Going Beyond Hearken


The Hearken method is great (@EllenMayer) . Ask the readers about the questions they have, and later let them vote to find out the most urgent ones. By the way: you don’t need Hearken to do this. @sebastian 's Krautreporter applied the method successfully with typeforms.

Questions and comments. The former includes the reader before writing the article, the latter after writing it. What about during? During is hard, but a very special genre might be applicable: the Explainer.

The explainer tackles a bunch of questions on a complicated topic, and answers them on by on. Imagine an explainer growing with the reader’s questions. Here is how I imagine it:

The topic of the article is the war in Yemen. The author writes a very short summary about what happens there. Then a typeform asks the reader to ask a follow up question. The questions from other readers are stated below. The reader can upvote and downvote the questions of the other readers.

Now its the authors turn again. He answers the questions, beginning with the most popular one. After publishing an answer to a question it is not possible to vote for or against this question anymore. The question below the first article now is linked to the answer. And surprise: Below the answer is again a typeform for follow up questions.

After a couple of such cycles the author decides to finish the process. All unanswered questions vanish and the editorial team does the final brush up. Voilà: a reader driven explainer is done.

Any comment? :blush:


Hey Christoph! I love this idea because it fits right into the idea of news as a conversation, which I’ve been reading a lot about this week (https://medium.com/thoughts-on-journalism/what-is-conversational-journalism-fa3ab579c0f0#.kbouk0co4).

Quartz’s new app is scratching the surface of this idea by delivering news in a chat format. BUT ultimately its just a “choose your own adventure” rather than a genuine back and forth. Plus you’re chatting with a bot, not a reporter. I love the idea of allowing readers to observe and participate in the investigation in real time. And I love the idea of audience curiosity driving the investigation at a very granular level.

Reveal did something sort of like this using Hearken. They did a series of stories on the California drought, and they used Hearken to solicit questions on that topic. One of those questions became the basis for one of the longer form stories in the drought series and they also answered some of the smaller, easier questions in a roundup post.

But Christoph’s suggestion is more granular and zooms in on the actual process of reporting in a more profound collaborative way.

I’m curious to hear more about how you imagine the interface would work. Does it feel like a chat? Or does it feel like a comment section where the explainer is separate from the questions (at least until one of them is answered and therefore featured within the explainer itself).

Would the journalist respond to the person who asked by addressing them personally?

eg: “Tom, you asked a great question about civilian casualties. Here’s what we’ve found so far”

Or would it be addressed to a more general audience?


This also reminds me of what ProPublica did on WhatsApp about their Liberia story. They posted article excerpts, images, and used prompts to ask for questions from followers. They then responded to those questions in the discussion.

It was great, albeit limited by the platform’s own limitations.


Hi @EllenMayer,

“Conversational journalism”, I like that. Did you hear about those small publisher on WeChat? China seems to be moving in that direction.

But let me answer your questions :wink:

I didn’t think of it as a chat. But it could be. Were you imagine it as a chat? I thought of it as similar to the comment section. At first the page consist solely of the summary of the story and a form beneath it, asking you to send your follow up question. Example: “Where is Yemen located again?”. After sending your question, the question appears below the form (or maybe the form should vanish – only one question allowed :cop:). Your question is accompanied with an upvote and a downvote button for every other reader to use. Example:

After some time, more questions from other readers will follow:

And the vote count might also be displayed:

Then the author answers a question. The buttons vanish and the question is linked to the answer, where the process repeats.

I think this might be working, although there are a lot of things to figure out first. A couple of month ago, I translated an explainer article into such a Q&A-web: This is the explainer article. And this is the Q&A-web (open on Desktop). Both in German :frowning: The Q&A-web was built using the text adventure tool Twine

Your other question:

Not personally, no. Who has the resources to answer questions personally? Its a method to include a community. If you are interested in 1 on 1 discussion, you might enjoy this thread ;-).


This really makes me think about Membrane, the NYT Labs experiment in permeable publishing.

It allows crowdsourcing of pre-set or user-submitted questions. It’s also open source. What do you think about this approach, Christoph/Ellen/anyone?


Also I love that you built that using Twine!


Ah ok! All this makes sense. When I said “personally” I didn’t mean individually. I was wondering if you envision that the journalist would respond to the questions publicly in a thread in a way that acknowledged the person who asked - so that it does seem like a conversation (even though other folks could see that conversation unfold)

But it sounds to me like you’re thinking the questions stay separate from the explainer at the top. And the explainer expands from a summary based on the questions that readers have asked.

Which is also a great idea.