them “to experience creativity and success through art.” We supported them this year to buy a new press. They reached that goal, but they have countless additional needs, so we’re confident that would appreciate your support as well.

We also gave to the national organization, Girls on the Run, which uses running as a strategy for promoting self-esteem, teamwork and a positive body image for young girls.

We love Jay Smooth.

We made a donation to WBAI‘s hip hop show Underground Railroad, which is hosted by our favorite video blogger Jay Smooth. Jay was such an important and smart voice on race relations this year, someone to whom we looked to make sense of a series of events and a world that often made no sense at all.

We love Seattle.

We also gave money to our hometown public radio station KEXP (for the second year in a row) to support their efforts to build a new home in Seattle. As I said last year, they are a significant contributor to making Seattle the amazing place it is and we’re grateful to them for filling our office with music every day.

KEXP is building a new home at a time when the real estate market in Seattle has gone apeshit, leaving many of our lower income neighbors in situations where they are paying an unlivable percentage of their income to put a roof over their heads. It’s a heady time to live in Seattle—if you are among the privileged who can still afford it. So, we’re supporting the Tenants Union of Washington State to enable them to continue to be advocates for tenants’ rights. Thanks to the fabulous Ansel Herz at The Stranger for pointing us in their direction.

We owe it to veterans (especially Ryan).

My friend Ryan Friedrichs came home safe this year after serving for the past three years in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan. To express our gratitude for and admiration of Ryan, we made a donation to the Veteran Artist Program, which has a mission to “foster, encourage and promote veteran artists.”

We love food.

Finally, we gave to L.A. Kitchen, which “reclaims local, healthy food that would otherwise be discarded, training men and women who are unemployed for jobs and providing healthy meals.” L.A. Kitchen was founded recently by Robert Egger, who founded D.C. Kitchen 24 years ago as the first “community kitchen.”

Best wishes to everyone for the new year. Give when you can.

true/false film fest

true/false film fest

Aggregate is partnering with the True/False Film Fest—which has become one of the country’s premiere documentary film festivals over the past ten years—to develop a storytelling “boot camp” for documentary filmmakers, nonprofit organizations and philanthropies. Compelled by our belief in the power of effective storytelling to create social change, the True/False Storytelling for Change Boot Camp (working title) will bring documentary filmmakers, staff from nonprofit/advocacy organizations and philanthropic funders together to learn from each other—and from advocacy communications practitioners—how to work collectively to develop effective audience engagement strategies, leading to new knowledge, new partnerships and greater impact. The two-day workshop will immediately follow the four-day True/False Film Fest in early March to enable participants to become fully immersed in the power of storytelling for social change.

the latest

the latest

We’re excited about the new year and what lies ahead for us. Three months in (has it ONLY been three months?), we’re continuing to bring in new team members and to take on new projects with new and existing clients. (We kicked one off today that we’re going to be chomping at the bit to talk about over the next few months.) We’ve even started to work with new partners, like WINTR and Turnstyle, here in Seattle and are exploring additional partnerships with folks on the other side of the country, that we’ll be happy to tell you about soon.

In the next few months, we’ll be hitting the road, heading to Sundance in January (again, a new partnership/project on the horizon), to New Haven in February for the 7th Annual Yale Philanthropy Conference, to Columbia, MO in March to soak up a year’s worth of documentary film in a weekend at our team member David Wilson‘s True False Film Fest and to San Francisco in April for the SexTech::2012 conference on “new media, youth and sexual health.” Come back and visit the site for news from the road, or you can always follow us on Twitter.

Thanks to everyone who has been cheering us on. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working, so keep it coming.