Sahan Journal is pleased to announce that it has received funding from the Google News Initiative’s Innovation Challenge to help launch a new initiative called Citizen Lab, a community listening project in Minnesota.

Since 2018, the Google News Initiative has funded projects that “inject new ideas into the news industry.” The 2021 North America Innovation Challenge focuses on supporting “news innovators” seeking to “better understand the local communities they serve.”

This round of projects will involve more research than past challenges, while encouraging local news organizations to find new ways to meaningfully engage with their audiences. 

Out of 190 proposals from Canada and the U.S., Google News Initiative selected 25 projects to receive a share of more than $3.2 million. You can read about the selected projects here

What is Citizen Lab?

Citizen Lab will be a new series of joint, open-to-the-public editorial meetings, where Latino, Hmong and Somali community members in Minnesota can speak directly to editors at Sahan Journal, La Raza 95.7z FM, 3HmongTV, and Somali TV Minnesota. 

All four newsrooms will work together to report and produce weekly stories in multiple formats and languages, exploring subjects that come directly from conversations with community members.

Each conversation and public forum will yield the opportunity for community members to, 

  • Drive our coverage
  • Generate story ideas 
  • Help us to connect with diverse sources so that our stories represent the experiences of people often left out of mainstream news
  • Learn about how the reporting process works
  • Give feedback on our journalism and whether it serves the needs of communities of color across the Twin Cities

This process will help Sahan Journal develop more direct, and stronger relationships with our readers, so that our journalism reflects and meets  our readers’ evolving news needs and interests.

How did you decide to embark on a project like this?

Minnesota is home to a growing number of residents who speak multiple languages. Over 11 percent of Minnesota residents don’t speak English at home. And in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the two largest in the state, around 55 percent of the population is multilingual, with Spanish, Somali and Hmong being the common non-English languages spoken at home.

Sahan Journal currently has the capacity to offer news in English only, which limits our ability to share news with Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities. But we want to develop deeper connections with Minnesotans who do not speak English as their first language, and audiences who do not currently access our English-language coverage on our website or through our social media posts. 

Our goal is to reach non-English speaking audiences where they are already turning for information.

Enter our collaborators: La Raza 95.7 FM radio, Somali TV Minnesota and 3HmongTV intentionally. 

  • La Raza Radio is Minneapolis’ only radio station that broadcasts exclusively in Spanish. It serves as a lifeline to the Twin Cities metro’s 180,000 Latinos, and provides news, entertainment, and Latin music and culture. When the station’s offices burned down during the unrest last year, Maya Santamaria, CEO of La Raza, told Mpls.-St.Paul Magazine that “the entire community rallied for the station, showing overwhelming support and offering resources and love in the aftermath of the attack on La Raza’s offices,” including donating to a GoFundMe.
  • Somali TV Minnesota is a Somali-language digital TV channel, launched in Minnesota in 1997 by Somali American reporter and producer, Siyad Salah. The TV channel has been broadcasting over Facebook Live for more than 10 years, and has amassed a large audience—over 100,000 followers— on Facebook. Its innovative and responsive programming relies heavily on questions and comments from viewers, who call in to its shows to share their experiences and opinions with the hosts. 
  • 3HmongTV serves Minnesota’s Hmong community—a population of over 81,000—with local news and information, presented in Hmong. The 16-year-old show broadcasts mainly over YouTube and regularly partners with other Hmong-language news networks in the United States and around the world.  

All three media outlets produce programming and content exclusively in languages other than English. These outlets also exist on platforms that community members have embraced (La Raza on radio, Somali TV on Facebook, and 3HmongTV on YouTube). 

La Raza, Somali TV, and 3HmongTV use these platforms in a way that prioritizes two-way communication with their audiences. All of these factors allow the three outlets to remain strongly community-oriented.

What is the potential for the project? 

We hope that local newsrooms can benefit and learn from this project in three ways: 

  • What are the benefits of partnering with hyperlocal community media to reach non-English-speaking audiences? We will establish durable relationships with community media organizations like La Raza 95.7 FM, 3HmongTV, and Somali TV, which have built strong connections with Minnesotans who speak Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. At the end of this project, we will assess our strategy on how to more frequently produce journalism in Somali, Hmong, and Spanish.
  • How can small newsrooms work community engagement into their daily and long-term editorial goals and strategies? Many local newsrooms lack the resources and staffing to experiment with community engagement. Our project will be beneficial for other small newsrooms who are searching for ways to make community engagement a regular part of their daily reporting and editorial strategies. 
  • How can newsrooms use familiar publishing platforms in new and interactive ways? La Raza 95.7 FM, Somali TV Minnesota, and 3HmongTV use platforms like Facebook and YouTube to produce responsive and interactive programming as a way to consistently engage their viewers and listeners.

What’s next? 

Now, we get to work! 

The first phase of this project will primarily consist of research. We’ll survey Minnesota’s Latino, Hmong, and Somali communities and ask some top-level, big-picture questions. For example: What barriers do community members face when accessing local news and learning more about their own community? How do community members typically share news with others? What news sources do they trust? 

This process will help us plan how to structure the second phase, the Citizen Lab community conversations, so that these meetings will be the most productive and beneficial for community members and participating newsrooms, alike.

Ideally, by the end of the project, we’ll have achieved the following:

  • A slate of stories generated directly from conversation with Latino, Somali, and Hmong community members
  • An in-depth understanding of their news needs (specifically, a list of defined topics that drive conversations within each community) 
  • An understanding of what value we offer our audience, or, simply put, why readers continue to tune into our coverage, and how we can continue to offer news that is relevant to their daily lives.

This is a year-long project, and we will provide regular updates along the way. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to make sure you don’t miss these updates.

Sahan Journal is a nonprofit digital newsroom dedicated to reporting for immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota. Our diverse staff creates exceptional journalism: coverage that truly represents...